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LANDesk Refreshes Partner Program

IT management software vendor LANDesk on Wednesday updated its partner program with expanded partner training, new benefits and incentives, and director-level channel managers in three global regions.

"With the announcement today, we're providing end-to-end comprehensive training," said Jim Kilgour, senior director of global channel sales and programs at LANDesk, in a telephone interview. "What also changes today is that we have, I believe, industry-leading deal protection and gross margin. We've been listening to our partners over the last couple of years, and doing competitive analysis. We know where the competition is. We set out a strategy for our partners to be even more successful than they have been."

Salt Lake City-based LANDesk offers solutions for systems management, security management, IT service management, asset lifecycle management and enterprise mobility management. Lately, the company has refocused its messaging to emphasize being user-centered, and acquisitions in the last year bolstered its mobility management capabilities -- LetMobile in May and Naurtech in October. Those buys follow the 2013 acquisition of patch management company Shavlik.

LANDesk has more than 400 solution provider partners worldwide, according to the company Web site. Kilgour said that 70 percent to 80 percent of LANDesk revenues come through the channel.

A new global structure installs directors in each of three geographies -- the Americas, EMEA and APAC. "Because of the growth we're seeing and the opportunity out in the industry, I needed that local executive leadership to ensure that we're optimizing the entire solution set to potential customers around the world and also to show greater value to the customers we already had globally," Kilgour said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 28, 2015 at 5:33 PM0 comments

First Impressions of the Windows 10 January Build

If Windows 10 is going to keep Microsoft relevant, the operating system has to fill two tall orders that conflict. It's got to be an attractive operating system for tablets, phones and 2-in-1s that is loaded with forward-leaning features. At the same time, it must provide a more intuitive interface for legacy Windows users who need to be able to get stuff done from the keyboard and mouse.

A critical milestone release in Microsoft's effort to ship Windows 10 in 2015 came on Friday with the January build of Windows 10. Build 9926 closely followed the major consumer event last week about forthcoming features in the operating system, and the new release delivered many of its hotly anticipated features.

While not quite a beta, Build 9926 is the first major release since November and provides an outline of how the OS will work. For those who haven't tried a Windows 10 build previously, it's a good place to start. At first blush, it's relatively easy to use from a point, click and type standpoint. Absent major UI changes in future releases, users will need some training to get the hang of Windows 10, but not nearly as much as Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 required.

To get the new build, Microsoft simply asks that you sign up for the Windows Insider program and meet the minimum system requirements. Most aren't too severe -- 1GHz or faster processor, 1GB of RAM for a 32-bit system or 2GB of RAM for 64-bit, a Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device and a Microsoft account. The OS footprint on disk, however, is hefty at 16GB. Many systems these days have embarrassingly large hard drives. But at a time when online services are offering oodles of storage for free or for cheap, many other systems skimp on hard drive size to beef up on other features at a price point.

In my case, trying to pry free enough storage space to load the preview build was the most time-consuming part of the installation process. Once begun, the install process was relatively seamless and maintained most of the Windows 8.1 settings that were previously in place.

Starting Up
The first noticeable change moving from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 is where Windows starts. The new version boots into a traditional desktop, largely indistinguishable from Windows 7 except for some minor changes to the Taskbar. No unfamiliar tile interface fills the screen, as in the default Windows 8/8.1 configuration.

The Start Button is in the expected place, right from the beginning. Score one for the legions of users who complained loudly and often about Windows 8's lack of a Start button. Windows 8.1 brought it back, but it behaved differently than the old Start button, serving as a toggle between the Desktop and the tile-heavy Start Screen. The idea behind Windows 10's Start button appears to be combining the best of the legacy Windows 7 Start button and the tile interface of the Windows 8-generation Start Screen.

Start Menu
[Click on image for larger view.] The Start Menu for Windows 10 is a cross between the old-style menu of Windows 7 and the Start Screen of Windows 8, with a Cortana Search box thrown in for good measure.

Clicking on Start calls up a menu that fills about half the Desktop screen. Along the left column is a list of apps grouped into "Places" such as File Explorer, Documents and Settings; "Most Used" with a list of your go-to apps; and "Recently Added" for new apps. Below that is an option for listing "All apps," which are grouped alphabetically much like in the Windows Phone Apps list. Rather than a regular Search box, the Start interface pops the cursor into Cortana's search box (more on that later), for users who want to type in what they'd like to open.

