Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’


Why Microsoft will beat Google in the enterprise cloud war

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Google beat Microsoft to market with its cloud-based suite of business apps, but the tables have turned and many organizations, particularly large enterprises, are now looking to Microsoft for their cloud needs.

As Google and Microsoft battle for enterprise cloud customers, each company’s natural strengths (and weaknesses) become more apparent. Microsoft, for example, is winning over large enterprises that already have massive workforces on Office 365. Google for Work, meanwhile, continues to be popular among small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs), particularly organizations that don’t have dedicated IT staffs and aren’t burdened by legacy technologies that require ongoing support.

The pendulum started to slowly swing back in Microsoft’s favor after it released Office 365 in 2013 and finally embraced the cloud, according to TJ Keitt, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. It is difficult to accurately compare the two companies’ user numbers because neither Microsoft nor Google provide details on user bases, or the sizes of the companies they serve, but Keitt suggests Microsoft is on the winning end of the recent shift.

“There is momentum associated with Microsoft Office 365,” he says. “And that was probably always going to be the case, because there are some fundamental differences between Google Apps for Work and Office 365.”

Microsoft Office 365 gives IT more options and controls
It’s easier to get started with Google’s tools, for example, but Microsoft provides greater flexibility and support for critical IT deployment needs, according to Keitt. Office 365 customers have more options when it comes to licensing for apps and data that will be hosted by Microsoft partners; access to the platform in a shared environment; and using dedicated Office 365 environments. “Google doesn’t provide that deployment flexibility,” Keitt says, and adds that Google for Work only supports multi-tenancy deployments.

Vanessa Thompson, research vice president at IDC ( and IDC are both owned by IDG Communications), says both platforms are gaining momentum. “As the level of comfort for cloud-based solutions in general increases, there will be uplift across both solutions.”

Office 365 offers many more IT-specific plans than the two options available in Google for Work, Thompson says. “It is all up to customer choice. Some companies might be happier to mix and match functionality and licenses, and would go with Microsoft, but others are looking for a more straightforward transaction and would go with Google for Work.”

Microsoft provides a pathway for businesses with SharePoint deployments, for example, to continue using those services while moving other elements of their Microsoft portfolios to the cloud, Keitt says. Conversely, Google presents some “stumbling blocks for companies that aren’t interested in ripping or replacing what they were using previously,” he says.

These “different on-ramps” for large companies that already use Microsoft products represent opportunities for the software giant, according to Keitt.

Microsoft’s strengths are particularly appealing to Forbes Global 2000 companies, according to Keitt. “That’s usually where you start to see a break in interests between Google and Microsoft,” he says. “Those very big companies are interested in Microsoft more than Google because of deployment flexibility, as well as hybridization capabilities.”

Thompson says Keitt’s conclusions align with her research and suggests Microsoft’s approach is twofold, because it caters to companies that want to transition to Office 365 for email, as well as organizations looking to mobilize existing desktop apps that they want to continue use.

Google, however, targets companies looking to move completely to the cloud, according to Thompson. Google provides offline access to some of its products, but it can’t match the functionality and IT control enabled by Microsoft.

Despite Google’s earlier entry in the enterprise cloud market, it simply can’t compete with Microsoft in a number of areas, according to Keitt. Google’s technology was developed for use by consumers and then repackaged for business with a set of administrative consoles and IT controls, he says. Google also offers no enterprise equivalent to SharePoint, Yammer or machine learning. So “[i]t’s not an apples-to-apples comparison across the board.”

Last month Google said more than 2 million businesses pay to use Google for Work, and that suggests Google is still has more total customers, according to Keitt. But Microsoft owns the majority share of big business. “There is a fierce competition in smaller companies between Microsoft and Google,” Keitt says. “I would say that Microsoft probably has a pretty good lead in larger companies around Office 365.”
Google won’t go out without a fight

Google is running promotions to steal away enterprise customers from its competitors. The company kicked off an initiative last month that lets businesses under other providers’ contracts use Google for Work apps at no cost for the remainder of those license agreements. The move is part of a smart competitive strategy that could pay off in the SMBs market, according to both Keitt and Thompson. However, for most businesses, the choice between Google and Microsoft comes down to specific employee needs, as well as how frequently their employees use Microsoft Office.

“If your organizational policy is flexible enough to allow users to pick up standalone apps alongside suites then this might appease users and let them have more choice in the applications they use to get their work done,” Thompson says.


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Microsoft zaps dodgy Dell digital certificates

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The company’s security tools will remove the eDellRoot and DSDTestProvider certificates

Microsoft has updated several of its security tools to remove two digital certificates installed on some Dell computers that could compromise data.

The updates apply to Windows Defender for Windows 10 and 8.1; Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows 7 and Vista; and its Safety Scanner and Malicious Software Removal tool, according to postings here and here.

Dell mistakenly included private encryption keys for two digital certificates installed in the Windows root store as part of service tools that made its technical support easier. The tools transmit back to Dell what product a customer is using.

