Friday, October 28, 2011

Citrix Unleashes Product Blitz at Synergy Partner Conference


Citrix Unleashes Product Blitz at Synergy Partner Conference
Citrix Systems unleashed a torrent of desktop virtualization and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) announcements at its Synergy event in Barcelona on Wednesday. The announcements largely centered on the company's Desktop Transformation Model, which rolled out earlier this month.

The product blitz came with ambitious plans for replacing traditional PC environments with virtual desktops and bridging enterprise datacenters with the cloud. The company claimed advancements toward that goal, with the aim of delivering lower cost virtualized client devices and desktop virtualization solutions. Citrix also announced personal cloud technologies and advancements to link datacenters to private and public clouds.

"We do believe the industry is in the midst of a profound transition from the PC era to the cloud era," said Wes Wasson, Citrix's senior vice president and chief marketing officer, who spoke with reporters via a conference call.

Desktop Virtualization
Citrix takes the view that it can simplify desktop virtualization deployments for organizations and make them more cost effective, and the Desktop Transformation Model is a big part of accomplishing that through tools, best practices and a dedicated partner ecosystem.

"We believe we have now seen that crossover point with our customers this year, where the upfront first-year capital costs of virtual desktops for the first time ever are the same as physical desktops," Wasson said.

Citrix announced a number of product improvements, with some of them based on technologies from recent acquisitions. Citrix seems to have been quite busy this year in adding new capabilities by purchasing other companies.

Schaumburg, Ill.-based App-DNA will be the newest acquisition, pending regulatory approvals. Those approvals are expected to close sometime in the fourth quarter of this year, according to Citrix's announcement. App-DNA is a Citrix partner and best known for its migration solutions, such as its AppTitude product, which can help assess IT organizational readiness to move from Windows XP to Windows 7. AppTitude can also be used for assessing application virtualization or VDI deployments.

"They [App-DNA] have a phenomenal technology that lets you take all of your existing applications, put them through this tool and quickly determine what those applications are ready for," Wasson explained. "It's really focused on migration. If you're changing operating systems or initiative virtual environments, it lets you get a very quick snapshot of what percentage of your apps will move over very seamlessly into these new environments."

AppTitude, which is currently available via App-DNA's sales channels, assesses potential installation and runtime issues and provides some remediation for compatibility issues. It also lets IT pros package their apps using different formats, such as the Microsoft Windows Installer (MSI), XenApp, or Microsoft App-V.

Citrix claims it has enhanced the cost aspects of desktop virtualization through three improvements. First, its FlexCast delivery solution in XenDesktop uses personalization technology that Citrix acquired when it bought RingCube in August. The RingCube technology creates "personal vDisks" that store apps, data and settings for each user. Common applications are stored separately in the datacenter. This arrangement allows IT pros to manage "a single instance of Windows and each corporate application for all users," according to Citrix's announcement, while also enabling personalization.

A second cost enhancement claimed by Citrix is a new HDX Ready System-on-Chip program, which may lead to low-cost devices, as described below. Third, Citrix is claiming overall desktop virtualization cost savings via innovations from its partners, especially at the hardware level.

HDX Ready System on Chip
Citrix unveiled a system-on-chip (SoC) design, called "HDX Ready System on Chip," that promises to extend virtualization technology to various devices -- not just to desktop computers. The company's High Definition User Experience (HDX) technology, which supports low-bandwidth connections and wide area connections with high latency, is being incorporated into silicon by hardware partners using the ARM architecture. Citrix is also planning future support for x86-based silicon. Citrix worked with Texas Instruments and NComputing on the reference architecture, which uses "off-the-shelf components," according to the company's announcement.

Wasson claimed that the Citrix's SoC design will lead to "the worlds' first truly high-definition zero client that breaks the $100 cost barrier," which is expected to happen next year. Products may start appearing on the market in "early 2012."

The HDX Ready System on Chip will support thin clients for PCs, smartphones and tablets. However, it may also enable thin-client support on nontraditional devices, such as keyboards, set-top boxes and monitors.

"Why not just put an HDX chip in the monitor and it effectively becomes a PC?" Wasson asked. "Why not do it in a phone [or put] them into smart keyboards? We also think there will be new classes of devices that perhaps we haven't thought of as well."

The SoC has support from a number of vendors, including Dell, Devon IT, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Huawei, LG, VXL and Wyse Technology.

VDI-in-a-Box 5
Citrix announced a new version of its desktop virtualization product for small-to-medium businesses (SMBs). VDI-in-a-Box 5 includes technology incorporated from Citrix's acquisition of Kaviza. Citrix closed its Kaviza acquisition back in May. The VDI-in-a-Box solution is considered by Citrix to be complementary to its flagship XenDesktop desktop virtualization solution, which is designed more for enterprises.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Blackberry Business Cloud Services To Support Office 365


Blackberry Business Cloud Services To Support Office 365

No service charge: Blackberry Business Cloud Services will be free for Microsoft Exchange Online and Office 365 customers.

Research In Motion is launching a public beta trial this week of a new BlackBerry Business Cloud Services that works with Microsoft Office 365.

The service, which is slated to roll out in January, enables access to e-mail, contacts and calendar applications utilizing Microsoft's cloud.

For now, those wanting to test the service can enroll at RIM's beta page here, with some nuances described at this page. RIM notifies applicants when the beta is available. The beta is currently launching in 30 countries.

IT pros wanting to test the beta service can activate it through their Office 365 account after being accepted into RIM's beta test program. The beta signup page states that the service is currently just available to Microsoft Office 365 Enterprise Plan subscribers.

When launched, BlackBerry Business Cloud Services will be available for free to "Office 365 Midsized Businesses and Enterprise plan subscribers," according to RIM's announcement. Microsoft claims that it also will be free to "standalone Exchange Online" customers.

The BlackBerry Enterprise service used to be priced at $10 per user per month. Back in March, Microsoft had first explained that this service would be free for Microsoft Business Productivity Online Service (BPOS) customers using Exchange Online, as well as Office 365 customers.

The cost rollback for BlackBerry users appears in keeping with a general trend. Such connections to Microsoft's cloud were already free of charge for other mobile customers using Microsoft Online Services. The phones just needed to be capable of leveraging Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync technology. Phones capable of doing that include the Apple iPhone, Nokia E Series or Windows Phone, Microsoft has stated.

Of course, the actually telephony connection enabled by mobile service providers or carriers isn't free. However, BlackBerry Business Cloud Services will work with either consumer or business carrier data plans.

IT pros get access to a console that enables control of BlackBerry devices remotely. The console allows tasks such as provisioning, managing and securing devices, wherever those devices may be located.

Users have self-service online controls. They will be able to reset their device's password, lock the device or even wipe it should their BlackBerry become lost.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Microsoft Updates Mac Lync Client for Office 365


Microsoft Updates Mac Lync Client for Office 365

Lync for Mac 2011, released last month, experienced problems on the latest Mac OSX Lion operating system.

Microsoft issued an update on Friday that enables Macintosh users to connect to the company's Office 365 service.

Office 365 supports connections with Microsoft Lync 2011 for Mac released last month, but users running Lync for Mac 2011 on the latest Mac OS X 10.7.2 "Lion" operating system had been experiencing problems in which the application would inexplicably shut down. Lync is Microsoft's integrated client combining instant messaging, voice, conferencing and presence.

On Friday, Microsoft released an update to fix that problem, and included a fix for an Office 365 log-in problem.

The update is also available via the Microsoft AutoUpdate for Mac feature in the client application. It's accessed via the "check for updates" option under the Help menu in Lync for Mac 2011.

