Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’


Microsoft tries to rain on Amazon’s cloud parade

by admin ·

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

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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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Google for Work vs. Microsoft Office 365: A comparison of cloud tools

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While Google for Work and Microsoft Office 365 offer many similar services, choosing between the two can be a significant challenge for CIOs. This comparison eases that burden.

CIOs and IT managers have many choices when it comes to cloud-based productivity tools for email, documents, calendar and file-sharing. The first two options that come to mind for most, however, are Google Apps for Work and Office 365.

The former packs all the familiarities of the Google Apps suite, including Gmail, Hangouts, Drive and Calendar, while the latter comes with the longer legacy of tried-and-true Microsoft Office apps, such as Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. The two options have unique strengths and weaknesses, and each is best-suited for specific types of businesses and users.
Google for Work vs. Microsoft Office 365: Price, simplicity and storage

Both services start at $5 per month. Microsoft requires a full-year commitment, which costs at least $60 per year, while Google’s suite is available on a month-to-month basis. Google also offers a yearly discounted plan for $50 a year, plus tax.

Every Office 365 user gets at least 1TB of cloud storage, while Google’s entry-level plan provides considerably less space: 300MB of online storage per user. However, Google provides unlimited storage for accounts with at least five users on its $10 per month or $120 per year (plus tax) plans.

Google also gets high marks for simplicity, because it offers two relatively straightforward plans.
Microsoft makes things a bit more confusing with six total packages — three for small and medium-size businesses and three for large enterprises — that range in price from $5 to $20 per month, with a yearly commitment.

Pricing is an important determining factor, but equally important for CIOs are the feature sets, security safeguards and user experiences of both platforms. The ideal cloud-based platform is secure, stable and simple for employees to learn and use. Cost is just one of the many concerns IT managers must consider when investing in cloud-based productivity platforms.

Eric Schlissel, CEO of IT consultancy GeekTek IT Services, says his company uses Google for Work, but more often than not he recommends Office 365 to clients because they are already heavily dependent and invested in Microsoft Outlook. Many business owners are reluctant to change the way their offices work, according to Schlissel.

“We tend to recommend Google for Work to clients with a younger and more tech-savvy workforce,” Schlissel says. “CIOs should look at how their employees use technology and work outwards from there.”

Where Google for Work falls short
At Creative Solutions in Healthcare, a company that owns and operates assisted-living facilities, the IT department uses Google for Work while the rest of the company relies on Office 365, according to CIO Shawn Wiora.

“In many ways, Google for Work is a low-cost equivalent of Office 365, and it’s a great fit for startups and small businesses that need to limit costs while achieving ‘good enough’ status,” Wiora says. “However, the cost savings come with a number of nuances that limit its fit for enterprise customers.”

Wiora says there are at least four problems with Google for Work that can add up to a major burden for businesses. He cites “shared calendar issues, an inability to transfer Excel formulas directly into Google Spreadsheets, compatibility issues and vertical-specific decisions like Google’s past refusal to sign a HIPAA BAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Business Associate] agreement for the healthcare industry.”

In Wiora’s his experience, Google’s suite keeps up with Office 365 about 90 percent of the time. It’s that other 10 percent that “makes Google for Work a poor substitute for medium and large enterprises that expect to simply pick up in Google where they leave off with Microsoft.”

BetterCloud, a company that provides security and management services for Google Apps and Office 365, also uses both Google and Microsoft’s offers, according to Tim Burke, BetterCloud’s IT director.

The company primarily uses Google for Work as the sole platform for its corporate calendar and conference room reservation system, but it also provides Office 365 accounts to users who work on its Microsoft-related products.

“We’ve looked into many solutions for coexistence between the two platforms (especially for calendar and contacts), but there’s nothing mature yet that allows Google Apps and Office 365 to ‘play together’ well on a single domain,” Burke says.

Both platforms are enterprise class, with almost identical offerings, according to Burke, who says Google’s suite is becoming more “enterprise” every day.

“Many people don’t realize [Google has] been in this market for over six years at this point, and Google Apps is used by some of the largest organizations in the world,” Burke says. Google’s strengths also include a deeply integrated infrastructure and a simple licensing structure, he says.

Office 365 provides a continuity with legacy solutions that makes it easier to keep everyone happy with the applications they’ve been using for many years, or perhaps decades, but it’s also evolving. “Office 365 is based on Microsoft’s legacy products and is becoming more ‘cloud-enabled’ and easy to manage,” Burke says.

Google for Work vs. Microsoft Office 365: One size does NOT fit all
Many others familiar with Office 365 and Google for Work take a much less neutral stance than Wiora and Burke; both companies have dedicated users and evangelists.