Security experts were alarmed by the mistake. The private keys in both of the digital certificates could be used by attackers to sign malware, create spoof websites and conduct man-in-the-middle attacks to spy on user’s data.

One of the certificates is named eDellRoot and the other DSDTestProvider. Exposure to the latter certificate was likely more limited, as users had to download it, and the risky version was only available between Oct. 20 and Nov. 24, Dell has said.

The eDellRoot certificate, however, shipped with many new Dell laptop and desktop models. Also, older computers that ran the support tool, Dell Foundation Services (DFS), may also have been affected if DFS was configured for automatic updates. The dodgy certificate was issued with a DFS update in August.

Dell released updates on Tuesday to remove the certificates, and it also described how to remove the certificates manually. Microsoft’s tool may help those who for one reason or another haven’t either downloaded or received the updates from Dell.

Symantec wrote on Tuesday that it had seen malware samples indexed by VirusTotal that were digitally signed by the eDellRoot certificate. Malware signed with eDellRoot would allow it to bypass some security defenses.

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Office 2016 adopts branches, update-or-else strategy of Windows 10

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Enterprise subscribers to Office 365 get “Current Branch” and “Current Branch for Business” update and upgrade tracks

Microsoft yesterday said it will launch Office 2016 for Windows on Sept. 22, and detailed how it will deliver updates and upgrades with a cadence and rules set similar to Windows 10’s.

Office 2016 will be “broadly available” starting Sept. 22, said Julie White, general manager of Office 365 technical product management, in a Thursday post on the team’s blog. Organizations with volume license agreements, including those with Software Assurance, will be able to download the new bits beginning Oct. 1.

Week after next, subscribers to Office 365 Home and Personal — the consumer-grade “rent-not-own” plans that cost $70 and $100 yearly — may manually trigger the Office 2016 for Windows download at In October, Office 2016 will automatically download to those subscribers’ devices. The applications will be updated monthly after that, with vulnerability patches, non-security bug fixes and new features and functionality.
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Consumers are locked into that monthly tempo, and like those running Windows 10 Home, must take the updates as they automatically arrive.

But for Office 2016 in businesses, Microsoft plans to reuse the update-and-upgrade release pace pioneered by Windows 10. Office 365 will offer both a “Current Branch” and a “Current Branch for Business,” just as does Windows 10.

Current Branch (CB) will update monthly and potentially include new or improved features, security patches and non-security bug fixes. Current Branch for Business (CBB), on the other hand, will issue updates every four months, with the same potential content. In the months that Microsoft does not deliver a CBB update, it will issue only security fixes to customers who adopt the branch.

Failure to deploy the next CB update means customers won’t receive future security updates. For CBB, businesses may defer deployment of the next update — four months later — but must adopt the one after that, or face a patch stoppage.

Office 365 CBB users, in other words, can retain the feature set of Office 2016 no longer than eight months (two updates). If CBB 1 appears, as Microsoft has pledged, in February 2016, then customers may skip the June 2016 CBB 2 but must deploy October 2016’s CCB 3 or be severed from security updates.

Those rules and the CBB tempo are also identical — although not necessarily on the same calendar schedule — as Windows 10’s.

Some Office 365 customers will be able to use only the CB: Those include organizations that have subscribed to Office 365 Business and Office 365 Business Professional, plans that currently cost $8.25 and $12.50 per user per month.

Firms that subscribe to the pricier Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Enterprise E3 or Office 365 Enterprise E4 plans may opt for the CBB track. Those plans run from $12 to $22 per user per month.

That, too, is identical to Windows 10, in that the operating system offers leisurely update cadences only to those running the more expensive Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise.

There will be no analog to Windows 10’s “Long-term Servicing Branch,” or LTSB, the track that eschews all but security patches for extremely long stretches.

Microsoft may not have spelled it out, but the existence of CB and CBB tracks also plays to its new strategy of passing testing responsibilities to customers, another characteristic of Windows 10. Those running the CB will, in effect, serve as guinea pigs as changes roll out to them monthly; their feedback and complaints will be used by Microsoft to tweak or fix problems before the code reaches customers running the CBB.

Although Microsoft has burdened Office 365 and the locally-installed Office 2016 apps that compose the core of a subscription with a slew of new terms and rules, the changes are in some ways more clarification than procedural, argued Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

“Before, we didn’t know when these [Office 365] updates were coming,” said Miller. “Now, they’re giving us the classifications of what updates will come when.”

The similarities of the Windows 10 and Office 365 release rhythms; the lexicon, including CB and CBB; and the patch stick brandished to motivate customers to update, are all intentional, Miller added. “Microsoft’s giving relatively similar nomenclature for its two major desktop endpoints, Windows and Office,” he said.

But Miller contrasted how Office 365 — which currently is based on the Office 2013 application suite — is managed by organizations with the methods outlined for Office 2016 within the subscription plans.

Now, once a business adopts Office 365, it points workers to the Office 2013 downloads. They install the applications locally on their devices, and from that point, Microsoft, not the organization, “owns” the maintenance via updates.