The problem with Lync for Mac 2011 got a little extra attention after Neil Johnson, a senior consultant with Microsoft Services, published Microsoft's documentation on connecting Lync for Mac 2011 with Office 365 in a September blog post. Readers of that post indicated that the setup steps did not work. Johnson later acknowledged in an October blog post that "pretty much everyone that tried this was unable to connect Lync 2011 on Mac to Office 365."

Fortunately, the blunder got filtered through Johnson on the Microsoft Services team, perhaps inadvertently helping to deliver a fix. Johnson had also discussed in his September post how to connect the Outlook Web App and Outlook 2011 for Mac clients to Office 365. He contends that Mac users connecting to Office 365 get the same benefits as Windows 7 OS users.

Microsoft has a laundry list of requirements to fulfill in order to connect a Mac OS X-based machine to Office 365, as described in Johnson's September post or at this Microsoft help page. Those wanting to connect using Outlook on the Mac need to deploy Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 Service Pack 1 or greater. The reason why the latest version is required has to do with the use of WebDAV in older Outlook for Mac versions. WebDAV is not supported in Exchange Server 2010 nor in Office 365.

Lync for Mac 2011, which typically might be used by enterprise customers, is available from Microsoft via its Office for Mac 2011 volume licensing. However, it can also be purchased as a separate product, also via Microsoft's volume licensing.

Subscribers to Microsoft's Office 365 service can opt to get access to Office Professional Plus for Windows, which is a premises-installed productivity suite. Contrary to common assumptions, Office Professional Plus is not hosted by Microsoft and delivered as a service. Microsoft doesn't offer Office for Mac 2011 as part of Office 365 subscriptions. It has to be purchased separately.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Microsoft Q1 Results Strong Despite Flat PC Sales


Microsoft Q1 Results Strong Despite Flat PC Sales

Office sales remained strong, but Online Services continued to show weakness caused in part by Microsoft's Bing search initiatives.

Microsoft met analysts' expectations in its fiscal first quarter, delivering $0.68 per share, despite flat PC sales, according to financial results reported by the company on Thursday.Revenue for the quarter, which ended on Sept. 30, 2011, was $17.4 billion, up 7% year over year. Net revenue was $5.7 billion, up 6% from the year ago period.

The Microsoft Business Division produced the most revenue for the quarter, at $5.6 billion, up 8% over last year. The division derives 90% of its revenue from Office, SharePoint, Exchange and Lync, with additional revenue from Microsoft Dynamics products, according to Microsoft's Form 10-Q.

Microsoft credited the 8% division revenue increase to volume licensing, Office licensing and Dynamics revenue. Dynamics revenue increased 17% over last year's quarter. Lync, SharePoint and Exchange grew double digits during the quarter, according to Bill Koefoed, general manager of investment relations, during Microsoft's audio presentation.

The next most profitable division was the Windows and Windows Live Division. It delivered $4.9 billion for the quarter, up 2% over the previous year's quarter. Microsoft claims it has sold more than 450 million licenses of Windows 7 since its launch in Oct. 2009. About three quarters of the division's revenue derive from Windows purchases by original equipment manufacturers, according to Form 10-Q, with the remainder attributed to retail sales. Microsoft's estimate is that PC sales to businesses increased about 5%, with consumer PC sales staying flat due to declining netbook sales. Microsoft is seeing PC sales growth in "emerging markets," but selling prices there are lower.

Server and Tools delivered $4.2 billion in revenue for the quarter, up 10% over last year's Q1 result. Product revenue was driven by sales of "SQL Server, Windows Server, Enterprise CAL Suites, and System Center," according to Form 10-Q. Microsoft's Enterprise Services, which delivers product support services to organizations, showed a revenue growth of 17% for the quarter. SQL Server Premium licensing revenue grew 20% during this quarter, according to Koefoed.

The Online Services Division produced $625 million in revenue for the quarter, up 19% year over year. However, it was beset by an operating loss of $494 million, largely attributed to Bing and Microsoft's efforts to catch up with market leader Google. Microsoft has lost about $5.5 billion on Bing since it launched in June 2009, according to a CNNMoney story . Microsoft's 10-Q cited a Bing U.S. market share of about 15% for this quarter, but with Yahoo portal support added, Bing U.S. market share for the quarter grew to about 27%. Microsoft is still working on improving revenue per search for Yahoo as generated by Microsoft's AdCenter platform. Peter Klein, Microsoft chief financial officer, said that AdCenter performance was "below expectations."

Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division generated almost $2 billion in revenue for the quarter, up 9% over last year's Q1 result. Xbox 360 console shipments (2.3 million) were down compared with last year's first quarter (2.8 million), but Xbox Live revenue increased.

Microsoft didn't break out a revenue figure for Windows Phone 7 in its published reports. The product is about one year old now as Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 in Oct. 2010. In the second-quarter of this calendar year, Windows Phone 7 had a 1.6% market share, way behind leader Google Android at 43.4% market share, according to Gartner stats.

The Skype voice-over-IP acquisition was closed last week and Klein said that Microsoft is starting integration with Microsoft's products, including Lync, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Phone and the Xbox gaming platform. Skype represents access to about 170 million VoIP users for Microsoft.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" Is Widely Released


Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" Is Widely Released

It appears that only a few service providers have issues with the Mango release.

Microsoft announced on Wednesday that most of its mobile service providers are in the process of delivering the Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" update to customers, after a phased rollout that began last month.

It appears that only a few service providers have issues with the Mango release, described as "Build 7720."

The carrier Orange in Europe is still working on technical issues that are delaying Mango updates, explained Eric Hautala, general manager of customer experience engineering at Microsoft. He added that Telefónica in Spain is just starting to schedule updates for LG Optimus 7 phones. Operator update schedules for the United States and abroad can be accessed at this Windows phone update page.

Some Windows Phone 7 users will also get additional firmware updates on top of the Mango release. Whether or not a firmware update is coming depends on the user's mobile phone carrier, device model and country location, Hautala explained.

The actual update is accomplished by plugging a cable into the phone and a primary update PC or Mac after receiving an update message, according to Microsoft's "Update Central." Users need to have Zune software installed for Windows PCs or Windows Phone 7 Connector for Apple Macs. The software establishes a primary synchronization connection between the phone and the computer. The primary update computer holds all of the phone's update history, so Microsoft recommends using that machine for Windows Phone updates.

A trick to get Windows Phone 7.5 right now will work for those who are patient enough to try it. However, it's not necessary now that Mango is broadly released.

Some users apparently have experienced issues with disappearing keyboards after the Mango update, according to this developer forum thread. However, it's hard to find that complaint listed at the Microsoft Answers forum for Windows Phone.

For those users experiencing update issues and getting specific error messages, Microsoft offers a tool to fix the situation, which is described in this Microsoft Knowledge Base

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Microsoft Updates Windows Intune Cloud Service


Microsoft Updates Windows Intune Cloud Service

Software distribution across a network of PCs via the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud is now available with Windows Intune.

Microsoft released a major update to Windows Intune, a PC management and security service aimed at mid-size organizations, that became publicly available in March.

Software distribution is among the new Windows Intune features. Users can upload .EXE, .MSI or .MSP files of any managed software product to Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud with the aim of installing software across a network of PCs. Testers using the free trial version of Windows Intune get 2 GB of storage space for software distribution uploads. Subscribers to Windows Intune get 20 GB of storage space, and Microsoft leases additional space in 1-GB increments, according to this TechNet library article.

Existing Windows Intune customers will start to get alerts about the service update two weeks before its arrival. Microsoft expects that all updates will be completed before the end of this year.

The beta version of the Windows Intune service will end on November 17, which is when Microsoft will delete accounts. Trial version users who subscribe to the service will be able to carry over their configurations and data.

