Office 2003 Has Fix Wrapped in a Ribbon and a Bow

Office 2003 offers a nifty way to protect files with the so-called Directory Rights Management (DRM), not to confused with the similarly named Digital Rights Management (also DRM).

It seems that when you protect Office docs with DRM, they can get overprotected. Often, you can't even save or open your own files! Office 2007, which I'm now on and slowly getting used to (I never got used to Office 2003, either), isn't impacted.

If you have these issues, contact Microsoft and get ready to tell them about three Knowledge Base articles that contain all the fixes. You can get all the details here in Kurt Mackie's fine report.

Posted by Doug Barney on December 15, 2009 at 11:53 AM1 comments

Does Amazon's Instance Hit the Spot?

Doug's still out, so covering once again is Jeff Schwartz.

Amazon this morning said it's testing a new service called Spot Instances that will let customers and developers apply the auction model to acquire capacity.

In a nutshell, here's how it works: Amazon will let those with non-mission-critical tasks bid for available capacity residing on Amazon's EC2 service. Spot Instance prices can fluctuate depending on supply and the demand for capacity at the time a bid is placed. The customer must place a request specifying the region, instance type, number of instances and the maximum price he or she is willing to pay per instance in a given hour.

To help customers determine how much to bid, they can use the EC2 API and AWS Management Console to see prior Spot Instance prices.

Pund-IT analyst Charles King gives a good analogy, comparing the Amazon service to an eBay auction. "Choosing the 'Buy It Now' option usually costs more but it also ensures that you get the product you want," he said. "If certainty of price or timing isn't a big deal, participating in auctions can result in excellent deals."

Meanwhile, Ovum analyst Tony Baer questions whether this will be used strategically by enterprises. "The whole idea here is cloud computing is a commodity," he said. "You are getting what you pay for. This is raw cloud."

In more Amazon news, the company last week announced that its EC2 service now supports Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition. Previously, EC2 was limited to Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2005.

Do you see yourself using the auction model for lower-cost cloud services? Would you like to see Microsoft offer auction-based capacity with its Azure cloud service, which is due out next month? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on December 14, 2009 at 11:53 AM1 comments

BI Branches Out

Doug's still out, so covering once again is Jeff Schwartz.

Last week, I moderated a webcast exploring the topic of business intelligence and the growing trend of enterprises rolling it out to the masses, referred to by some as self-service BI.

The majority of those surveyed in a quick spot poll during the webcast said they see it as a priority to extend BI throughout their organizations to give stakeholders the ability to query and share data. Still, that only represented 32 percent of those responding. Another 23 percent said they had no BI infrastructure to date and 17 percent aren't yet sure. About 21 percent will beef up their BI offerings for a more restricted user base.

Granted, this wasn't a scientific survey, but the results are consistent with what Forrester Research analyst and featured webcast presenter James Kobielus has observed. "That's the same results that we've seen in our Forrester polling of customers," Kobielus said.

Responding to a separate set of questions, 58 percent said they'd like to see BI tools made available to all internal rank-and-file staff, including sales, customer service and field workers. Sixteen percent plan to extend their BI infrastructures outside the enterprise to trading partners, customers and suppliers, while 14 percent say targeting management remains a key priority.

"That has been and remains the chief growth area for BI to become pervasive throughout the corporate world. You need to instrument more dashboards for more decisions made by more people from the ground up," Kobielus said.

Kobielus gave an interesting presentation on the webcast, called "BI Branches Out," which is available on-demand.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on December 14, 2009 at 11:53 AM0 comments

Can Redmond Answer Google's Call?

Doug's still out, so covering once again is Jeff Schwartz.

Reports that Google may release its own phone generated a lot of buzz over the weekend. Though Google isn't confirming that it will, in fact, release a phone, the company did acknowledge its employees are testing one.

According to a TechCrunch report on Saturday, a Google-branded phone called "Nexus One" could appear as soon as next month. It would be unlocked, meaning a customer could use it with any carrier that supports GSM (in the United States, that's AT&T and T-Mobile).

If Google does release a phone next year, it could put pressure on Apple, whose iPhone and iTunes App Store have a clear lead over everyone. But what about Microsoft? If Google offers a phone directly to customers or through retail channels, does that put more pressure on Redmond to offer a device based on its Zune platform or Windows Mobile, or some combination thereof?

If Google launches its own phone, it will hit two nerves with Redmond: first, its declining share in the mobile market, and second, the potentially lucrative mobile advertising market. Could Google be poised to put a stake in the ground in mobile advertising just as it did with Web advertising when it established itself in the search market?

"I think they are trying to get the market to a place where mobile advertising is as big as the market can be, and they are trying to move the market faster than it would otherwise move," said Yankee Group analyst Joshua Holbrook in an interview. And if Google gets out there first, "everyone else will follow suit, and at that point Google has won."

CIMI analyst Tom Nolle noted that responding by following in Google's footsteps isn't so simple. "I think it doubles down on Microsoft's risk," Nolle said. "They have a lot more to lose by getting directly into the cellular business than Google does. Microsoft expected to make money on Windows Mobile and they'd certainly kill off all their handset partners if they decided to sell phones of their own. Imagine what would happen to Windows if Microsoft sold computers. Google Android is open source and free, so Google might very well be able to sustain partner interest even with its own handsets."

Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at twentysix New York and author of the Redmond Diary blog, is skeptical. "Unlocked phones have failed to resonate in this country," he said in an e-mail.

Brust does see a motivation for Google's move. In his own review of the Droid, he pointed out several issues with the phone and most of them were attributed to Motorola's physical hardware design, rather than the Android operating system itself.

"If I were Google (or Microsoft, for that matter), I would commission one or two phones running my OS on exemplary hardware, but make these showcase devices rather than attempts at gaining serious market share," he noted.

"What Google needs to do is encourage its OEM partners to put their OS on great devices that show off the OS nicely," he added. "Apple does so by controlling the hardware and subjugating the carrier. Google doesn't want to do either, but they still want Android to be utilized to its full potential. 

Presuming Google follows suit and releases a Google-branded unlocked phone, what impact will that have on Microsoft's mobile ambitions? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on December 14, 2009 at 11:53 AM1 comments

Microsoft Buying Sentillion Just for Its Health?

Doug is out today, so covering for him is Jeff Schwartz, editor at large for Redmond magazine and executive editor at RCP magazine:

The controversial health care bill seems to be progressing its way through the Senate, and while anything can still happen, it's looking like something might reach President Obama's desk after all.

So when I saw Microsoft's announcement yesterday that the company is acquiring Sentillion Inc., it served as yet another reminder of Redmond's effort's to capitalize on the need to provide technology that will provide better care and lower costs.

Microsoft this year placed a key stake in this area with the release of its Amalga Unified Intelligence System (UIS), a platform that ties together clinical, administrative and financial data from different systems. It's intended to make information available by practitioners, technicians, nurses and administrative workers. Among the 115 hospitals using it, according to Microsoft, are John Hopkins, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Novant Health and Seattle's Hospital.

What Sentillion brings to the table is single sign-on (SSO) software and technology, deployed in more than 1,000 hospitals, that provides provisioning, context management and strong authentication designed for clinical systems.

Redmond's interest in Sentillion doesn't surprise. Microsoft signed a deal to license its technology back in June. It would seem only natural that Microsoft would want to make sure Amalga has strong security and access management technology.

But could it be that Microsoft's interest in Sentillion transcends trying to bolster Amalga -- or, for that matter, its other health care offerings, including HealthVault? Or, looking even broader, could it be that Sentillion could bolster Microsoft's overall federated identity management (FIM) technology, called Windows Identity Foundation and now in test mode?

I wasn't the only one apparently thinking this. "While the emphasis on the acquisition is health care-focused, I'm sure that Microsoft will want to roll some or all of the Sentillion technology into their FIM/identity management product line eventually," wrote Jackson Shaw, senior director of product management at Quest Software, in a blog posting.

But on further reflection, Shaw later opined that while it might make sense to integrate Sentillion's technology into Microsoft's FIM stack, it raises a number of questions, perhaps most notably:

If Sentillion will be exclusively run by the Health Solutions Group, this could lead to a split identity management strategy at Microsoft and that would not be good. Imagine having to speak to the FIM sales guys about FIM and the health care sales guys about Sentillion/ESSO.

He also points out that Sentillion's technology is focused in user provisioning:

Can Microsoft afford two user provisioning solutions? Even if one is for health care only? Will FIM replace ProVision? Will Microsoft keep any of Sentillion's IDM [identity management] stack at all other than the health care-specific "context switching" stuff?

Finally, Shaw raises another interesting question:

Why did Microsoft acquire Sentillion versus leveraging FIM? I can guess at a whole bunch of reasons why this didn't happen: Time to market of a FIM-based solution for the health care people; FIM being a more general-purpose solution versus Sentillion's health care focus; or the health care people simply focusing on their market and Sentillion being a market leader was the obvious play.

This led Shaw to conclude that maybe this wasn't an identity management acquisition, but one intended to bolster Microsoft's play in health care.

Will the Sentillion technology ultimately show up in Microsoft's FIM stack down the road? What's your take? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on December 11, 2009 at 11:53 AM0 comments

Can the Telecom Industry Help Forge Cloud Standards?

Doug is out today, so covering for him is Jeff Schwartz, editor at large for Redmond magazine and executive editor at RCP magazine:

Microsoft was among those that said it will participate in the Enterprise Cloud Buyers' Council (ECBC), a consortium of software, hardware and telecom providers gunning to forge interoperability, security and common service levels among cloud providers. The consortium was brought together by the TM Forum, a telecom industry association.

In addition to Microsoft, initial backers of the ECBC include IBM, CA, HP, Cisco and EMC, as well as telecom providers AT&T, BT, Telecom Italia and Nokia Siemens Networks. Noticeably absent were Amazon and Google.

The TM Forum maintains it will succeed for one key reason: It's relying on enterprise customers, who have raised key concerns about cloud services, to bring providers to the table.