“If an IT team wanted to own Office maintenance, it had to download the transformation tools [the Office Customization Tool, or OCT], take the installer from Microsoft and modify it,” said Miller. The IT-derived installer would then be offered to employees. “From that point, the organization owns the updating,” Miller continued. He called the process “a little burdensome” — an oft-heard complaint from business subscribers and their supporting IT staffs.

Under Office 2016, shops that subscribe to Office 365 will be able to more easily “own” the updating process by selecting the appropriate branch for each employee or groups of employees. While IT will still rely on the OCT to craft custom installers, the revised tool — not yet available — will support branch selection, Microsoft said in a support document.

The multiple update tracks Microsoft has outlined will only apply to Office 2016 within an Office 365 subscription, Miller said. Traditional licenses, dubbed “perpetual” in that once paid for they can be used for as long as desired, will not be able to adopt the CB or CBB. That’s in keeping with Microsoft’s long-running scheme to make Office 365 more attractive than perpetual licenses, whether purchased by consumers one at a time or by businesses in bulk, by virtue of its accelerated release schedule.

Office 2016’s debut later this month will also start a clock on Office 2013 for Office 365 enterprise subscribers.

“You can continue to use and receive security updates for the Office 2013 version of Office 365 ProPlus for the twelve months after the release of Office 2016,” Microsoft told users. “After 12 months, no additional security updates will be made available for the Office 2013 version. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you update to the Office 2016 version within the first twelve months that it’s available.”

The first CB of Office 2016 will be released Sept. 22, and the first CBB update will appear some time in February 2016. Microsoft has not yet set the price of individual perpetual licenses sold at retail, or even said whether those would go on sale this month: The company did not reply to questions about retail availability.

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Microsoft and VMware cozy up, forgoing past rivalry

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The companies have worked together on a new device management initiative

Microsoft’s new, more collaborative approach to the computing industry was on display at VMware’s annual conference in San Francisco Tuesday, when executives from both companies shared the stage to talk about new device management features in Windows 10.

As VMware Executive Vice President Sanjay Poonen explained, VMware and Microsoft, historically fierce rivals, have been working together more closely under the leadership of Satya Nadella. That work has now borne fruit in the form of Project A2, a new service that brings together VMware’s AirWatch device management service and its App Volumes application delivery technology. Using Project A2, Windows 10 users can log in to their corporate account, get their device set up for use with a company’s resources and then get all the applications they need provided straight from IT.

Project A2 is made possible by new tools in Windows 10 that make it easier for IT professionals to provision devices and ensure that they comply with company policy. Microsoft makes use of that with its own device management services, but has also made them available to companies like VMware.

The appearance of Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jim Alkove at VMworld is a significant move that Poonen didn’t let go unnoticed. He told the crowd that people backstage at the conference had compared the appearance to Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan working together.

“I think you’re the tall Reagan, and I’m the Indian version of Gorbachev,” Poonen joked.

Microsoft is singing a very different tune from the position it took last year. During VMworld 2014, Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson took to his blog to discuss everything he thought VMware got wrong with AirWatch and why people should use Microsoft’s management tools. (He hasn’t yet published anything relating to VMworld this year.)

The charm offensive from Alkove is part of Microsoft’s push to get businesses to adopt Windows 10. The company said last week that 1.5 million devices are already running the enterprise edition of its new operating system, and the company said that it plans to have 1 billion devices running Windows 10 within 3 years. Getting businesses to bring their deployments into the next generation is key for the company’s ambitions.

It’s also another sign of how the Redmond-based tech giant, under Nadella, is playing nicer with companies that it would have treated more harshly in the past. Microsoft has also doubled down on building out its services for non-Windows platforms, and is working better with companies like that compete with it.


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Microsoft tells some Insiders to stop using Windows 10 preview

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Tuesday’s build 10525 warns Insiders, ‘You may not use this software if you have not validly acquired a license for the software from Microsoft’

With the resumption of Windows 10 builds to testers, Microsoft has told users they may not have the right to run the software and again begun marking copies with small watermarks.

Microsoft released Windows 10 build 10525 to its Insiders preview participants Tuesday, restarting the early-look program after a four-week hiatus while it pushed the production code to users.

During the pause, the watermark identifying the build as a preview was removed. The watermark has now returned for users who installed a Windows 10 preview. The watermark read, “Windows 10 Pro Insider Preview. Evaluation copy. Build 10525 [emphasis added].”

More importantly, Microsoft has warned users that they may not be legal. “You may not use this software if you have not validly acquired a license for the software from Microsoft,” stated the text that appeared when users clicked on the link marked “Read the Microsoft Software License Terms” from Settings/System/About.

“If you do not have express written permission from Microsoft to access the software then you must immediately cease using the software and remove the software from your machine,” the copy continued [emphasis added].