In the large portion of the Start Menu to the right of that main column are tiles that look similar to the Windows 8 tiles. The top-right corner shows a Power button and a button for expanding the Start Menu into a Windows 8-style Start Screen.

The Windows 10 Start Menu tries to be all things to all people, and does a decent job of it.

A headline feature of Windows 10 is the integration of Cortana, Microsoft's personal digital assistant that had its debut in Windows Phone 8.1. By bringing Cortana to the desktop, Microsoft is introducing a new input method to the Desktop in a way that's appropriately take-it-or-leave-it.

Cortana's home is a small Search box on the Taskbar just to the right of the Start Button. Inside the Search box are Cortana's trademark triple-circle on the left side and a microphone button on the right. Those who want to search the old-fashioned way can type in their queries. Those who want to search using voice can hit the microphone and ask a question out loud. A new feature, not yet available to Windows Phone users, is the ability to launch searches by saying, "Hey Cortana," without clicking, typing or touching anything. The feature must be turned on in Cortana's settings, and in this early build it only responded to me about a third of the time.

[Click on image for larger view.] Cortana opens in a window that is similar in size and dimensions to the appearance of the digital personal assistant on a Windows Phone.

Clicking on the Cortana box causes a phone-sized window to pop up, giving a very similar user experience to the one on the phone. Meanwhile, executing a Cortana search for files on the PC or in OneDrive kicks off a larger window for results. Many searches will simply launch a browser window with Bing results.

The Cortana integration at this point is at best a preview with a lot of bugs and seemingly unpredictable behavior. For the record, it's also only available in the United States and in English. I'll take a more detailed look at the Cortana experience over the next few days.

Bye-Bye, Charms
One of the hardest things for users to get the hang of in Windows 8/8.1 was the Charms. Those going straight to Windows 10 from Windows 7 won't have to figure them out because they're gone (for now). The infamous swipe-in-from-the-right border to bring up the vertical bar of icons for sharing, going to the Start Screen or changing Settings, along with surfacing the clock and battery level, is no more. In Build 9926, users click on Settings in the Start Menu. It's a simpler and more intuitive process.

[Click on image for larger view.] The Windows 8 Charms are gone. Now users access Settings from the Start Menu. Pictured: The new Settings icons.

Task View
One element common to Linux distributions that was added to Windows 10 in the fall is the Task view. Accessed from an icon on the Taskbar, the Task view allows users to create several simultaneous desktop environments. For example, one Desktop might have Word and Internet Explorer open for writing a report, while another desktop might have an Excel spreadsheet and a browser open to statistical Web pages, while a third environment might have some games running.

[Click on image for larger view.] A "Task view" icon on the Taskbar allows you to switch among several desktop environments, with different applications open on each.

Tablet Mode and Continuum
An important concept in Windows 10 is Continuum, which means that users with 2-in-1 devices like the Surface will have one experience when the keyboard is attached and the OS will switch seamlessly to another experience when the keyboard is detached. It's possible to manually switch to tablet mode by clicking on the Notifications icon, which looks like a speech bubble, on the far right side of the Taskbar.

Tablet mode is for touchscreen devices, and the swipe motions are different from those in Windows 8. Swiping in from the right brings up the Notification window. Swiping in from the left puts all the open windows in a line, where they can be selected or closed.

Future Features
Some of the most significant features of Windows 10 aren't in the January build. Not included is "Project Spartan," the code-name for the new browser that includes a new engine, UI, tab management, built-in annotations, a Reading Mode and Cortana integration. Also not included are universal app versions of Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The holographic Windows features that will work with the HoloLens device are coming later, as well.

One of the big questions about Windows 10 is whether the user experience will be good enough for non-touch, legacy users. From a full day of experimenting with the OS, the answer is an unqualified yes. The Windows 10 January build is intuitive enough for mouse and keyboard use, and the OS has enough bells and whistles to make the experience interesting for tablet users. The new input methods either need work (Cortana) or have yet to be delivered (Spartan annotation and HoloLens), but Microsoft's promised faster cadence of builds from here on out should bring rapid development on those fronts.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 26, 2015 at 4:32 PM0 comments

10 Big Questions About Windows 10

We know way more now about Microsoft's plans for Windows 10 than we did before the big news conference this week -- the Project Spartan browser is real, Cortana is fully integrated, unified applications are a reality, some upgrades will be free, Windows will be updated as a service, holographic computing is coming, et cetera.