Martin Milanov, a digital marketing specialist at Fair Point, a corporate travel management firm based in Germany, writes that he “will scream to the ends of hell if they take away my Excel and make me use the, let’s face it, subpar Excel wannabe that is Google Sheets.”

Kristin Bassett, corporate marketing manager at AppNeta, an application performance management provider, says her company recently switched from Microsoft to Google to get all employees on the same email system. The firm chose to migrate its entire staff to Google for Work because it preferred Gmail to Outlook and considered email its highest-priority tool.

Many of the engineers working for AppNeta had requested corporate access to Gmail, according to Bassett, and the switch improved the company’s ability to hire and retain engineers, who are core to its business.

Regardless of platform, it’s about preparation

Both Burke and Wiora encourage CIOs to gain a deep understanding of their users’ needs and company goals before deciding on Google for Work or Office 365.

“We’ve worked with thousands of customers across both platforms, and the most successful deployments involved a highly democratic approach where they set up small pilot groups, talked to managers in different departments, discussed pros and cons for both platforms, and generally took the time to make sure they were making the best decision for their users and not for their IT department or existing infrastructure,” says Burke.

For some CIOs, a hybrid approach will work best, according to Wiora. However, using both platforms can also lead to more work and potential problems for IT. “Each new service increases complexity for end users exponentially rather than linearly, so reducing confusion from having information in so many places will be critical for anyone using a hybrid approach,” says Wiora.

Above all, CIOs shouldn’t delay the necessary research and piloting, and they should try to make a decision as quickly as possible, according to Burke. “Whether your organization chooses Google Apps or Office 365, you’re getting a cloud office platform that’s going to fundamentally change the way your business operates if it’s correctly implemented and thoroughly adopted,” he says.

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Microsoft tells Windows 10 users to uninstall Office

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Office conflicts with one of Patch Tuesday’s security updates, manager cautions on Twitter

Microsoft today took the unusual step of telling users running Windows 10’s Technical Preview to uninstall Office before applying one of December’s security updates.

“We just made a tough call after working through the night that I thought I should share with you,” wrote Gabe Aul, the engineering general manager for Microsoft’s operating system group, in a four-part Twitter understatement Tuesday.

“We have a security update going out today, and the installer fails on 9879 if Office is installed,” Aul continued. “Rather than rolling a new fix (losing several days in the process) we’re going to publish it as is. The workaround is painful: uninstall Office, install the hotfix, reinstall Office. Sorry. We’re working hard to fix.”

Aul’s mention of “9879” referred to the latest “build” of the preview; Microsoft issued Build 9879 four weeks ago.

Somewhat later, Aul identified the update as KB3022827, the Knowledge Base identifier displayed in Windows Update on the preview. (Computerworld was unable to find an associated page on Microsoft’s support site that matched KB3022827.) He also partly retracted his advice to uninstall Office: “Please try to install KB3022827 before the workaround to uninstall Office first. It will work for many, no harm if not,” he tweeted.

Several people chimed in on Aul’s Twitter feed to say that they had tried the update before uninstalling Office and had no problems.

According to Microsoft, only one of today’s seven security updates was to be applied to Windows 10’s preview. That update, pegged as MS14-080, patched 14 vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer (IE) 11, the browser bundled with the OS.

Andrew Storms, vice president of security services at New Context, weighed in on Aul’s odd workaround.

“There are always upsides and downsides to being on the bleeding edge,” Storms said in an interview conducted via instant messaging. “Users who chose to grab the Windows 10 Technical Preview are now stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Today, Microsoft admitted that some number of their users are plagued with Explorer crashes and what’s worse, an update that won’t be easy to install. I, like Microsoft, hope that these users are adept enough to figure out the workaround/fix on their own.”

As Storms said, Microsoft acknowledged that one in eight users of the preview had been unable to install an earlier fix that was supposed to stop crashes of the operating system’s Explorer file manager.

“On a shipping OS, if we hit an issue like this we’d normally pull the update,” Aul admitted in talking about the Explorer screw-up. “But since the Windows Insider audience is technical, we decided to leave it up while we work on the fix so that people hitting the Explorer crash can get some relief.”

Storms echoed Aul’s confidence in Windows 10 users’ skills. “Preview users are generally the most willing to nuke and repave their systems,” Storms said.


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Microsoft’s device share growth to outpace Apple’s through 2016

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Gartner’s forecast downgrades Apple’s OS expected share to 11.3% this year, 11.6% in ’16

Microsoft’s share of shipped devices will climb slightly this year and pick up some steam in 2016, but Apple’s share will grow at a more sluggish pace because of slow-downs in iPhone and iPad, Gartner forecast Monday.