The abbreviated license’s intention was similar to that of the end-user license agreement (EULA) tied to the production version. “Updating or upgrading from non-Genuine software with software from Microsoft or authorized sources does not make your original version or the updated/upgraded version Genuine, and in that situation, you do not have a license to use the software,” that EULA read.

In Computerworld’s case, the new watermark and license text appeared on build 10525 after Windows 10 was updated Tuesday from build 10240. That copy of Windows 10 was originally installed on a virtual machine from a disk image — or .iso file — downloaded from Microsoft’s website. The virtual machine had been newly created, and the Insider preview had been installed from scratch: In other words, it was not backed by a valid Windows 7 or 8.1 license from which an upgrade was authorized.

Others have done the same.

In fact, the practice had been the focus of considerable interest in June, when Microsoft took several tries to explain who of those on the preview program could continue to run Windows 10 after its July 29 launch.

The final word? “Let me start by restating very clearly that Windows 10, whether you get it on 7/29 or whether you got it in a preview form through the Windows Insider Program, is intended to be installed on [a] Genuine Windows device,” said Gabriel Aul, engineering general manager for Microsoft’s operating system, in a June 22 blog.

“Genuine” is Microsoft-speak for a legitimate, activated copy of its software.
“This is not a path to attain a license for Windows XP or Windows Vista systems. If your system upgraded from a Genuine Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 license, it will remain activated, but if not, you will be required to roll back to your previous OS version or acquire a new Windows 10 license. If you do not roll back or acquire a new license the build will eventually expire,” Aul added.

In comments on Twitter around the same time, Aul spelled out what appeared to be a loophole, tweeting assurances that as long as testers continued to run a pre-release build linked to their Microsoft Account — no matter how it was installed — Windows 10 would remain activated. “This is pre-release software and is activated with a pre-release key,” Aul said of the Insider previews. “Each individual build will expire after a time, but you’ll continue to receive new builds, so by the time an older pre-release build expires you’ll have received a new one.”

Computerworld’s copy of build 10525 remained activated, presumably by the kind of pre-release product activation key code Aul referenced.

However, activation does not legality dispense, even if there may not be a way for Microsoft to easily stop users from running an Insiders preview sans an underlying valid license. Nor may it want to: Insiders is an important part of both Microsoft’s feedback loop and its external testing regimen.

Once Microsoft completes an update internally, it will be seeded to Insiders, and Insiders only, who will run it for at least a month. At the end of that month, Microsoft will decide if the update is suitably stable — and that bugs uncovered by participants have been patched — for the much larger number of consumers tapped into the “Current Branch” distribution track.

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Microsoft’s rollout of Windows 10 gets B+ grade

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General vibe of the new OS remains positive, say analysts

Microsoft has done a good job rolling out Windows 10 in the first two weeks, analysts said today, and the general vibe for Windows 8’s replacement has been positive, even though glitches have dampened some enthusiasm.

“If I had to give Microsoft a letter grade, it would be a B or a B+,” said Steve Kleynhans of Gartner. “It’s not an A because it hasn’t gone perfectly. They’ve stubbed their toe over privacy issues, for example.”

Microsoft began serving up the free Windows 10 upgrade late on July 28, giving participants in the firm’s Insider preview program first shot at the production code. It then slowly began triggering upgrade notices on Windows 7 and 8.1 machines whose owners had earlier “reserved” copies through an on-device app planted on their devices this spring.

The Redmond, Wash. company has said little of the rollout’s performance other than to tout that 14 million systems were running Windows 10 within 24 hours of its debut.

Estimates based on user share data from U.S. analytics company Net Applications, however, suggests that by Aug. 8, some 45 million PCs were powered by Windows 10.

Analysts largely applauded the launch. “As far as the roll-out, it’s not any worse than any other Windows,” said Kleynhans. “But it’s all happening at this compressed timetable.

“And social media now amplifies any problems,” he continued, much more so than three years ago when Windows 8 released, much less in 2009, when Microsoft last had a hit on its hands.

Others were more bullish on Microsoft’s performance. “Windows 10’s go-to-market was really quite good,” said Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that specializes in tracking the company’s moves.

Miller was especially impressed with Microsoft’s ability to make customers covet the upgrade. “Something Microsoft has not always done a great job of is creating a sense of exclusivity,” said Miller. “But they’re withholding [the upgrade] just enough that there’s a sense of excitement. People are saying, ‘I want it, I’m not getting the upgrade yet.’ Arguably, that exactly what Microsoft wants.”

Windows 10’s rollout has departed from those of past editions in significant ways.

Historically, Microsoft released a new Windows to its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners first, who were given months to prepare new devices pre-loaded with the operating system. Only when the computer makers were ready did Microsoft deliver paid upgrades to customers who wanted to refresh their current hardware. Relatively few users paid for the upgrades; most preferred to purchase a new PC with the new OS already installed.

This cycle, Microsoft gave away the Windows 10 upgrade to hundreds of millions of customers — those running a Home or Pro/Professional edition of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 — to jumpstart the new OS’s adoption. With some exceptions, the upgrade hit before OEMs had prepared new devices or seeded them to retail.