Check coverage by Kurt Mackie and Jeff Schwartz for a lot of the details. But as always, the more you know, the more questions you have. Here are 10 of the biggest questions raised by the Windows 10 media event in Redmond:

1. What is the pricing situation for business?
Providing free upgrades to Windows 10 is a huge move. For Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 customers to be able to migrate at no cost will make users happy. It should also light a rocket under Windows 10's usage share, and get developers interested. But as Kurt reports, the fine print excludes business versions, such as Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise. Disentangling byzantine licensing agreements and requirements will be a complicated and ugly process.

2. Will the user experience be good enough for non-touch users?
The like/dislike boundary for Windows 8 was pretty sharp. People who had a touchscreen liked it. People with non-touchscreens found the OS hard to use. This, despite Microsoft repeatedly -- and I think either disingenuously or delusionally -- claiming that Windows 8 worked well without touch. Luring a bunch of non-touchscreen Windows 7 users to Windows 10 with the free upgrade could be a catastrophe if the non-touch experience isn't great.

3. What does it mean for Windows 10 to be the same for tablet and phone?
Windows Phone is sort of going away in favor of a single version that works on both small tablets and smartphones. It will be interesting to see how that works in terms of the app store, phone functions and backward compatibility with old apps.

4. What will the Surface Hub cost?
Microsoft demonstrated a gigantic touchscreen/virtual conferencing/whiteboard/collaboration flatscreen device called the Surface Hub. At 84 inches and with 4K technology, the main question is, "Is this four figures or five figures?"

The Surface Hub. (Source: Microsoft.)

5. How good is Project Spartan?
The rumored new browser is real, and it will support inking for marking notes on Web pages that can be synched to OneDrive for sharing, will include a reading mode and is integrated with Cortana. It's unclear how much overlap there will be with Internet Explorer. Will this one be good enough to kill off IE, or will backward compatibility issues require users to keep both browsers around?

[Click on image for larger view.] The new Spartan Web browser for Windows 10. (Source: Microsoft.)

6. How well will  Cortana extend to the desktop?
Cortana is part of the Windows 10 desktop experience, occupying a little spot on the Taskbar that expands into a phone screen-sized window for some queries and a larger block for other queries. Cortana's performance as a personal assistant on the Windows Phone has been solid. The Desktop is a different animal, but my fingers are crossed.

[Click on image for larger view.] Cortana on the Windows 10 desktop. (Source: Microsoft.)

7. What are the details on the first-generation HoloLens?
The show-stopping surprise at the Windows 10 event Wednesday was the HoloLens goggles for holographic computing in Windows 10. Testers at the event said they were tethered with wires and needed external battery packs. We won't know until closer to the launch how comfortable or bulky the actual first-generation devices feel. Even more important is how Microsoft will price them.

The HoloLens headset. (Source: Microsoft.)

8. How will Microsoft integrate HoloLens with Minecraft?
Microsoft's big opportunity to create an early and enthusiastic market for HoloLens is in the Minecraft gamer community. See "How HoloLens Reframes Microsoft's Minecraft Buy and How It Matters to Businesses." A compelling version of Minecraft optimized for HoloLens will be a key early factor in the success or failure of the device.

9. What will the update process be?
Microsoft is aiming to turn Windows into a service with Windows 10. The idea will be to allow users to keep their devices current with the latest operating system through the life of a device. The details of how that process will work have yet to be explained even if Microsoft has worked them out completely, which I doubt.

10. Will Windows 10 ship in time for the holiday season?
Microsoft's Windows 10 OS is an ambitious project with many moving parts. If the company wants to make headway in the consumer market, where it has been slipping steadily, it will need to keep its development schedule on track and ship in time for OEMs to release devices for the holiday season. With Microsoft's deep pockets, it's hard to ever say that "this year is critical." But it sure feels like Microsoft has less runway than they used to.


Posted by Scott Bekker on January 23, 2015 at 10:26 AM0 comments

How HoloLens Reframes Microsoft's Minecraft Buy and How It Matters to Businesses

Back in September, when Microsoft paid $2.5 billion for the Swedish company that makes Minecraft, CEO Satya Nadella seemed to be groping blindly.

The Mojang acquisition was the fourth largest in dollar terms in Microsoft's history. But for that enormous pile of money, Microsoft was getting a low-resolution video game that seemed like it might have peaked. Yes, the game, involving chunky animated figures moving through an open world that players build with Lego-like digital blocks, was wildly popular, but it's never clear how long that will last in the famously fickle arena of preteen tastes.