The ECBC has six major enterprise customers on board from industries such as pharmaceuticals, retail and banking, and has also been conducting ongoing discussions with a number of key influencers, according to Keith Willetts, the TM Forum's chairman and CEO. Only two of those enterprise customers have revealed their membership: Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Deutsche Bank.

"We've historically brought together buyers and sellers to really get the buyer requirements of the supplier side lined up," Willetts tells me. "We've been doing that for quite some time for the communications industry."

But IT and telecom consultant Tom Nolle of CIMI Corp. tells me he's skeptical that the TM Forum will be able to move fast enough. Nolle withdrew his involvement in the TM Forum, saying it moved too slowly in providing standards among telecom carriers.

"I know how these things work and the problem is the buyers are helplessly trapped in a bureaucratic process, and the thing that worries me the most about their enterprise initiatives is that the enterprises have a shorter capital cycle than the providers," Nolle says.

I'm scheduled to talk with Microsoft about its involvement in the TM Forum next week. If you have any questions for them, drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on December 11, 2009 at 11:53 AM0 comments

Microsoft Won't Bribe Murdoch

Reports have been circulating that Microsoft would pay Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to make content exclusive to Bing, keeping it off Google. The deal would satisfy two needs: Microsoft wants traffic and Murdoch is sick of Google stealing -- I mean aggregating -- his hard-earned content.

On the other hand, paying to build search market share isn't the best approach. Let the technology speak for itself, I say. Microsoft apparently agrees, and isn't currently pursuing such a deal, it now says.

That leaves the issue of aggregation very much on the table. The Internet is still the Wild West. I understand rogue sites grabbing content that isn't theirs, but Google is a huge public company, and its aggregation is killing the content that feeds it: When there are no journalists, what will become of Google? You tell me at [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on December 09, 2009 at 11:53 AM1 comments

Yahoo Deal Done

Microsoft is on a search roll. Bing is getting good reviews from Redmond Report readers, was recently upgraded with mapping and other features, and now the deal in which Yahoo will use Bing search is finally final

While Yahoo and Microsoft finally agree, however, it will be a year until the deal passes regulatory approval.

This is instant market share for Bing, but in a way it's unearned share, bought and paid for rather than gained through superior performance. It also reduces competition in the search market. And ultimately, this could benefit Google more than Bing as Yahoo users may Google rather than Bing. We'll find out in the coming months.

Posted by Doug Barney on December 09, 2009 at 11:53 AM2 comments

Whadda Ya Do with 48 Cores?

Intel last week showed off a 48-core processor. That's the good news. Unfortunately, the chip giant has no plans to ship this puppy; it's for research only.

I'm excited about this breakthrough, but also a bit frustrated. With today's software, most of our extra cores remain idle because the programs are largely sequential -- not parallel. Microsoft, Intel and many others are now pushing parallel development. That means future software may take advantage of this enormous processing. For now, it's only specialized programs -- such as engineering, animation, rendering, video and design -- that are truly multicore-aware. Oh, and high-end gaming software!

Intel is arguing that this processor represents a cloud in a box. Forty-eight cores can support a serious app load, but imagine it being devoted to a single user!

Here's my question: We already have multicore processors. Add superfast graphical processing units and you can build a true desktop supercomputer for chump change. Are you in possession of such a beast? What could a supercomputer on every desk accomplish? Fire up whatever cores you got and educate me on harnessing high-horsepower hardware at [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on December 07, 2009 at 11:53 AM8 comments

Patching Time Again

Tomorrow, Microsoft will crack open a six-pack of patches. While not as tasty as a nice Hefeweizen, these patches at least won't leave you with a hacker-induced hangover. Half the patches are critical, while the other three are merely "important."

The most important is a roll-up of fixes for Internet Explorer 6 and 7. Those that can't move to IE 8 due to custom apps or other compatibility issues are well-advised to download and install this puppy.

Posted by Doug Barney on December 07, 2009 at 11:53 AM2 comments

L.A.: Google 1, Redmond 0

By now you've heard that Los Angeles is going with Google's cloud e-mail solution rather than Exchange. Deals like these are game changers. If implemented successfully, L.A.'s e-mail plan is a lesson to IT: The cloud messaging water is safe.

What I'd like to see is some real analysis of costs, manageability, usability, and data security and availability. This is the kind of insight you need to truly evaluate a cloud approach.

Where do you stand? Which apps are ready for the cloud, and which need way more proof? Messages welcome from across the ether at [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on December 04, 2009 at 11:53 AM10 comments

Bing Answers

Redmond Report readers are an awesome bunch. When I need help with a technical problem, answers fly my way. And if I'm writing a major story, your thoughts drive the entire process.

So here's a personal thanks to the many who wrote about your Bing experiences. My son David actually wrote the story and quotes about a dozen readers. It came out great, in my opinion. So I'd like you to take a look at the story, which was a close partnership between Dave and you, the Redmond Report reader.

As an added benefit, Dave also interviewed Stefan Weitz, Bing director, who explained the philosophy behind Bing.

How did Dave do on the article? What subject should Redmond mag tackle next? Ideas welcome at [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on December 04, 2009 at 11:53 AM0 comments