Because of the large number of customers eligible for the free upgrade, Microsoft announced it would distribute the code in several waves that would take weeks (according to Microsoft) or months (the consensus of analysts) to complete. While some had predicted that the upgrade’s massive audience would stress the delivery system Microsoft had built, or even affect the Internet at large, neither happened.

The “Get Windows 10” app — which was silently placed on PCs beginning in March — not only served as a way to queue customers for the upgrade, but also ran compatibility checks to ensure the hardware and software would support the new operating system, another slick move by Microsoft.

“Microsoft rolled out Windows 10 to the audience that would be most receptive,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, referring to the Insiders-get-it-first tactic. “Then they rolled it out to those who weren’t Insiders, but who had expressed a desire to get the upgrade. And only those [whose devices] passed all of its tests got it. That was a smart thing to do.”

The latter was designed to limit upgrade snafus, something Microsoft has chiefly, although not entirely, accomplished. “While the rollout was pretty clean, there have been glitchy issues here and there,” said Kleynhans, who cited post-Windows-10-upgrade updates that crippled some consumers’ machines.

Moorhead echoed that, highlighting the out-the-gate problem many had keeping Nvidia’s graphic drivers up-to-date as Microsoft’s and Nvidia’s update services tussled over which got to install a driver. “Problems have been more anecdotal than system-wide,” Moorhead said. “And they seem to get remedied very quickly.”

The bungles haven’t been widespread enough to taint the generally favorable impression of Windows 10 generated by social media, news reports and Microsoft’s PR machine, the analysts argued.

“Overall, I’d say Windows 10 has received a much more positive reception than other [editions of] Windows,” said Moorhead, who said the reaction was justified, since the developing consensus is that Windows 10 is a big improvement over its flop-of-a-predecessor, Windows 8.

“The vibe is positive, but it’s much more about consumers now than businesses,” said Directions’ Miller. Enterprises, he said, will take a wait-and-see approach — as they always do — before jumping onto Windows 10, as they must if they’re to stick with Microsoft, a given since there isn’t a viable alternative.

A credible reaction from corporate customers, Miller continued, won’t be visible until Microsoft finishes unveiling its update tracks, called “branches,” particularly the “Long-term servicing branch” (LTSB). That branch will mimic the traditional servicing model where new features and functionality will be blocked from reaching systems that businesses don’t want to see constantly changing.

“People are liking what they are getting out of the other end” of the upgrade, added Kleynhans. “From what I’ve heard, they’re happy, surprisingly happy, and generally pretty positive about the OS. But I’d expect the new shine to wear off after the first couple of weeks.”

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Microsoft tries to rain on Amazon’s cloud parade

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As CTO Werner Vogels was on stage at the AWS Summit in New York, Microsoft released a new tool for migrating workloads from AWS’s cloud into Azure. Credit: Brandon Butler

On the day of AWS’s New York Summit, Microsoft launches tool for migrating AWS workloads into Azure

This week all eyes in the cloud market were on Amazon Web Services as the company held a Summit in New York City that attracted thousands to the Javits Center in Manhattan.

And as Amazoners were partying in New York, Microsoft tried to rain on Amazon’s cloud parade.

In what amounts to a “hey don’t forget about us!” news announcement, Microsoft announced new functionality for its Azure cloud on Thursday that makes it easier to migrate workloads into its cloud. It gets better though: The tool is specifically targeted at stealing workloads away from AWS. It works well for VMware workloads too, just for good measure.

Microsoft’s news this week came from its Azure Site Recovery team, which is a service that makes migrating workloads into Azure easier, and helps manage workloads that run in multiple different clouds. The company specifically outlined its AWS-to-Azure migration capabilities in a blog post launched on the day of AWS’s Summit (yesterday). It also announced new support for backing up virtual machines that run in VMware environments and even physical (non-virtualized) servers too. The service is based on technology Microsoft bought through the acquisition of InMage last year.

The news continues to build out Microsoft’s fast-growing set of services it offers on Azure. Microsoft has been adding new features to Azure at a rapid pace over the past year. Analysts and customers I spoke with at the AWS Summit still estimate Azure is a distant second behind AWS, however. On the bright side, there’s another big gap between AWS, Azure and pretty much everyone else in the market too, when it comes to IaaS cloud features and functionality. The IaaS cloud is basically a two-horse race.

But the symbolism of announcing the news on the day of Amazon’s big cloud Summit on Thursday, and the fact that the new features make it easier for customers to port workloads from AWS to Azure, basically shows that the gloves are off in the IaaS cloud market.

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Microsoft tweaks Windows 10 preview program as it enters OS’s final stretch

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Insiders will get stable build on July 29 for free, whether they had Windows 7/8.1 or not

Microsoft on Friday said it would soon tweak the Windows 10 preview program as its engineers push toward the July 29 launch of the final code to customers.

As of the next build to the Windows Insider program, Microsoft will require that participants associate their Microsoft Account — typically the same username and password combination for accessing company services such as, OneDrive and Skype — with the preview on their PC.