Was this another example of Microsoft leaping too late for a bandwagon and spilling cash all over the road in the process? The company's initial explanation wasn't reassuring: "Gaming is a top activity spanning devices, from PCs and consoles to tablets and mobile, with billions of hours spent each year," Nadella said in a statement at the time. "Minecraft is more than a great game franchise -- it is an open world platform, driven by a vibrant community we care deeply about, and rich with new opportunities for that community and for Microsoft."

Looking for logic beyond the explanation, observers speculated that Microsoft wanted to keep itself fresh in the eyes of tomorrow's tech customers. But $2.5 billion was a lot of money for a little brand advertising.

In retrospect, the key phrase in Nadella's statement was "rich with new opportunities for that community and for Microsoft."

As Nadella was closing that deal, Kinect inventor Alex Kipman and his team were hard at work in a secure lab hidden beneath Microsoft's visitor center and company store working on Project HoloLens.

Unveiled at the Windows 10 media event in Redmond on Wednesday, HoloLens was a complete surprise. Microsoft bills HoloLens as a wireless holographic computing platform. The wrap-around goggles, which will work with Windows 10 and are supposed to be generally available later this year, combine special lenses with cameras and other technologies to allow a user to see the surroundings but also see computer-generated objects and images in three dimensions as if they were in the world.

Minecraft played an important role in the demos, but it's not just another example of one of the many cool things that could theoretically be done with the HoloLens. By controlling Minecraft development, Microsoft now has the opportunity to optimize Minecraft and HoloLens together to potentially create a nurturing market of Minecraft enthusiasts. Those buyers could give the holographic product financial viability as Microsoft fine tunes the technology and develops other applications itself and with strategic partners. Remember Geoffrey A. Moore and Crossing the Chasm?

Here's why Minecraft is a perfect fit. In one live demo Wednesday, a Microsoft employee created a UFO-quadcopter. The technology was impressive as she manipulated the image in virtual space and combined pieces together. Yet the motions were awkward, imprecise and complicated. The building process looked difficult to use, with some operations requiring the demonstrator to use specialized voice commands and other input to get things to work. This is absolutely to be expected in a new technology, but early adoption will be difficult.

Minecraft, however, in all its blocky simplicity requires only the crudest controls and little precision for most of its operation. As complicated as holographic computing must be, it's hard to imagine an easier application to apply it to than Minecraft. And for a Minecraft player, the benefit would be enormous in being able to walk right into the world you'd created, or in creating Minecraft worlds on the floors, shelves, tables and walls of your house.

It's a gamble by Microsoft that Minecraft fans will be willing to pay whatever Microsoft decides to charge for the HoloLens, but it could very well come to pass. And then Microsoft would have more freedom and encouragement to build on that success by continuing to develop the HoloLens in ways that truly enable those transformative business applications.

It turns out that what looked like blind groping a few months ago, was actually Nadella grabbing something that only he could see through secret holographic lenses.

See Also:

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 22, 2015 at 3:38 PM0 comments

Insight Enterprises Offers Windows Server 2003 Deadline Advice

With exactly six months to go until the July 14, 2015 end of service deadline for Windows Server 2003, Microsoft's Licensing Solution Provider partners (formerly known as LARs), are sounding the alarm more insistently.

Both CDW and Insight Enterprises had their media operations reaching out on Wednesday to mark this milestone on the way to the deadline. Insight provided a handy list of some of the common pitfalls that it's seeing as it works with customers to update their infrastructures:

"1. Insufficient planning and assessment -- Many businesses have launched upgrade migrations without knowing the full extent of the server environment, including what critical applications are in use. Businesses may not have conducted a detailed assessment of what data needs to be moved, what does not, and what should never be moved.

"2. Failure to understand user and organizational impact -- Businesses may be underestimating the migration's impact on daily business operations. Organizations have not scheduled resource-intensive migration tasks for off-peak hours and are not applying the right manpower for ongoing management and reporting on project status.

"3. Inconsistent or absent coexistence between old and new servers -- Businesses must ensure operability between users, that directories are being synchronized, and that they preserve permissions, security settings, and access points to the network and resources.

"4. Inadequate data protection -- Businesses are already reporting data loss during migration because they did not back up their data. Businesses should back up data before, during, and after the migration.

"5. Failing to optimize the new environment -- Some businesses overseeing migrations have not created a robust management strategy to reduce the administrative burden. Businesses need to plan for how they will monitor the health of the IT environment to ensure it is secure and compliant."