Windows Intune provides screens for IT personnel to manage and secure a network of PCs. The service features the use of the System Center Online Desktop Manager, as well as the same engine that powers the Microsoft Forefront Endpoint Protection system for anti-malware protection and firewall security. In addition, users get upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise edition.

This release, called "wave 2," adds some new features to Microsoft's hosted PC management and security solution for organizations. Microsoft has big plans for the service, according to Eric Main, director for Windows Intune product marketing.

"Eventually, Windows Intune will deliver more management capabilities than the on-premises solutions but with less cost and higher productivity," Main claimed in a blog post.

New Features
The remote tasks addition to Windows Intune lets users run malware scans and update malware definitions on individual PCs. Users can also remotely restart those PCs. The function can be accessed by simply right clicking on a PC in a screen.

Microsoft improved reporting in Windows Intune by adding new filters for hardware. It now has filters for CPU speed, disk space, chassis type, manufacturer and memory. In addition, alerts were improved to display when certain thresholds are reached, such as hard drive space. Administrators can now set rights on their accounts for sharing with others, such as specifying "read-only" rights to share the administration console.

Users can now enable the installation of Windows Intune on PCs even when they are not online. Installation takes place when the PC establishes an Internet connection.

Useability has been improved with right-click access to commands and greater customization of screen views. There's also drag and drop capability. For instance, to move a PC to a different group, just select it and drag it to that group. Group Policy isn't needed for Windows Intune, but if it's already in use, the Group Policy settings take precedence. Windows Intune also does not rely on Active Directory.

A few other features were introduced in the July beta of wave 2, including the ability to manage the licenses of Microsoft's software, as well as the software of other vendors. However, Microsoft added a caveat in its FAQ, saying that this feature is a convenience only. Users "should not rely on it to confirm compliance with Microsoft volume licensing agreements."

Windows Intune's Scope
Microsoft conceives of Windows Intune for two basic customer scenarios. One scenario might be for smaller organizations lacking a PC management structure, according to Main, in a phone interview. The second use case is for organizations that have a robust infrastructure for on-premises machines but have issues supporting mobile users. These organizations could use the DirectAccess feature, available in some editions of Windows 7, to maintain mobile connections, but they'd also need licenses for Windows Server 2008 R2 to use DirectAccess, he noted.

Another rationale for using Windows Intune is obtaining upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise edition, especially given the impending end of Windows XP support, which terminates in April 2014. However, Microsoft doesn't install Windows 7 with Windows Intune. Organizations just get the upgrade rights. So, the machines targeted for an upgrade have to meet Windows 7's hardware requirements and there also needs to be a license for an earlier Windows version on that machine supporting the Professional, Enterprise or Ultimate editions.

Windows Intune can scale to 20,000 PCs. After that amount, a new account needs to be opened with Microsoft to manage any additional PCs. The cost of Windows Intune is $11 per person monthly, but it's still offered on an annual basis, so customers commit to a full year's payment.

If subscribers stop paying, they don't get to keep their Windows 7 upgrade licensing, although Main said that Microsoft has some sort of buyout arrangement available. According to a Microsoft spokesperson, "there is a buyout option for the Windows license if a customer cancels after 12 months; the buyout option is not available during the first year." Software Assurance licensees get a discount if they sign up for Windows Intune because there are Software assurance benefits associated with that service.

For $1 per month per person extra, Windows Intune subscribers get access to the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). MDOP is a set of tools that enables desktop virtualization and application virtualization, as well as diagnostics and recovery, among other solutions. MDOP is a perk typically reserved for Software Assurance licensees or those who opt for Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop Access licensing.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Big Data Updates to SQL Azure Cloud Service Expected in Q4


Big Data Updates to SQL Azure Cloud Service Expected in Q4

The long awaited SQL Azure Federation v1 for scaling out databases using a sharding pattern, is among the expected features.

Microsoft is rolling out a major update of its SQL Azure cloud database service sometime in the fourth quarter.

The updated service will increase the maximum size of SQL Azure databases from 50 GB to 150 GB, according to Microsoft. The company highlighted the upcoming SQL Azure features at the SQL PASS Summit in Seattle last week.

The long awaited SQL Azure Federation v1 for scaling out databases using a sharding pattern, is among the expected features. Microsoft announced Federation for SQL Azure in November 2010 at the Professional Developers Conference. 

The company is also planning to add a cloud backup capability to SQL Server 2012, formerly codenamed "Denali." SQL Server 2012 users will be able to back up data to Microsoft's Windows Azure platform. The cost details, if any, associated with this feature weren't described.

Microsoft plans to improve some management capabilities in the next SQL Azure service release. For instance, improvements to the Management Portal in SQL Azure will make it easier to "monitor databases" and "drill-down into schemas," Microsoft contends. Query capabilities will be improved for "plans, spatial data, indexes/keys and query performance statistics."

New CTPs
Two community test previews (CTPs) showcasing new features, both of which had been available for private testing, were rolled out today for all SQL Azure users to try. However, it's not clear if they will be fully baked into the product in time for Microsoft's fourth-quarter SQL Azure service release.

One of those CTPs is an updated release of the SQL Azure Reporting capability, which can be accessed via the Windows Azure Management Portal here (requires signup). SQL Azure Reporting allows organizations to present business intelligence-type reports while tapping Microsoft's cloud database. This feature may be of interest to organizations that lack the in-house licensing to carry out such reporting tasks or organizations that need to generate reports on a seasonal basis, according to Microsoft's description.

SQL Azure Reporting shares aspects with Microsoft's SQL Server 2008 R2 Reporting Services. Developers can use tools such as the Business Intelligence Design Studio and SQL Server Data Tools (formerly code-named "Juneau"). A table showing the nuances of the two reporting features can be found here.

The second CTP available today is SQL Azure Data Sync. This CTP works with Microsoft's new Management Portal to configure and manage the synchronization of databases, both on-premises and in the cloud. The synchronization works bidirectionally, according to this Microsoft blog. Microsoft added improved filtering at the column and row levels with this CTP release. Moreover, users can now configure the synchronization for "conflict resolution as well as sync direction per group member," according to Microsoft's announcement.

Other PASS News
Microsoft indicated a roadmap shift in September favoring the use of the Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) approach for SQL Server APIs, with a gradual phase out of its Object Linking and Embedding Database (OLE DB) approach. Today, Microsoft tracked back to its ODBC emphasis by announcing it will release a "Microsoft SQL Server ODBC Driver for Linux." The CTP of the new driver is expected in mid-November. The final release of the ODBC Linux driver is planned for the release of SQL Server 2012 next year, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Finally, Microsoft's partner Hewlett-Packard plans to release a database migration solution for virtualized environments in November. The migration product, consisting of HP's hardware and Microsoft's software, is called the "HP Enterprise Database Consolidation Appliance." Microsoft claims that HP's appliance speeds up database deployments to minutes rather than weeks and requires "no application or database changes" for such migrations. The product appears aimed at SQL Server 2008 R2, based on a white paper available here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Microsoft Regroups Apps on Windows 8 Metro UI


Microsoft Regroups Apps on Windows 8 Metro UI
The future of the Windows user interface is app-based rather than file-based, according to Microsoft. But many people have already expressed concerns about the new app tiles that make up the Start Screen of the Windows 8 Metro user interface.

Microsoft is responding to that feedback in a series of "building Windows 8" blog posts issued this month. In the blogs, the company details how it utilized a great swath of data voluntarily contributed by users, which largely guided the company's design decisions with Windows 8.

First off, the Start Button had to go. In a post by Chaitanya Sareen, program manager lead on the Microsoft core experience evolved team, Microsoft explained that people were using the Start Button in Windows less and less, based on statistical data. Instead, people preferred to launch apps that were pinned to the taskbar.