“You’ll need to connect the MSA [Microsoft Account] that you registered for the Windows Insider Program with (and accepted the ‘Microsoft Windows Insider Program Agreement’) in order to continue receiving new Windows 10 Insider Preview builds (both Fast and Slow rings) from Windows Update,” wrote Gabriel Aul, the engineering general manager for Microsoft’s operating system group who regularly blogs about the preview.

Most testers have already done so, but those that haven’t need to toe the line. “We’re introducing new infrastructure in Windows Update to help us deliver new builds more effectively to Windows Insiders, and ensure that we’re flighting builds to people who have registered and opted in to the program,” said Aul.

Part of that move is due to the impending release of Windows 10, another to the fact that Microsoft will — contrary to past practices with beta programs — continue Insider after the initial launch.

Insider will then become Windows 10’s fastest release “branch” — Microsoft’s label for the multiple update cadences it will offer users — and receive new features, functionality and UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) changes before those on other tracks. Within Insider, users can select from different “rings” — subsets that denote how rough-edged the builds are — as they will be able to do if updating on the other tempos, “Current Branch” and “Current Branch for Business.”

Aul also reiterated what he had said previously on Twitter, that Insider participants would receive the July 29 first stable release starting that day.

“As long as you are running an Insider Preview build and connected with the MSA you used to register, you will receive the Windows 10 final release build and remain activated,” Aul said. “Once you have successfully installed this build and activated, you will also be able to clean install on that PC from final media if you want to start over fresh.”

Constant questions from participants about those aspects of the preview have generated confusion, as different Microsoft support representatives gave conflicting answers on the firm’s support discussion forums, and some blogs repeated the contradictory information.

Aul’s comments will not apply to those who have been running the Windows 10 Enterprise version of the preview, however. That SKU (stock-keeping unit), as opposed to the Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro editions, is not eligible for the free upgrade to the final code. Instead, users must download and activate Windows 10 Enterprise from their volume licensing account, which is generally controlled by IT staff.

Windows 10 Enterprise will be available only to organizations and enterprises that have a current Windows volume licensing agreement that includes Software Assurance, the commercial annuity-style program that, among other benefits, allows for free OS upgrades.

Because Microsoft will continue to update the Insider branch after the stable release next month — and since Aul promised that the preview would “remain activated,” Redmond lingo for a legitimate license — the company has left open a loophole that users can leverage to obtain Windows 10 for free, even if they don’t have an eligible copy of Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 Update on their device.

Although the loophole is reminiscent of ones Microsoft left open in the past, it’s considerably less important because Microsoft will allow Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate, as well as Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Pro, to upgrade to the corresponding version of Windows 10 free of charge for one year following the July 29 debut.

Still, some users can take advantage of the preview to equip older-but-still compatible PCs — those running Windows Vista or perhaps even XP — and virtual machines with a free copy of Windows 10 now, and be assured of post-launch updates, without having to fork over $119 to $199 later for a retail copy of the new OS.

Aul did not say when the next Insider build would be issued, mentioning only “soon.” The current build 10130 shipped May 29, although several subsequent builds have leaked to the Internet, including 10147 last week. That build included the name change for the bundled browser, which was once called Project Spartan but officially tapped as Edge in late April.

Users can sign up with the Insider program and download and install Windows 10, including via an .iso format disk image suitable for installing in a virtual machine, from Microsoft’s website.


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Microsoft and Yahoo shake up their search deal

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Tweaked agreement gives Yahoo more flexibility, possibly in images or mobile

Nearly six years after Microsoft and Yahoo inked a search partnership, the companies are extending their agreement while changing it up a bit, as well.

The companies announced today that they have amended their search partnership. However, the deal now notes that Yahoo will have more flexibility to update its “search experience” on any platform.

Yahoo reported that it will continue to serve Bing ads and search results for a majority of its desktop search traffic. The company did not specify whether Bing ads and search will be used for the majority of its mobile search traffic.

The new agreement also notes that the two companies’ sales teams will be integrated with their engineering teams to better meet advertiser demand.

“Over the past few months, [Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella] and I have worked closely together to establish a revised search agreement that allows us to enhance our user experience and innovate more in our search business,” said Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. “This renewed agreement opens up significant opportunities in our partnership that I’m very excited to explore.”

In 2009, Microsoft and Yahoo launched the initial deal that called for Microsoft’s Bing search engine to do all of the search work for Yahoo’s site. That agreement also called for Yahoo to sell premium search advertising services for both companies.

Analysts said at the time that the two companies were joining forces to better take on search foe Google, which dominates the market.

Neither Yahoo nor Microsoft Bing have put major dents in Google’s search share, however.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said the new agreement could give Yahoo the flexibility it needs to try more options that draw in new search users. “It looks like this means Yahoo will be able to take those search results and use them in different ways,” he said. “For example, it could potentially sell [results to] another site… or Yahoo could build it into different portals or mobile applications. It could be a way of boosting revenue.”