In a prepared statement accompanying the list, David Mayer, practice director for Microsoft Solutions at Insight, warned that those steps can easily take more than 18 months and said that many organizations haven't started the process.

Looks like we could be in for a year of minor chaos after the Windows Server 2003 deadline passes.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 14, 2015 at 1:55 PM0 comments

Centrify Pushes Cloud Identity Management for MSPs

Centrify, an enterprise identity management vendor with deep hooks into the Microsoft stack, is using Microsoft's Office 365 momentum to gain its own traction with managed service providers (MSPs).

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company this week announced its first MSP channel program, which is a new level within the year-old Centrify Channel Partner Network (CCPN).

Centrify has its roots in connecting various non-Microsoft servers and applications in the datacenter into the Active Directory structure to help enterprises keep identity management under control. As cloud services proliferated, the company saw a natural extension in providing single sign-on and multi-factor authentication for multitudes of cloud apps in one corporate portal, be it Active Directory-based or not.

Nathan Adams, director of North American Channels for Centrify, said another Microsoft technology, this time Office 365, is again driving new opportunities for Centrify.

"Provisioning services are being driven by the Office 365 piece," said Adams, noting that the moves to Office 365 are opening doors for widespread, sanctioned use of a lot of other cloud apps.

The Centrify User Suite allows customers, mostly enterprises so far, to provision their end users to be able to log in once for access to all the cloud apps that each customer users. Common apps include Office 365, Google Apps, Concur and Salesforce, but the Centrify catalog includes hundreds more. Some existing Centrify partners had been offering the Centrify User Suite to customers previously, but it was a resale arrangement, Adams said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The new MSP channel program is enabled by new MSP functionality in the Centrify User Suite. The most significant feature is multi-tenancy, allowing one MSP to manage and administer several customers' implementations from a single pane of glass. The technology was functional about six months ago, but Centrify has been testing it with a limited group of partners and only formally announced it this week, Adams said.

Centrify is not new to the channel, but the company has been getting steadily more serious about growing its revenues through the channel over the last year. The CCPN brought a formal structure to Centrify partners with three tiers, clear criteria for moving from one tier to the next, competencies, training and benefits.

Channel revenues have tripled for Centrify over the last year, and the company has gone from a 70/30 split of direct to indirect revenue 18 months ago to about a 45/55 split recently, Adams said: "The goal is to get that to 70/30 [indirect to direct] or even 80/20."

That Centrify channel currently has the structure of a Fortune 5000-focused vendor, with only 122 partners in North America. The sweet spot for the MSP offerings are in the midmarket -- customers with between 500 and 5,000 users -- but Centrify doesn't plan to recruit aggressively yet.

"We want to make sure that we're continuing to provide a very personal touch with our community. For MSPs, probably throughout this calendar year, it will stay the way that we've planned and that we've laid out," Adams said. In the future, as processes become more routine, the program could expand, he suggested.

At the same time, Centrify wants to stay well out of the way of its new MSP vendor partner, AVG, which unveiled an OEM version of the Centrify User Suite  as AVG CloudCare SSO, announced at the AVG Cloud Summit in October. With a large base of MSP customers, AVG can reach the broader SMB market.

"AVG is a very strong partner of ours, and they're going to be going hot and heavy into that market," Adams said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 14, 2015 at 1:31 PM0 comments

End of Advance Security Notices a Symbol of a Less Potent Microsoft

This Tuesday, the IT world will be flying blind when it concerns the security patches coming out of Microsoft.

For more than a decade, Microsoft used a special process called the Advance Notification Service (ANS) to provide a Thursday preview of the number and severity of software fixes coming in the following week's Patch Tuesday, which Microsoft calls Update Tuesday.

Last week, however, Microsoft unexpectedly killed ANS in a blog post on the day people usually looked for the notices.

It's hard to say what motivated Microsoft to end ANS. The stated reason came in the blog by Chris Betz, a senior director of the Microsoft Security Response Center:

ANS has always been optimized for large organizations. However, customer feedback indicates that many of our large customers no longer use ANS in the same way they did in the past due to optimized testing and deployment methodologies. While some customers still rely on ANS, the vast majority wait for Update Tuesday, or take no action, allowing updates to occur automatically. More and more customers today are seeking to cut through the clutter and obtain security information tailored to their organizations. Rather than using ANS to help plan security update deployments, customers are increasingly turning to Microsoft Update and security update management tools such as Windows Server Update Service to help organize and prioritize deployment. Customers are also moving to cloud-based systems, which provide continuous updating.