"The message is clear that the majority of people want most of their apps on the taskbar rather than having to dig into Start," Sareen explained.

Microsoft went a step further than that with the Windows 8 design and laid all of the programs out in a single view on the Start Screen, dropping the taskbar altogether from the Metro UI. That layout, in Microsoft's view, represents "the evolution of the Start menu." In this case, "evolution" means a collection of square and rectangular colored tiles, representing programs, all sitting right on the desktop screen.

Microsoft Regroups Apps on Windows 8 Metro UI

[Click on image for larger view.]  

Windows 8 Metro Start Screen. 

Next, Alice Steinglass, group program manager for the core experience evolved team, took up the cause of explaining the Start Screen's design in Windows 8. Her main point is that the Windows 8 Start Screen functions as a sort of "dashboard that helps you stay up to date and connected in a high quality experience substantially improved over the notification tray." The notification tray on the taskbar was simply dropped in the Metro UI because it just added clutter to the desktop. Similarly, Microsoft dropped the folder approach in the start menu because "folders are a way of burying things, not organizing them."

Metro has "live tiles" that update in near real time using the Windows Notification Service for Metro-style apps. The effect, according to Steinglass, is to provide a "heads-up display" of activity for users. That arrangement can save time for consumer users, who may not even have to launch an app to see an update, as in a stock-ticker app. It can benefit office workers too.

"We expect corporate applications to be developed that display Live tiles for important internal systems and processes too," Steinglass explained.

Metro looks a lot like the consumer UI seen in Windows Phone 7, but Microsoft is serious about it for office desktop workers. It works with keyboard, mouse and stylus in addition to touch. Users can move the tiles around to customize the Start Screen, but Microsoft hasn't neglected IT pros who manage corporate desktops. Windows 8 will enable "the managed lockdown of customization of the Start screen so that it is consistent across the corporation," explained a post by Marina Dukhon, a senior program manager lead on the Microsoft core experience team. She noted that IT pros will be able to remove items from the Start Screen, such as the Games app tile, in Windows 8.

Microsoft is also working to optimize Windows 8 for those who work with larger screens or multiple screens. The larger the screen real estate, the more app tiles can be displayed, although Microsoft currently has configured the Windows 8 Start Screen to display 20 apps on the screen before users have to scroll. The screen scrolls from right to left if there are more program tiles to see. Dukhon said that Microsoft will be "increasing the number of rows of tiles that you can see on large monitors" to fit more apps on the Start Screen.

Dukhon addressed a number of critical comments from Windows 8 reviewers in the blog post. In response to one comment, she announced that Microsoft's latest Windows 8 design restores the "all programs" folder structure that was used in previous Windows versions. The all-programs structure arranges lists of applications under their suite names (such as "Microsoft Office"). Users who got the developer preview of Windows 8 were somewhat shocked to see apps listed in plain alphabetical order, and the team appears to be responding to that feedback.

Microsoft has largely gone quiet on Windows 8 since the conclusion of its Build event in September. The exception appears to be the Metro UI. While the classic Desktop approach will coexist with the Metro UI in Windows 8, Microsoft apparently sees the squared-off Metro approach as "your new home base" in years to come.

If Microsoft keeps to expectations, Windows 8 may begin arriving as soon as April 2012 or sometime in 2013, when the OS is released as a final product.

Friday, October 14, 2011

SQL Server 2012 Expected in First Half of Next Year


SQL Server 2012 Expected in First Half of Next Year

Microsoft announced Data Explorer, a new cloud capability for businesses to share data in SQL Server 2012

At the PASS Summit 2011 in Seattle this week, Microsoft officially announced SQL Server 2012 (formerly codenamed "Denali") and expanded its product support for open source Apache Hadoop technology.

The third community technology preview of SQL Server "Denali" was released in July. The technology has advanced to "the final production stages," the company said on Wednesday. The final SQL Server 2012 product is expected sometime in the first half of 2012, Microsoft announced at the event, which is sponsored by the Professional Association for SQL Server.

SQL Server 2012 Features
Other code names associated with the Denali CTP release also were dropped, Microsoft announced. For instance, Microsoft's "Crescent" code-named feature, which offers a simplified way for information workers to create data mashups, is now called "Power View." Microsoft also announced that it has added a new touch capability to Power View, which will allow users to drill down into data via touch-screens.

SQL Server Denali developers who were used to the old "Juneau" code name for Microsoft's integrated development environment can now say hello to Microsoft's new, more descriptive name, "SQL Server Data Tools."

Microsoft announced a new capability for businesses to share data in SQL Server 2012, and so introduced another code name, "Data Explorer." This feature, which will be available via SQL Azure Labs in November, will eventually leverage the Windows Azure Marketplace, although the details were lacking in Microsoft's announcement. Microsoft describes Data Explorer as providing "capabilities for data curation, collaboration, classification and mashup, opening new capabilities and opportunities around the data that you own or want to work with."

Hadoop Interoperability
Microsoft's ongoing relationship in supporting the open source Hadoop technology continues apace as interoperability is being opened up for Windows Server and Windows Azure. Microsoft is partnering with Apache Hadoop core contributor Hortonworks on the effort. Hortonworks was founded by Yahoo and Benchmark Capital. SQL Server Certified Microsoft Master Brent Ozar joked in a Twitter feed that "It'd be hilarious if Microsoft ends up buying Yahoo just for the Hadoop expertise."

Hadoop is more than just clustering technology, according to James Kobielus, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, who described it as "the nucleus of the next-generation enterprise data warehouse in the cloud." He called Hadoop an evolutionary path. It has storage layer as well as an aggregation and query layer called "Hive." It also has an in-database analytics layer through Map Reduce.

"Hadoop is a petabyte-scalable complex data and analytics staging layer sitting behind an enterprise data warehouse or it can be a standalone data warehouse to some degree," Kobielus said in a phone call. He added that Hadoop is used by early adopters for things like social media analytics. It's used by AOL and Yahoo for ad analytics, for instance.

"Hadoop is an 'in-database analytics' approach, under which complex analytics -- including multivariate statistical analysis, data mining, predictive modeling, sentiment analysis, and content analytics -- are executed in parallel across MPP [massively parallel processing] clusters of distinct processing and storage nodes," Kobielus explained via e-mail. "Hadoop's power enables these functions to be executed with linear scaling across clouds that hold hundreds of petabytes of data and may distribute processing within individual data centers or even wide-area networks."

Kobielus described Microsoft's collaboration with Hortonworks as a key partnership, since that company has been pushing the vision for next-generation Hadoop.

"The Microsoft partnership,…I believe,…is providing professional services and consulting to ISVs and data warehousing companies and others that want to go down the road of Hadoop for big data," Kobielus said. "Hortonworks is very very principled in their commitment to the open source process. All of their development work is contributed back to the Apache open source community. Microsoft has indicated to me that that's a big reason why they're going with Hortonworks."

In the near future, Hadoop distributions will work with Microsoft's PowerPivot business intelligence tools on Windows Server and Windows Azure. Microsoft plans to release a CTP of the Hadoop service for Windows Azure at the end of this year, while the CTP of the Hadoop service for Windows Server is planned for sometime next year. Microsoft will offer code contributions to Hadoop, which is an open source project initiated by the Apache Software Foundation.

Kobielus described the Hadoop work with Windows Server and Windows Server as an "exciting" development.

"Hadoop then becomes the common technology, bridging the parallel data warehouse architecture with the Azure architecture, which are two entirely separate databases for big data," he said. "This is great. I look forward to seeing where they are going in terms of using Hadoop as the catalyzing converge layer between those two Microsoft initiatives."