The latest agreement also could allow Yahoo to use Bing for different kinds of searches, according to Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research.

Instead of using Bing for just typical searches –o is Aaron Hernandez?” or “What is a gyrocopter? — Yahoo could put more focus on image or social searches. And with users increasingly searching on the go, Yahoo could very well be looking to do more for mobile users.

Gottheil also noted that the agreement will benefit Microsoft.
“First, I think Yahoo has something up its sleeve, either in search or packaging of search,” he said. “And Microsoft is going to be making Bing kind of ubiquitous on Windows 10. If people like what Bing does there, they may choose Yahoo as a place to leverage what Bing has learned about them on Windows 10. It helps both companies.”
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A Linux user tries out Windows 10

by admin ·

I did the unthinkable – left Linux behind and lived in the Windows 10 technical preview as my primary computing environment. Here’s what I learned.

Every now and then, it’s nice to break out of your bubble, to really get outside your comfort zone and see how things are “on the other side of the fence.”

I love Chinese food. Could eat Chinese food every day of the week. But, once in a while, it’s a good idea to mix things up. You know. And order a pizza.

This is that time for me. Only instead of Chinese food, it’s Linux. Instead of pizza, Windows 10 (Technical Preview). That’s right. I’m a full time Linux user, and I just spent a few days trying to live in the preview edition of Windows 10.

One thing should be emphasized right off the bat: this is not a review of Windows 10, and it is not a list of every feature of the system (there are other articles for that). This is a Linux advocate taking some time out to see how things work in the upcoming major release of Windows and seeing what he can learn from that experience. Are there things Windows 10 does better than Linux, which we in the Linux world should take some cues from? (Every system has advantages, right?)

It should also be noted that I am focusing entirely on desktop functionality. I tested the Windows 10 Technical Preview on a Dell M3800 (which was previously running Linux) and a VirtualBox virtual machine (with 8GB of RAM dedicated to it).

In other words: no tablets were harmed in the making of this article.

Really, I’m asking (myself) two questions here:
Is there anything awesome in Windows 10 that Linux can learn from?
Are there enough awesome things in Windows 10 that I, as a Linux user, am missing out on by not running it as my primary operating system?

Let’s dive in to the areas I think are most noteworthy for helping to answer those questions. If I leave a feature out, it’s likely because it was just not relevant to those two questions.

Windows playing catch up
There are two noteworthy new features in Windows 10 that many Linux desktop environments have possessed for years (nay… decades): Virtual Desktops, and effective, tiled window management.

I mention this because it shows that Microsoft is paying attention and implementing some excellent features found in competing systems. Sure, in the case of Virtual Desktops, Microsoft is a good four decades behind its competition… but better late than never, right?

The implementation of this feature in Windows 10 is completely, absolutely, 100% adequate. You start out with a single “desktop” and can add new desktops one at a time. Application windows can be moved between desktops, desktops can be removed… everything that you would expect. It doesn’t feel quite as polished and smooth as the implementation in, say, GNOME Shell. But it’s an acceptable first attempt at catching up with the Linux world.

Likewise, the improvements to window layout and management are nice. Called “Quadrant Snap,” it’s basically the ability to “snap” open windows to a “quadrant” of the screen. It’s been updated in Windows 10 to be a bit more flexible – for example, one window can take up the whole left half of the screen, with the right half containing three windows stacked vertically, each taking an equal amount of vertical space. It’s similar in many ways to the functionality of many of the tiling window managers out there, such as xmonad or awesome.

Nothing mind-blowing here, but good features that we’ve been enjoying on Linux since before the first episode of Friends was a gleam in Jennifer Aniston’s eye.

Windows taking the lead
Perhaps that should read “Taking the lead… with caveats.”

There are two areas where I feel Windows 10 is doing things that are better (or at least in a more ambitious way) than what we’re doing on Linux. Unfortunately for Microsoft… they’re not really nailing these features as well as they need to.

The first is “Cortana.” This is to Microsoft what Siri and Google Now are to Apple and, well, Google – a sort of personal information search service with some support for natural language input and voice recognition.

In Windows 10, this functionality is interfaced with a little search box that sits right next to the Start menu (more on that below). Voice dictation is an excellent feature of any system. As is voice synthesis. And, heck, having a central spot to see things like your to-do list for the day, weather, traffic, etc… that’s all quite handy.

Unfortunately, in my testing, Cortana was just not fun to use. And I’m not bashing it for lack of functionality (this is still a “Technical Preview” of Windows 10, after all) or bugginess (though it was plenty buggy). My issue with this feature is that using it to do just about anything was significantly slower than using a mouse, keyboard, or touchscreen to accomplish the same tasks.

Benchmark scores show performance gap between Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3,…

For a great demonstration of how maddeningly inefficient Cortana can be, see this video from the WinBeta folks. Take note of how long it takes him to set a simple reminder alarm. This experience seems to be the norm.

You see? It has amazing potential… but if it’s no fun to use, it doesn’t much matter.