For 2015, Windows’ share of the operating systems on all devices — smartphones, tablets, PCs, ultra-lights and hybrids — will climb to 14.4%, up from 14% last year, Gartner said in new estimates. It claimed that shipments would increase by less than 7%, to 355 million.

As it did several times last year, Gartner downgraded Windows’ numbers for 2015 Monday: Its October 2014 forecast pegged Windows at 14.6% by the end of this year.

Gartner projected Windows’ share in 2016 would climb to 15.3% on the back of 396.3 million devices shipped, a year-over-year increase of almost 11%, the largest boost since 2013, when PC sales began a prolonged contraction.

Microsoft wasn’t the only OS maker whose forecast worsened in Gartner’s latest estimate. Apple will also grow its share at a slower tempo than anticipated by several predictions of 2014.

Apple finished 2014 with an operating system share of 11% by virtue of about 262.6 million devices shipped, said Gartner, and should see its slice of the OS pie grow to 11.3% in 2015. That’s less than the 11.6% pegged in the October forecast.

The Cupertino, Calif. company’s share will reach that 11.6% — but now not until the end of 2016, Gartner said today.

Those numbers were significantly under the aggressive estimate Gartner touted a year ago; in January 2014, it predicted Apple’s share would reach 13.9% in 2014 and a whopping 15.9% in 2016, hot on the heels of Windows.

They also represented year-over-year increases in devices shipped of 6% for this year and 7% for the next, the numbers in marked contrast to the double-digit growth Apple experienced in 2013 and 2014.

What happened to make Gartner change its prognostication tune?
Its analysts cited Apple’s two largest-volume lines, the iPad and iPhone, for their change of heart, pointing — like many other analysts have in 2014 — to a longer-than-anticipated refresh cycle for Apple’s tablet and the belief that Apple will find it tougher showing iPhone growth in the future as it runs low of new markets and has a difficult time topping the iPhone 6 line.

“The challenge for the next iPhone to find significant growth becomes greater [in 2015 and 2016],” Ranjit Atwal, a Gartner analyst, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Gartner’s forecast for Android got more bullish than ever on Monday. By the end of 2015, Android will have captured 58.9% of the device share — up from an October 2014 forecast of 57.4% and a January 2014 bet of just 47.8% — and will grow even larger in 2016, accounting for 62.9% of all smartphones and tablets in two years.


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What Microsoft’s ‘fresh start’ browser strategy means

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A new browser not named ‘IE’ would give Microsoft ways to leave legacy support behind

Microsoft will unveil a browser not named Internet Explorer (IE) alongside Windows 10, according to an online report.

Long-time Microsoft watcher and ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley cited unnamed sources on Monday to say that the browser would be separate from the existing IE, would sport a minimalist user interface (UI), and would support extensions, sometimes called add-ons, much like Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox.

Separately, Neowin claimed that Microsoft has forked its Trident browser rendering engine to create a more lightweight version that would be called when IE encounters a modern site, one that doesn’t require support for older IE standards. In Neowin’s scenario, there would not be two different browser UIs; the use of the streamlined Trident engine — or the existing, backwards-compatible version — would be automatic and invisible to the user of what the publication thought would be eventually dubbed IE12.

Meanwhile, Foley said that the new browser — code named “Spartan” — will be included with Windows 10, perhaps as the default, but will also be accompanied by a refreshed IE11. The latter will be offered for those who need backwards compatibility with older websites and more importantly, older Web apps.

A name other than IE for the new browser would not be a surprise: In August Microsoft hinted that it was thinking of just that. “The discussion I recall seeing was a very recent one [just a few weeks ago]. Who knows what the future holds?” teased Jonathan Sampson of Microsoft in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” online discussion, while answering a question about a name change to distance the browser from lingering negative perceptions.

In the end, it may not matter whether Microsoft forks the browser into two separate applications or just forks the Trident engine. The result would be the same: One browser/engine that goes forward, another browser/engine that remains static as an option primarily for businesses, the customers who most require compatibility with older sites — mainly their own intranet domains — and older Web apps used by their employees.

Microsoft’s strategy? To have a fresh start on browsers, and leave the cumbersome legacy support required of IE behind. The browser/engine of the future would be aggressively updated — as will all of Windows — while the browser/engine of the past would be maintained but not significantly enhanced.

If that’s the idea, Microsoft’s abrupt announcement in August that it was forcing users to upgrade to IE11 makes more sense in hindsight. Then, Microsoft told customers that after Jan. 12, 2016, only IE11 would be supported with security updates on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

Pushing users toward IE11 could thus be seen as the first announced step — necessary in 2014 to give customers, particularly conservative corporations, time to make the move — in a broader plan to deemphasize that version as Microsoft prepared to unveil and aggressively promote a new browser or at least a new browser engine.