Fair enough, as far as it goes. Elsewhere in the blog post, however, Betz provides a few clues that Microsoft may be trying to monetize the previously free service. ANS will continue to be available to Premier customers through their Technical Account Managers and to customers in other specialized security arrangements, such as those using the Microsoft Active Protections Program. Nonetheless, the monetization motive is tenuous -- ANS would just be a value-add to a larger service, rather than a direct revenue opportunity.

Reaction to the announcement was swift within the security community. Ross Barrett, security firm Rapid 7's senior manager of security engineering, was displeased with the service cut.

"This is an assault on IT and IT security teams everywhere," Barrett said in an e-mailed statement reported by my colleague Chris Paoli on Redmondmag.com. "Making this change without any lead-up time is simply oblivious to the impact this will have in the real world. Microsoft is basically going back to a message of 'just blindly trust' that we will patch everything for you. Honestly, it's shocking."

Qualys CTO Wolfgang Kandek was less blistering in a blog post of his own, but left open the possibility that the move was a mistake.

"Microsoft will stop providing the ANS information to the general public and parties interested will have to ask for...it through their account manager. Hmmh, I personally have always thought that our customers were interested in the information contained in ANS, but we will see how that works out," Kandek wrote.

Criticizing Microsoft's failure to prepare the market for the end of the public notices is completely valid, and there's always the chance of a backlash that will cause Microsoft to change its mind.

But there are completely valid reasons for Microsoft to scale back on its exceptional process for publicizing and explaining updates -- not that I believe Microsoft would admit them or want to talk about them.

Microsoft's two-step, monthly process of Thursday warnings followed by the release on Tuesday of a collection of patches was unusually rigorous and open. It was created at a time when Microsoft owned more than 90 percent of the market for end user computing devices and when vulnerabilities in Microsoft software were the most serious security problem facing many organizations.

In other words, it's a relic from Microsoft's days at the center of the IT universe. Microsoft's exceptional power at the time carried with it an exceptional responsibility for communicating, over-communicating even, on security issues.

That time is behind us, for two reasons -- one a well-documented negative for Microsoft, the other a less frequently acknowledged positive.

The negative, from Microsoft's standpoint, would be that its 90 percent share has almost inverted. Having missed the rise of smartphones and tablets, Microsoft is left with a 14 percent share of the device market, according to Gartner. Put another way, your responsibility to follow exceptional procedures in communicating your software patches is substantially less when you have 14 percent share than when you enjoy 90 percent share. Granted, Microsoft retains substantial server share, and has a huge install base of desktop and laptop PCs. Nonetheless, having a patching process that offers parity with other major industry players rather than going above and beyond the competition's seems fair under those circumstances.

The positive for Microsoft is that their applications are no longer at the top of the list when it comes to vulnerabilities. Years of security efforts on Redmond's part, coupled with a slide in influence and usage, mean that more vulnerabilities are being disclosed in other programs than in Microsoft programs. In the Secunia Vulnerability Review for 2014 (covering 2013, which was not a particularly good year for Microsoft), only one Microsoft application was among the top eight applications with the most vulnerabilities. The programs with the most vulnerabilities were Mozilla Firefox (270), Google Chrome (245), Oracle Java JRE (181), Microsoft Internet Explorer (126), Adobe Reader (67), Apple iTunes (66), Adobe Flash Player (56), Adobe Air (51).*

In the new digital reality, it's time to worry less about Microsoft's transparency and vigilance and time to worry more about everyone else's.

* Note: For the record, No. 9 and No. 10 in the Secunia list were Microsoft products -- the .NET Framework (18) and Word (17). That means Microsoft had three of the top 10 vulnerabilities, but having only one in the top eight illustrates the point better that Microsoft is nowhere near the worst offender anymore when it comes to security vulnerabilities.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 12, 2015 at 1:32 PM0 comments

CES 2015: Dell Goes After the MacBook Pro

Dell on Tuesday unveiled a bevy of portables at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), headlined by a light, thin XPS 13 intended to challenge the Apple MacBook Pro.

Dell was one of the last of the big PC makers to reveal its lineup for CES, the annual gathering in Las Vegas that serves as one of the biggest stages in the world for launching new computers. (See a gallery of major offerings unveiled in the run-up to CES here.)