The second feature that is almost fantastic (emphasis on “almost”) is the Windows Store.

It is exactly what the name implies. It’s a software store, in much the same vein as the Google Play store or the Ubuntu Software Center. The design is fine – easy enough to search and navigate (many similarities to Google Play here).

But, and this is a big “but”… there’s simply not a lot of software available, as it’s limited to “Metro” style applications (read: not classic Windows software). This takes what could be an amazing feature and makes it rather…meh.

Right about now you may be wondering why I included this feature as an area where Windows 10 is “taking the lead” over Linux. And that is because the majority of Linux distributions lack a solid software “store” experience. Even the Ubuntu Software Center leaves a lot to be desired. It’s rather slow, has a very limited selection of software for purchase, and what’s there isn’t overly easy to discover.

If Microsoft were to open up the “Windows Store” to applications built for classic “Windows”…this would be a very handy feature. And I see no reason why they couldn’t do exactly that. Though, as it stands, I’ll stick to my declaration of “meh.”

Windows not doing as much as I thought

Which brings me to two features that were simply underwhelming, the ones that had been outed rather heavily and which I expected to be the shining examples of the quality and innovation of Windows 10: the new Start Menu and support for ultra-high resolution displays.

First, let’s talk about the new Start Menu.

In Windows 8, Microsoft killed the Start Menu – that simple, nested menu that let you find and launch applications (a paradigm used in operating systems since the days of the Pharaohs). Microsoft opted instead for a full-screen display of animated tiles, which, as every four-year-old can tell you, was both annoying and stupid.

In Windows 10, the Start Menu is back… kind of. There’s no more full screen of animated tiles (Windows users dodged a bullet, there). But what Windows 10 has now isn’t all that much better. Other than the fact that it’s not, technically, full screen.

The new Start Menu bears little resemblance to what you might remember. On the left side of the Start Menu is a list of all of the software on your PC. In alphabetical order. With no categories. Have a lot of applications installed? Too bad for you, because that list is going to get crazy long.

On the right side of the Start Menu you’ll find the grid of animated squares that you had hoped were burned alive. No. That’s not fair. This is an improvement. In Windows 8 you had a full screen of squares that accomplished nothing… in Windows 10 the Start Menu is simply filled with those squares – and is, hence, annoyingly larger and stupider-looking than it should be.

Luckily, the good folks at Microsoft provide a “full screen” button that makes this new Start Menu take up the entire screen. For those moments, I suppose, when you feel you could be more annoyed by the Start Menu… if only it took up your entire field of view.

The second feature to let me down, HiDPI support, really let me down in a big way.

I used the Dell M3800’s 4k screen (3840×2160) and, based on the noise Microsoft has been making about support for upwards of 8k screens (!!!), I expected the experience to be awesome right out of the gate.

It wasn’t. (It’s not the fault of the M3800’s screen…which is gorgeous.)

In order to make most applications usable – on that high of a resolution on a smaller screen, text and buttons can quickly become unusably small – I had to set the DPI scaling in the control panel fairly high. And even then, things weren’t all roses and candy bars. (Is that an actual saying? “Roses and candy bars”? Probably, right? Hell with it, I’m sticking to it.)

Toolbars in some applications became distorted and unusable. Text in other applications became jagged and funky-looking. Other times, things simply became pixelated and ugly. (To be completely fair, sometimes the DPI scaling worked excellently well. But only sometimes.)

Windows 10 isn’t alone in having issues with HiDPI screens.

MacOS X, last time I used it, had similar problems with many applications. Admittedly, this was several years ago, so that may have changed. I tend to not use Apple products. I respect myself too much for that.

And many Linux desktop environments encounter similar difficulties. GNOME Shell and Ubuntu’s Unity, for example, both handle scaling to those ultra-high resolutions fairly gracefully… until you start using software that isn’t bundled with the environment itself. Then all hell can break loose – buttons too small to click, mismatched text sizing within a single application, all sorts of shenanigans.

The fact that Microsoft is touting this HiDPI functionality so highly, yet not really providing anything more interesting than what Linux has had for a few years, is rather – what’s the word I’m looking for – meh-worthy.

“Meh” seems to be a running theme in Windows 10. Which is quite the opposite of “awesome.”

Did I answer my own questions?

Having a good-looking software store is pretty critical. And that’s something still lacking in non-Android Linux-based systems right now. Even Ubuntu could use some serious improvements in its software store experience.

Am I missing out on anything by not running Windows 10 as my primary operating system?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Are you kidding me? I couldn’t repartition that drive fast enough and re-install Linux.

But I’m glad I spent the time in Windows 10 Technical Preview. Maybe when the final version of Windows 10 ships, I’ll take it for another spin to see what they’ve improved. The reality is that, for being a “Technical Preview,” this was fairly stable and quite peppy. Not Linux-levels of peppy, mind you. But not bad, either. Not “awesome,” but not bad.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go hide in my bunker and hope that the steel-reinforced doors can keep the Windows fans at bay.

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