According to analytics vendor Net Applications, IE11 accounted for 43% of all versions of IE run in November, making it the most-used edition.

By consolidating users on IE11, Microsoft not only reduces its own support costs — fewer versions of IE to support — but prepares customers for a future where only IE11 boasts the kind of backward compatibility necessary for enterprises.

Other promises Microsoft made in August back that speculation, as it pledged that the legacy support tool introduced in April, “Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer 11,” would be maintained, improved and supported on Windows 7 through its retirement date of January 14, 2020. By continuing to maintain Enterprise Mode for IE11, Microsoft would be able to tell companies to standardize on that browser if they needed to support legacy websites and apps. Others would be able to move to the new browser — if Foley is correct — or use the new lighter-weight Trident engine, assuming Neowin is more on the mark.

A brand new browser, however, would give Microsoft an advantage over offering two rendering engines within one named IE.

Historically, Microsoft has supported a version of IE until the end of support for the edition of Windows it ran on. Although that policy is now in tatters because of the January 2016 deadline — IE10’s support on Windows 7 was chopped by seven years with that decision — a new, separate browser as Foley outlined would let Microsoft make even more radical moves.

Other browsers, including Chrome and Firefox, are patched only in their latest versions. Because Google and Mozilla update their browsers every six to eight weeks, users must keep pace or risk running a vulnerable application.

Microsoft may want to follow in their footsteps: In fact, the FAQ dedicated to the January 2016 deadline noted rivals’ practices as a reason for those changes. “Focusing support on the latest version of Internet Explorer for a supported Windows operating system is in line with industry standards,” the FAQ read (emphasis added).

A newly-named browser would allow Microsoft to change its support policy for that application to match Chrome’s and Firefox’s. In other words, if Microsoft releases a browser named “Spartan,” it might tell customers that they need to run the latest update to receive patches, then update that browser every few weeks. (In 2014, Microsoft patched IE every month.)

For those unable to keep up, Microsoft could point them toward IE11 and its Enterprise Mode, which would presumably be provided with patches as usual. Customers would not need to be running only the latest IE11 update to receive more fixes.

That kind of browser split — Spartan (or whatever name it’s eventually given) on one hand, IE11 on the other — would match how Microsoft will handle Windows 10: Consumers will receive automatic OS updates, probably monthly, in lieu of occasional upgrades, while businesses will be able to opt for one of two slower tempos.

More information about Microsoft’s Jan. 12, 2016, deadline for upgrading to the newest browser for each version of Windows can be found on the company’s website.

Microsoft has scheduled a press and analyst event for Jan. 21 in Redmond, where it will unveil the next iteration of the Windows 10 preview. That version will focus on consumer features, and may include the new browser or rendering engine.

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Patch Tuesday: 16 security advisories, 5 critical for Windows

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All supported versions of Windows are affected including Windows 10 technical preview

Microsoft is issuing the largest number of monthly security advisories since June 2011, five of them critical and affecting all supported versions of Windows. And applying the patches will be time consuming, experts say.

“Next week will tell us how many CVEs are involved but suffice to say, this patch load will be a big impact to the enterprise,” says Russ Ernst, the director of product management for Lumension.

Generally, Microsoft alternates between patching Windows and updating applications in order to keep down the number of machines that need attention each month, says Chris Goettl, a product manager with Shavlik. This batch includes critical updates for .NET Framework, Office 2007, Exchange and SharePoint.

“Exchange and SharePoint being in the mix means that there will be a need for some thorough testing before rolling out updates,” he says. “.NET Framework also is getting an update this month, which usually means a little longer time on the maintenance window as those patches tend to take a little longer than the average OS patch to install.”

Also in the mix this month is Windows 10, formally Windows Technical Preview, which is in line for five updates ranked critical, says Goettl. “It would be a good idea to run this and see how well the patches apply. The updates will be available through Windows Update and Microsoft is encouraging people to apply them,” he says.

The five critical bulletins are about fixes to block potential remote code execution on victimized machines, says Qualys CTO Wolfgang Kandek. Here is his summary of these bulletins:

Bulletin 1 is rated critical for all version of Windows and has RCE potential, i.e. the type of vulnerability that allows an attacker to take control over the affected machine.
Bulletin 2, critical as well and covers all versions of Internet Explorer IIE from IE6 on Windows 2003 to IE11 on Windows 8.1.
Bulletin 3 addresses an RCE type vulnerability present in all version of Windows and is critical to patch as soon as possible.
Bulletin 4 covers a vulnerability that is rated critical on desktop systems and important on server operating systems.
Bulletin 5 is rated critical on server operating systems but has no criticality rating on desktop systems, even though they seem to contain the vulnerability. “We will have to see what is really going on there next Tuesday,” he says.