The company teased the XPS launch in a pair of very short videos. One called "XPS -- A New Way to See the World" showed a beach scene quickly revealed to be the display of a device screen, which then turns to show off an extremely slim profile, and the message, "The new XPS from Dell." A link went to another video in which Dell Vice President of Design Ed Boyd hinted at a minimalist design.

Dell stopped playing coy Tuesday morning by unveiling the XPS 13, available immediately in the United States for prices starting at $800.

Dell XPS 13

By the numbers, the XPS 13 has a 13-inch screen, can weigh as little as 2.6 pounds, boasts fifth-generation Intel Core processors and has solid state drives. Dell markets the laptop as having a "borderless infinity display," which makes the screen appear larger while giving the device the feel of an 11-inch laptop. Dell also claims an impressive 15-hour life for the battery.

Dell isn't as blatant yet in going after Apple as Microsoft, which targets the lower end MacBook Air with its Surface Pro 3 TV ads and Web promotions.

Instead, Dell declared its intentions with the deployment of a customer testimonial in its news release, quoting Scott Stedman, founder of Northside Media Group in Brooklyn, as saying, "I recently switched from a MacBook Pro to Dell XPS 13 and couldn't be happier."

Other Windows 8.1 machines in the Dell CES lineup and their starting prices include:

  • A big brother to the XPS 13, the XPS 15, with a 4K Ultra HD display, slated for U.S. availability "soon" for $2,350;
  • Two Alienware gaming systems, both available immediately -- an Alienware 15 for $1,200 and an Alienware 17 for $1,500;
[Click on image for larger view.] Left to right: Alienware 15, Dell XPS 15, Alienware 17
  • A pair of Intel Real Sense 3-D camera-equipped models -- the Inspiron 15 5000 Series for $750 and the Inspiron 23 All-in-One desktop for $1,600, both available immediately;
  • An Inspiron 15 7000 Series available immediately for $1,100; and
  • An Inspiron 13 two-in-one model expected to be available in March.
[Click on image for larger view.] Left to right: Inspiron 15 5000, Inspiron 23 All-in-One, Inspiron 15 7000 Series

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 06, 2015 at 2:35 PM0 comments

Bill Gates: State of World Health Is Improving

Bill Gates is supposed to be spending 30 percent of his time on Microsoft these days, meaning that his top priority remains the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This week, Gates provided an update on how things are progressing on the things that matter most to him.

In a post called "Good News You May Have Missed in 2014," Gates called out five positive trends in global health. For me, reading the list was a powerful corrective to the impression that wall-to-wall coverage of Ebola gave me about the state of the world's health.

Gates acknowledges problems, including Ebola, but writes of his list, "These are some of the most fundamental ways to measure the world's progress -- and by that measure, 2014 was definitely another good year." (Gates compiled a similar list at the end of 2013.)

The 2014 highlights, according to Gates:

  1. The number of deaths of under-5-year-olds is falling faster than projected.

  2. The number of annual new HIV infections fell below the annual increase in patients starting anti-retroviral therapies -- constituting a tipping point for AIDS.

  3. There have been big strides in the availability of vaccine for rotavirus, a diarrheal disease that kills hundreds of thousands of children a year.

  4. After efforts to improve tuberculosis treatments stalled for decades, scientists appear to be making progress with a new treatment regimen.

  5. Nigeria is on the brink of eliminating polio, and the infrastructure developed for the effort helped the country contain Ebola this year.

Check out the blog here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 16, 2014 at 10:08 AM0 comments

StorageCraft Releases Tools To Monitor Virtual Backups

In its ongoing push to make backup of virtual systems smoother and more straightforward, StorageCraft on Tuesday released plug-ins for both Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager and VMware vCenter.

Officially called the StorageCraft Plug-in for Microsoft System Center and the StorageCraft Plug-in for VMware, the new tools are free downloads but require StorageCraft ShadowControl v2.5.1.

Primarily, the plug-ins allow IT administrators and MSPs to monitor and manage StorageCraft ShadowProtect backups from within the System Center or vCenter consoles. Main features of the plug-ins, according to StorageCraft, are:

  • Virtual machine backup status monitoring.
  • The ability to detect virtual machines that aren't protected by the ShadowProtect agent.
  • One-click transition from vCenter of System Center to the ShadowControl Web console.
  • Push installation of ShadowProtect agents to unprotected virtual machines.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 16, 2014 at 11:32 AM0 comments

4 Customers Account for 20 Percent of Servers Shipped

A handful of the biggest cloud service providers are making an outsized impact on the global server market.