Microsoft previously released CTPs of Hadoop connectors for SQL Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse back in August. The one for SQL Server 2008 R2 has now advanced to "release-to-Web" status and can be downloaded here. Hadoop is typically used to run "big data" business intelligence-type operations for applications such as supply-chain management, sales analytics, call-center record analysis, Web event analysis and financial reporting.

Those looking for more information on Hadoop may do well to track Kobielus' work. Yesterday, Forrester published his study, "Enterprise Hadoop Best Practices: Concrete Guidelines From Early Adopters In Online Services." Kobielus also is finishing up two more studies for publication this month, including one on Yahoo's use of Hadoop and a study on enterprise use of Hadoop for big data applications. Those wanting more can look for a future Forrester Wave study from Kobielus on data warehousing players.

Hadoop currently is being embraced by Oracle, NoSQL, IBM, Netezza, Teradata and EMC Greenplum, in addition to Microsoft.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Microsoft: Linux Dual-Boot Configurations Still "Possible" on Windows 8 PCs


Microsoft: Linux Dual-Boot Configurations Still "Possible" on Windows 8 PCs

Is the whole dual-boot argument associated with Linux much ado about nothing? Even Windows 7 is not slated to have support for a dual-boot configuration with Windows 8.

Microsoft debunked claims that dual-boot configurations with Linux OSes are not possible on Windows 8. However, users must first turn off a "secure boot" security feature in the firmware, which is not recommended by the software company.

On Thursday Microsoft addressed widespread reports that Windows 8 may not allow Linux operating systems to coexist in a dual-boot configuration on PCs, based on the use of new firmware, specifically the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) "secure boot" protocol.

Tony Mangefeste, a member of the Microsoft Ecosystem team, explained in a Build Windows 8 blog post that dual boot with Linux OSes can be supported on Windows 8, even Linux OSes that lack trusted certificates.

Mangefeste noted that a setting exists in the Samsung tablets running Windows 8 that were released at Microsoft's Build conference earlier this month where users can make this change. However, these Windows 8 "developer preview" machines aren't necessarily reflective of final product products. Microsoft would be expected to add or remove features at will at this point, since code-named "Windows 8" is still at the prebeta stage.

The controversy was spurred, in part, by a blog post by Matthew Garrett, a Red Hat developer focused on power management and mobile Linux technologies. Garrett subsequently wrote that Mangefeste's explanations do not contradict his assertions. Garrett claims, among other points, that "Windows 8 certification does not require that the user be able to disable UEFI secure boot, and we've already been informed by hardware vendors that some hardware will not have this option."

Microsoft is requiring that certified systems ship with secure boot by default. Whether it will let the user disable that feature in the final build of Windows 8 remains to be seen.

Secure Boot Not Supported on Linux
Windows 8 can run using BIOS system firmware or it can run on UEFI firmware. Microsoft's OEM firmware partners can make the choice on which to use. Possibly, firmware vendors will simply opt to meet Microsoft's requirements, shipping machines with secure boot turned on, since the vast majority of PCs run Windows, Garrett pointed out. Linux apparently has some technical issues, perhaps mostly affecting hobbyists, that might make using unsigned certificates a necessity. Garrett says that Linux doesn't support secure boot now, but he also shrugs off the limitation, saying it's "about a week's worth of effort" to add that support.

The whole dual-boot argument associated with Linux seems to be "much ado about nothing" since even Windows 7 presently is not slated to have support for a dual-boot configuration with Windows 8. That point was underscored in a panel session at Microsoft's Build conference, "Delivering a Secure and Fast Boot Experience With UEFI." Speaker Arie van der Hoeven, a Microsoft principal lead program manager, was asked directly about the dual-boot capability and secure boot protection in Windows 8.

"If you are dual booting, it depends on whether you are booting into another trusted operating system, van der Hoeven said. One discussion we are having is…[with] this first firmware OK boot manager OK handshake, you can't have a version of that that works with Windows 7. Windows 7 doesn't have the ability to check firmware. The firmware can check and make sure it is assigned a Windows 7 boot loader. Truly, right now today, if you want to have secure boot and you want to dual boot Windows 8 and Windows 7, you need to turn secure boot off in firmware. We are thinking about having a way that you can go ahead and make that work, but that's not POR [plan of record] today."

Microsoft is moving to support UEFI standards for booting the OS, while the BIOS system is seen as more of a legacy approach. However, right now, Microsoft is testing Windows 8 on machines that are about 90 percent BIOS based, van der Hoeven explained.

BIOS systems, which stem from the 1980s, only work with x86 and x64 hardware. The spec was not designed to work with Itanium hardware. UEFI arose, in part, to address that Itanium shortcoming, van der Hoeven explained. BIOS systems are further limited to a boot disk size of 2.2 TB, and UEFI expands on that size. BIOS systems still use "ugly" screen menus because they are based on VGA graphics.

Moreover, all ARM-based processors use the UEFI model, van der Hoeven said.

A little bit of UEFI already runs in the background of current BIOS systems, van der Hoeven said. However, the element that Microsoft has focused on with UEFI for Windows 8 is the ability to expose UEFI to the operating system through UEFI runtime services. This runtime allows the OS and firmware to communicate about white-listed and black-listed certificates. It can help ward off rootkits and "bootkits" that may shield the presence of malware. Van der Hoeven said that Microsoft can add untrusted certificates to a blacklist via Windows Update under this UEFI scheme. All firmware and software in the boot process must be signed by a trusted Certificate Authority, he added.

Windows 8 To Require Secure Boot
Secure boot is not Microsoft's proprietary firmware validation procedure but is specified in UEFI 2.3.1 in Chapter 27. It's optional to use according to the spec, but Microsoft is requiring secure boot in certified Windows 8 systems. Secure boot operates in the boot path to ensure that only verified loaders will boot Windows 8, and it prevents malware from switching the boot loaders. Today's PCs do not have this protection, according to Mangefeste.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Microsoft: October Security Update Patches .NET and Silverlight


Microsoft: October Security Update Patches .NET and Silverlight

The October security update provides patches for two "critical" and six "important" items covering a range of products including Microsoft .NET Windows, Internet Explorer, Forefront and Microsoft Host Integration Server.

Microsoft released its October Security Bulletin alerting users to eight patches, including a critical fix for .NET and Silverlight. The October Security Update is slated for release on Tuesday, October 11.

The security update provides patches for  two "critical" and six "important" items covering a range of products including Microsoft .NET Windows, Internet Explorer, Forefront and Microsoft Host Integration Server.

Remote code execution dominates the risk profile for all but two of the items on the patch slate. The remaining two are denial-of-service and elevation-of-privilege considerations.

The first critical bulletin affects .NET and Silverlight.

Marcus Carey, a security researcher at Rapid7, opines that this patch, along with all critical items, needs to be examined closely.

"This bulletin looks very close to MS11-039, which was patched in August. When exploit developers look for bugs disclosed in products, they usually find similar bugs which result in the same type of vulnerabilities," he said.

As for the other, an often-patched Internet Explorer once again will be receiving a fix.

Speaking on the Internet Explorer item, Carey said attackers will continue to get users to click on links to malicious Web sites. He says to expect the attackers to continue to explore these browsers and plug-in weaknesses, which have been the bane of Microsoft's browser for some time.

Paul Henry, security and forensic analyst for Lumension, called October's predicted batch of fixes a "trick and treat" patch.

The Treat is that there are less critical items and more Windows fixes, he said. The trick is in the operational challenges of rebooting systems.

"Nearly all require a restart, which will cause widespread disruptions across both Internet-connected servers and user community desktops."

As usual, consult Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 894199 for more information.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Microsoft Receives EU Approval for Skype Deal


Microsoft Receives EU Approval for Skype Deal

When the acquistion is finalized, Microsoft will gain access to 170 million Skype subscribers, although it's likely that most are consumers who use the free version of the product.