The advanced security bulletins include nine that are ranked important, which means they require user action in order to be exploited. They address vulnerabilities in Windows, Windows Server, Exchange, and .NET Framework. Possible exploits include elevation of privilege, remote code execution, security feature bypass and information disclosure.

The remaining bulleting is ranked moderate and could result in denial of service attacks against Windows.

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Microsoft to focus on search apps with Bing

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Director of search says he’s focused on integrating search into Microsoft products, services

Microsoft’s director of search admitted that its Bing search engine can’t compete with Google search in a full-on faceoff, but the company will focus instead on search applications.

Stefan Weitz, who leads Microsoft’s search efforts, told an audience at the Web Summit conference in Dublin on Tuesday that he’s less interested in Bing as a stand-alone search engine and more interested in integrating the technology into the company’s other products.

“The question is, where is search really going?” Weitz said, according to a report in The Register. “It’s unlikely we’re going to take share in [the pure search] space, but in machine learning, natural language search… and how we can make search more part of living. For us, it’s less about, though that’s still important. It’s really about how we can instead weave the tech into things you’re already doing.”

By integrating search into different applications, Microsoft should be able to grab more search market share in the future, Weitz said, according to The Register.

“For pure keyword search, we’re around 30% in the U.S. — not so much in Europe,” he said. “But search in different areas of life? That mix is to be determined. I’m committed to making sure we have our fair share of search in the future.”

Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, told Computerworld that Microsoft would be smart to focus less on a head-to-head competition with Google search and more on working Bing-based technology into Windows products.

“At the end of the day that isn’t a battle that can be fought right now,” Shimmin said. “It’s a matter of how inured we are with Google. It’s now become the, ‘Pass me a Coke or hand me a Kleenex.’ Our cultural norm has evolved around Google. It’s not just a search engine. It’s a knowledge engine that helps you find your way home or what time the Dodgers play.”

Five years after Microsoft released Bing, the search engine has not been the challenger to Google that Microsoft hoped it would be. While Bing hasn’t gained significant market share in those five years, it still remains second in search only to Google.

Earlier this year, Internet tracker comScore Inc. reported that Google still held 67.5% of the search market, while Bing had 18.6% and Yahoo, 10.1%.

A big part of the problem is that the name Google has become synonymous with search, and users have created a habit of using Google when they want to search for anything on the web.

Dave Schubmehl, an analyst with IDC, agreed that Bing has little chance of taking any significant amount of Google’s search market share.

“Google is pretty ingrained for most people on Web search, especially with the combination of Chrome and Android fueling initial queries to Google,” he said. “I really don’t think Bing has any way to overcome this advantage for standard search.”

That means Microsoft is more likely to find success with Bing if it’s worked into mobile applications and Microsoft’s enterprise-focused software.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, noted that Cortana, an intelligent personal assistant on Windows Phone, is a search app.

“If you can add intelligence to the front end and your artificial intelligence is smart, you might be able to render traditional Google search redundant,” he added.

Microsoft already is working its search technology into some of its apps and services.

“Microsoft should invest in Bing as a means of differentiating its applications, predominantly Office and the Windows platform,” said Shimmin. “They literally are using technology built into Bing. They launched software called Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, and it uses tech from both Bing and Xbox to allow companies to take a data set and make predictions.”

If an Office 365 user needs to find something in the application, he could use built-in Bing to do it.

“They should focus on what has always made Microsoft important, and that is they are the interface for business users and many consumers,” Shimmin said. “If you open an Office document, shouldn’t search play in how you work with that document and shouldn’t it be Bing? Microsoft can make their platform and their apps more valuable through the power of search.”

Schubmehl said there is a lot of potential for search growth but it won’t be in the ways that search companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, have become accustomed.

As people use the Web less on their mobile devices, they’ll use mobile apps, such as Yelp, UrbanSpoon and Facebook, more.

“I believe Microsoft is looking to expand the landscape around search applications to include capabilities that work at both a personal and enterprise level, both for the Web and the emerging discovery opportunities around mobile data and applications,” said Schubmehl.

Instead of appearing to be the loser in the race with Google, Microsoft needs to reposition the battle and focus on reinforcing the real value of Bing to the company.

“They should rethink the battle they’re in because it’s not one they can win or should try to win,” said Shimmin. “I just don’t think they can out Google Google.”

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