The European Commission approved Microsoft's $8.5 billion bid for Skype on friday, paving the way for Microsoft to integrate Skype's voice-over-IP technologies and services into Windows and other products.

U.S. regulatory approvals were completed in June, one month after Microsoft announced the Skype deal.

Microsoft's relations with the European Commission have been bumpy in recent years, especially when Microsoft racked up fines in anticompetition cases. Microsoft was found to have used its Windows monopoly to distribute Internet Explorer unfairly in EU countries in a case that echoed past U.S. antitrust litigation against the company. However, this time with Skype, there appeared to be no objections from the European Commission. The Commission surprisingly dismissed the possibility that bundling Skype with Windows could prove anticompetitive.

"As regards the risk of tying or bundling, the Commission noted that the vast majority of consumers who acquire a PC with Skype already installed are registered Skype users and that most of them subsequently download a version different from the pre-installed one. Therefore, the proposed transaction will not change the current situation," the European Commission explained in a press release.

With the European Union approvals completed, Microsoft can now begin implementing its business plans.

"We look forward to completing soon the final steps needed to close the acquisition, bringing together the employees of Microsoft and Skype, and creating new opportunities for people to communicate and collaborate around the world," said Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president at Microsoft.

Skype, in terms of dollars, represents Microsoft's biggest acquisition yet, at $8.5 billion. In May, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested how Skype might be used. He said that Skype technologies could be extended into Microsoft Outlook, Xbox, Kinect, Messenger, Hotmail and Lync. Skype will operate in a new division at Microsoft, led by Tony Bates, Skype's CEO.

Skype is considered to be a consumer product that overlaps somewhat with Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger product and Google Voice, according to the European Commission. However, the Commission indicated it had no competition concerns since the market has "numerous players." Similarly, it did not expect that Microsoft would degrade interoperability with competing services. Ballmer promised back in May that Skype would continue to support other platforms, such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

The Commission also dismissed the possibility that Microsoft would use Skype unfairly in the enterprise market.

"As regards enterprise communications services, the Commission found that Skype is currently not an enterprise product, therefore its interoperability is not decisive for competitors and a bundle or a tie between Skype and Microsoft's products will not be a must have product for enterprises," the Commission explained in the press release. "Furthermore Lync faces competition from other strong players in enterprise communications, such as Cisco."

Microsoft will gain access to 170 million Skype subscribers, although it's likely that most are consumers who use the free version of the product. Skype also offers paid services that allows low-cost calling to phones and mobile devices, on top of its free peer-to-peer computer VoIP connections. The paid services also enable SMS text messaging, the ability to connect via Wi-Fi hotspots and group video calling, among other features.

Forrester analyst Ted Schadler commented back in May that Microsoft will be able to leverage a popular consumer brand while preventing Cisco and Google from acquiring Skype. Microsoft will have the capital to develop services such as "local phone numbers, three-way video conferencing, business administration, and making calls to real phone numbers" that Skype lacked the means to pull off. He also suggested that a future Lync-to-Skype integration might enable a better way to connect with people outside an organization, such as video calls to customers and partners.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Microsoft Previews PowerShell 3.0


Microsoft Previews PowerShell 3.0

The company released a preview of the scripting technology for Windows 8, and the latest Windows 7 technologies, as part of its Windows Management Framework 3.0 Community Technology Preview.

Microsoft highlighted the upcoming release of Windows PowerShell 3.0 for Windows 8 during several sessions at its Build conference for developers last week.

The company released a preview of the scripting technology, which also supports Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, as part of its Windows Management Framework 3.0 Community Technology Preview. In addition to PowerShell, the framework offers Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and Windows Remote Management (WinRM). The CTP requires the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0 CLR.

The main purpose of downloading and installing this CTP is to test new capabilities in PowerShell 3.0, Microsoft's scripting language that's designed to help automate server management processes. The use of PowerShell, in conjunction with Windows Server Core, has emerged as a favored approach among experts at Microsoft to enable multiserver management while also addressing scalability.

Microsoft added some new features in PowerShell 3.0, including an improvement in how workflows can be used to manage tasks, per Microsoft's blog description. PowerShell 3.0 also adds "robust sessions" support to recover from network interruptions. Users can delegate their credentials to other users to run critical jobs via a new "delegated administration" feature. A new "cmdlet discovery" feature helps users find and run scripts. The "show-command" feature will display the parameters of a cmdlet via a forms-based dialog box. Scheduled jobs can now run based on events. Microsoft also adapted a more "natural language" feel to the scripting, according to the blog.

Microsoft improved WMI in this CTP release. Microsoft defines WMI as Windows' "infrastructure for management data and operations." IT pros typically write scripts that leverage WMI to automate tasks on remote computers. One of the improvements in WMI is its new provider model that "removes the dependency" on the Component Object Model (COM), according to the blog.

Microsoft also added support for more robust connections with WinRM in this CTP release, especially for managing long-running tasks. WinRM is Microsoft's version of the WS-Management standard, which is a SOAP-based protocol for exchanging management information across disparate systems.

While the Windows Management Framework 3.0 CTP is designed for testing on present-day Windows operating systems, much of the PowerPoint 3.0 improvements are described and illustrated in Build conference sessions held last week. The "Make Your Product Manageable" Build session (available on demand via Microsoft's Channel 9) shows some of PowerPoint 3.0's improvements relative to "Windows 8" and "Windows Server 8."

In that Build talk, Jeffrey Snover and Refaat Issa described some improvements in PowerShell 3.0, which now has more than 2,300 cmdlets on Windows 8. Snover, a Microsoft distinguished engineer and lead architect of Windows Server, is considered to be the "father" of PowerShell. Issa is a senior program manager on the Windows PowerShell team.

A new PowerShell 3.0 feature in Windows 8 is the ability to write a WMI v2 providers, Snover said. He added that there are also new ways to write PowerShell cmdlets. In Windows 8, users can write cmdlets in .NET, PowerShell, Windows Workflow, or CIM in WMI. He also explained that REST APIs can now be configured using PowerShell and OData.

Microsoft uses a Managed Object Format (MOF) based on the Distributed Management Taskforce (DMTF) standard. Using a schema based on MOF, it is easier to write WMI providers by "an order of magnitude," according to Snover.

Snover noted in the session that nearly everyone has been taking PowerShell and workflows and making them work together. He said that using them together has an additive positive effect for IT pros, which is like combining peanut butter and chocolate.

Microsoft has developed its own version of a portable Common Information Model (CIM) server, called "NanoWBEM," that makes use of CIM and WS-Management standards to support non-Windows systems. Snover compared it to OpenPegasus, but said that NanoWBEM is 76 times faster.

Snover emphasized that manageability is the differentiation point for products, and that IT pros should strive to use automation to minimize errors and server downtime. It's especially important for addressing scaleability issues, which are being driven by virtualization, he said.

"If products aren't manageable, it just causes [IT pros] exceeding pain," he said during the presentation. "A small problem times a large frequency, like you get with virtualization, in turn can just drive you crazy. So you've got to have great manageability."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Microsoft Previews Hadoop Connectors for SQL Server


Microsoft Previews Hadoop Connectors for SQL Server

The company hinted that more tooling is on the way for big data integrations.

Microsoft is previewing test versions of its Hadoop connectors, designed to enable the transfer of structured and unstructured data with SQL Server and SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse in heterogeneous environments.

Hadoop is an Apache open source framework for running applications on clusters using commodity hardware.Both connectors are designed to enable two-way movement of data between the systems. The SQL to Hadoop (SQOOP) command-line tool is used by the connector to transfer data from the Hadoop File System to SQL Server. The connector also uses the bulk load/extract tool in PDW to quickly import or export data.

One Hadoop connector is designed to work with SQL Server 2008 R2 and is available for download as a CTP test release. Microsoft's PDW customers can get a copy of the Hadoop connector CTP release for PDW by requesting it through Microsoft's customer support service, according to Microsoft's announcement.

The Hadoop connector for SQL Server 2008 R2 is also compatible for use with SQL Server code-named "Denali," Microsoft's next-generation relational database management system. Denali is currently available as a CTP3 release.

Microsoft had signaled its planned rollout of the two Hadoop connector CTP releases earlier this month. Organizations use Hadoop to run "big data" business intelligence-type operations. Practical applications include supply-chain management, sales analytics, call-center record analysis, Web event analysis and financial reporting.

Microsoft's announcement hinted that there will more to come next year on such big data integrations. The company already offers two other connector solutions: The Microsoft Informatica connector for SQL Server PDW and the Microsoft SAP Business Objects DI connector for SQL Server PDW. Both of those connectors are currently available by contacting Microsoft's customer support services.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

SharePoint Online To Add Business Connectivity Services


SharePoint Online To Add Business Connectivity Services

By year-end, SharePoint Online will offer Business Connectivity Services to make it easier for developers to build cloud-based applications that front-end their data.

Microsoft highlighted an update to SharePoint Online during the Day 1 keynote at its SharePoint 2011 conference in Anaheim, Calif. The major update will offer Business Connectivity Services, among other features, enabling developers to have read-write access to Web services for building cloud-based front-ends to data sources.

According to the SharePoint Team Blog, "BCS lets customers use and search data from other systems as if it lives in SharePoint -- in both read and write modes." With BCS included, the forthcoming SharePoint Online update will let users "connect to data sources via Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) Web Services endpoints."

A component of the cloud-based Office 365 suite that Microsoft launched in June, the SharePoint Online update will be coming by year's end, revealed Microsoft's Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of the Office Business Platform at Microsoft, during his keynote presentation.

Teper also said the SharePoint team is working on "the next major release," presumably referring to the customer premises product, but did not give details on a timetable. He did say that "this is the biggest release of SharePoint we've ever done, [with] the largest engineering team."

"We're investing big in this technology," Teper said.

Teper's talk comprised the bulk of Monday morning's keynote. Jared Spataro, senior director of SharePoint product management at Microsoft, preceded Teper with a string of statistics to underline SharePoint's rapid growth. According to Spataro, SharePoint is the fastest Microsoft product to generate $1 billion in revenue, making it one of the largest products in the company's portfolio. In fact, Spataro said, if SharePoint were a standalone business, it would rank as one of the top 50 software firms in the world.

In all, Spataro said there have been over 125 million SharePoint licenses sold to over 65,000 customers worldwide, including 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

Teper followed Spataro onstage to give the audience of roughly 7,500 people an overview of the SharePoint development team's three main goals: redefine the nature of collaboration, "unleash the ecosystem" and build a world-class platform.

He also revealed that there are "thousands of partners building apps on SharePoint," many of whom have requested a way to move those apps to the cloud.

In addition to announcing the SharePoint Online update, Teper unveiled a new certification program: Microsoft Certified Architects (MCA) for SharePoint. Those who achieve the MCA SharePoint certification "have a level of depth, training and certification that is unmatched on complex SharePoint enterprise deployments and application development," Teper said.

This Microsoft Learning page indicates that the beta period for the MCA SharePoint exam will end sometime during the duration of the SharePoint Conference, with Board exams scheduled for Feb. 6, 2012.

One of the highlights of the keynote was a demo by Richard Riley, a director on the Microsoft SharePoint team. He demonstrated SharePoint's scalability, FAST search capability and ability to quickly recover from a network failure. Onstage were two server clusters, one from EMC and one from NEC, housing 14.4 TB of data pulled from Wikipedia. The demo by Riley used SQL Server code-named "Denali" CTP 3 as the database management system.

The load test simulated 7,000 users on the network accessing the 14.4 TB of data. Riley was able to use Microsoft FAST search to pull up 100 million items in 2.3 seconds. Next, Riley used the Windows Cluster Manager to show a failover happening live on stage. One of the server clusters was unplugged on stage resulting in a 14.4-TB failover to the next server. The other server cluster reconnected the data after the failure in 40 seconds, bringing back the entire SharePoint farm.

Kurt DelBene, the president of Microsoft's Office Division who took the stage after Teper, emphasized that the capabilities of this demo are all being made available to customers through the cloud with Office 365, and that Microsoft's cloud takes away the need for organizations to have failover and clustering expertise in-house when running SharePoint. He described Microsoft's earlier Business Productivity Online Service as "not so friendly" compared with Office 365. DelBene didn't elaborate, but BPOS is Microsoft's first-generation cloud technology, which had been been based on Office 2007, whereas Office 365 is based on SharePoint 2010 technology. If users want a private cloud, Microsoft supports that too, DelBene said.

Kurt Mackie contributed to this article.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Windows 8 Apps in Sync via Microsoft's Live Cloud


Windows 8 Apps in Sync via Microsoft's Live Cloud

At it's BUILD conference for developers earlier this month, Microsoft demonstrated how Windows Live Services will play a key role in enabling roaming and single sign-on capabilities for Windows 8 and its applications.

With Windows 8, Microsoft is moving towards the world of connected devices championed by former Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie.

At it's BUILD conference for developers earlier this month, Microsoft demonstrated how Windows Live will play a key role in enabling roaming and single sign-on capabilities for the "Windows 8" operating system and its applications.

Windows Live IDs are already used across Microsoft's TechNet and MSDN sites, enabling access to various Microsoft Web sites. On the consumer side, Windows Live IDs are used to connect consumers using Windows Live Essentials applications and Office Web Apps. Users with Windows Live IDs get access to 25 GB of storage space for their files via Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud service. Microsoft Xbox Live users connect to Microsoft's gaming console services via Windows Live. Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" users will have access to Windows Live SkyDrive service for photo storage and sharing.

Windows 8 now lets users sign into their computer using a Windows Live ID, which will save Windows settings with the user account. Application and last-used state settings will then persist across other devices running Windows 8, according to Katie Frigon, a Microsoft group program manager on the "you-centered" experience team, in a blog post. Any changes to those settings are kept in sync via Microsoft's cloud. Users have control over what gets synced in terms of personalization, themes, language preferences and a few other matters.

If a device is used for work, IT pros have control over what can be synced via Group Policy settings. They can choose whether or not to link a domain account to a Windows Live ID. If the domain is linked, IT pros can control what data the user can access on the corporate network. Corporate credentials for a domain-joined PC will stay on the PC and aren't uploaded to the cloud, Frigon stated.

User profile data is protected through encryption on the client before being sent to the cloud via SSL/TLS, Frigon explained. By default, Microsoft does not allow such data to roam over a wireless wide area network.

Earlier this month at its Build conference, Microsoft showed how developers can take advantage of Windows Live identity data, which can be used by applications. Windows Live identity data can be used by any application or Web site that supports the Windows Live login ID -- not just Microsoft's sites and apps, according to Dare Obasanjo, a Microsoft senior program manager. By using a Windows Live ID, users get a "zero click sign-in" experience across Web sites, Obasanjo explained in a Microsoft Build talk, "Power Your App With Live Services."

The second benefit to using a Windows Live ID with Windows 8 is its roaming support. Core ID settings get synced up to the Windows Live cloud, allowing users to use an app at work and pick up from where they left off at home. Obasanjo gave an example of an RSS newsreader application. Users can read articles at work and then pick up at home from where they left off via this syncing capability.

On the consumer end, the synchronization enabled by Windows Live IDs will connect the various applications in the Windows Live Essentials suite, which is available as a free download for Windows users. For instance, the Windows Live Essentials Mail app can connect and synchronize multiple e-mail accounts, while the Calendar app can integrate multiple calendars such as those used at home and work, according to Chris Jones, vice president of Windows Live engineering, in a blog post.

Developers can get more information about how to connect Windows Live users to their apps via "Live Connect," a portal for Windows applications developers.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Developers Take Center Stage at Day 2 Build Keynote


Developers Take Center Stage at Day 2 Build Keynote
While yesterday's keynote focused more on Windows 8 and Metro-style app development, Wednesday morning's Build keynote -- lead by Microsoft Corporate Vice Presidents Scott Guthrie and Jason Zander -- targeted the rank and file .NET developer, focusing in on the Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview, among other topics.

Wearing his trademark red polo, Guthrie came on stage to give a feature-packed presentation of the improvements to ASP.NET MVC in Visual Studio 11. Guthrie showed off the new asynchronous capabilities in MVC, as well as showing how WebSocket support can provide real-time links via Windows Azure among diverse client devices.

Stephen Toub, principal architect on the Parallel Computing Platform team at Microsoft, after the keynote said that Visual Studio 11 significantly extends the asynchronous capabilities first delivered in the Async CTP. He noted that Async enables vital scalability improvements in ASP.NET MVC.

The next version of MVC also gains mobile-focused features, including improved default styles for mobile targets and support for jQuery Mobile. The Visual Studio 11 Phone Emulator also adds support for iOS, enabling MVC developers to target their apps to the iPhone.

Jason Zander, meanwhile, came out to give two distinct demoes. In the first, Zander used the Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview to Build a DirectX-enabled, 3D game application in C++. Zander showed off the new image editor in Visual Studio, which now supports alpha blending, drawing applause from the audience. He also walked through the intriguing, pixel-level debugging tools in Visual Studio, showing how a developer can drill down into a visual flaw in a three-dimensional scene and diagnose and fix the problem.

Blogger Rafael Rivera, contributing to the Build group live blog at ZDNet, described the capability as "an IntelliTrace-kind of diagnostic based on pixels."

Zander also showed off Team Foundation Service, the Windows Azure-based version of Microsoft's team development environment, hosted in the Cloud. Attendees were given a one-year subscription to TFS for Windows Azure during the conference.

Downloads of developer preview versions of Visual Studio 11 and Team Foundation Server 11 are available for download today for MSDN Subscribers. General availability is set for 10 a.m. PT Friday for both Visual Studio 11 and Team Foundation Server 11.

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer made a surprise appearance to cap the keynote, offering a high-level perspective on Microsoft's Windows-centric strategy going forward. Ballmer stressed, several times, that many of the efforts highlighted at Build remain in the very early stages, and that developers can expect plenty of advancements in the months and years to come.

Ballmer made one thing emphatically clear: Microsoft's strategy is centered around Windows -- Windows 8, Windows 8 Server, Windows Azure and Windows Phone. As Ballmer concluded in his penultimate line of his speech: "It's the day and age of the developer. It's the day and age of the Windows developer," Ballmer said, moments before leaving the stage with a reserved take on his trademark line: "Developers, developers, developers."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Analysts Review Windows 8 Platform Changes


Analysts Review Windows 8 Platform Changes

In essence, Microsoft now has two client operating system models: Metro and classic, according to Directions on Microsoft.

A team of analysts at independent consultancy Directions on Microsoft updated their Windows platform roadmap based on announcements from Microsoft's Build conference for developers, held earlier this month. Michael Cherry, Ron Sanfilippo and Wes Miller outlined platform changes, tooling and trends during a telebriefing on Thursday, Sept. 22.

In essence, Microsoft now has two client operating system models: Metro and classic, according to Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry. The classic model (Microsoft calls it "desktop") runs on the familiar desktop with icons and toolbars. The Metro model, which looks like the Windows Phone user interface, features "live tiles" (apps that update on the desktop), a landscape view (which can be turned into a portrait view) and 16:9 aspect ratio for screens.

Microsoft introduced a new Windows Runtime (WinRT) for Metro-style touch-screen apps, while keeping a classic desktop mode for x86/x64 apps. WinRT provides APIs to get to kernel OS services and hardware. Microsoft's main emphasis at its Build conference was to show developers how to exploit the Metro UI for touch-enabled applications, Cherry explained.

Like most analyst groups, Directions of Microsoft also redrew Microsoft's new OS architectural chart to suit their interpretation of the changes (see diagram).

Analysts Review Windows 8 Platform Changes

[Click on image for larger view.]  

Directions on Microsoft's take on Microsoft's new Windows Runtime and desktop OS models. Source: Directions on Microsoft. 

For other interpretations, see this article by veteran Microsoft observer Mary-Jo Foley.

Windows 8
The Windows 8 desktop (for classic apps) will be "100 percent compatible" with Windows 7 apps, according to Rob Sanfilippo, a Directions on Microsoft analyst. He speculated that Microsoft may be "pushing off" desktop apps in favor of Metro-style apps in the future, based on Microsoft's revised Windows 8 roadmap. He said that he wasn't sure if Silverlight would be supported on Metro-style apps, although Microsoft has already indicated that Internet Explorer 10, which ships with Windows 8, will lack plug-ins, which is the traditional place for adding Silverlight support in Microsoft's browser. Sanfilippo noted that a lot of the skills a developer might use in Silverlight are present in Windows 8, such as XAML support.

Microsoft added Hyper-V 3.0 to the Windows 8 client OS, with the hypervisor being dependent on x64 hardware from AMD or Intel to run, Cherry said. He expressed some new skepticism about ARM-based servers popping up running Windows Server 8, mostly because Hyper-V is such an important server application for Microsoft.

"Hyper-V is key to Windows Server, and that eliminates ARM on the server side because you would have to have a hypervisor that would run on ARM," Cherry noted.

Microsoft has said that it will support x86, x64 and ARM platforms on Windows 8. However, Cherry noted that x86 apps would require work to port to the ARM platform. The changes needed to make line-of-business apps run on Windows 8 ARM are not known, he said. Microsoft has been noncommittal even about porting Microsoft Office to ARM. Moreover, the ARM platform might prove to be somewhat complex, with multiple deviations arising, he said.

Cherry advised caution when talking about cross-platform apps and said it might be time to deemphasize x86. He cited Hyper-V 3.0's orientation toward x64 hardware as an example. Cherry also said that there might be issues around device drivers that won't allow apps work across platforms. AMD and Intel are working to make x86 chips more power efficient, but that's still an unknown factor. Overall, Cherry guessed that Microsoft showed technology that might enable "85 percent" cross-platform compatibility, but there will be some "gotchas" along the way, he added.

Windows Server 8
As for Windows Server 8, Microsoft is expressing a preference toward running Windows Core infrastructure. Windows Core is a stripped down version of the server that was first introduced with Windows Server 2008.

"Microsoft is saying we should be running [Windows Server 8] in Core mode," Cherry said.

Windows Server 8 uses Hyper-V 3.0, which adds support for 160 logical processors and 2 TB of RAM. Virtual machine (VM) support includes support for 32 virtual processors, 512 GB of RAM and more than 2 TB of virtual hard drive support. Microsoft improved its "live migration" feature in Windows 8, allowing VMs to be moved to various machines with little interruption to end users.

Microsoft added deduplication support for storage, along with Server Message Block 2.2 protocol support for a pooled storage feature in Windows Server 8. Sanfilippo noted that deduplication now becomes a feature of Windows Server 8 storage whereas it typically had been handled by third-party software vendors in the past. Microsoft added support for single-instance storage, which is a file-based storage system that allows IT pros to get below the blocks of storage, according to Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.