In releasing third-quarter data for the worldwide server market last week, analysts at IDC said that investments in hyperscale datacenter capacity expansion are aggressively reshaping the core server market.

"Over the past year, the top four customers in the server market, all of them cloud service providers, have accounted for more than 20 percent of all servers shipped worldwide, and over 10 percent of worldwide server revenue," said Kuba Stolarski, research manager for enterprise servers at IDC, in a statement.

Those four customers are Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Alibaba, Stolarski said in an e-mail interview.

Hyperscale cloud service providers are using rack-optimized servers about 75 percent of the time and density-optimized servers about a quarter of the time, Stolarski said.

It's a trend that IDC doesn't expect will let up. "Public cloud demand for new servers will continue to outpace the general market over the next several years, as established enterprises and start-ups alike continue to ramp their usage of cloud services for infrastructure and application hosting," Stolarski said in the statement.

See here, here and here for previous coverage of the way trends toward cloud computing are concentrating and reshaping the server market.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 08, 2014 at 3:47 PM0 comments

Microsoft's Lost Year on Windows Phone

A year ago at this time, Microsoft's prospects in the smartphone market seemed, if not sunny, at least somewhat bright.

Windows Phone had overtaken BlackBerry for a solid but very distant third place in the market. What's more, Windows Phone was on a tear, having shipped 91 percent more units in 2013 than 2012.

Fast forward to today, and Microsoft has retained that third-place position. But that's the end of the good news for Redmond. Rather than continuing to punch above its weight at Google's Android platform and Apple, Windows Phone actually lost share through 2014.

According to a forecast released this week by IDC, Windows Phone will wind up 2014 with 35 million units shipped for a market share of 2.7 percent. If that forecast comes true (and IDC has steadily downgraded its Windows Phone shipment forecasts throughout the year), that will only be a 6 percent increase in shipments over 2013.

That's not good enough when Microsoft needs to have several years of near-triple-digit growth to be in the conversation with Apple, let alone Android. For comparison, IDC's Android forecast now calls for 33 percent shipment growth in 2014 to more than 1 billion units. That's billion, with a "b." Apple iPhone shipments are projected to reach 178 million, a growth rate of 16 percent. So the big two are growing at double-digit rates, and the little No. 3 is growing in the single digits. For consolation, Microsoft can look to BlackBerry, which went double-digit negative.

What happened to Microsoft in 2014? If we were talking sports, we could charitably call this a rebuilding year for Team Redmond.

The first part of the rebuilding was literally rebuilding Microsoft by integrating the Nokia devices and services unit that Microsoft agreed in September 2013 to acquire for $7.2 billion. The acquisition process dragged on for longer than Microsoft anticipated -- past the projected first quarter 2014 close and well into April. Next followed a massive wave of layoffs, heavily concentrated in the incoming Nokia unit. Credit that disruption for the lack of any really high-profile handsets out of Microsoft/Nokia this year, even as new Android devices and the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus made major splashes.

With Microsoft assuming ownership of the partner that had accounted for over 90 percent of Windows Phone sales, another rebuilding aspect of 2014 was the move to rebuild the channel. Microsoft, surprisingly, made headway with a number of device manufacturers, especially for low-priced devices in emerging markets. Some of those deals have fallen through, and others have seemed slow to develop.

A third major rebuild was the retooling of the platform. Although Microsoft only gave its latest release a dot-one numbering, Windows Phone 8.1 was a major release, with the notable additions of the Cortana digital assistant, the innovative swipe-typing feature, a calendar overhaul and a significant evolution of the start screen interface. That upgrade has rolled slowly out through carriers over the course of the year.

The other rebuild is in the executive suite, with Satya Nadella taking over as CEO from Steve Ballmer in the midst of the acquisition. Whether Nadella shares Ballmer's commitment to creating a third platform in smartphones is an open question.

I asked Ramon Llamas, one of the IDC analysts responsible for putting together the forecast, which factors played the biggest role in Microsoft's stagnant year. Llamas pointed to the acquisition and the slow partnerships.

"It's the Microsoft acquisition and the rationalization of that. I think behind the scenes there's a lot more going on than you and I are privy to. There have been fits and starts, like Nokia coming out with the Android-based smartphone. I'm not sure if these were managed in the way that both Microsoft and Nokia wanted," he said in a telephone interview.

Even with that acquisitional churn, Llamas said Microsoft has succeeded in going after the entry-level market and has seen its volumes increase in that segment every quarter. On the higher end, though, "there are some gaps over there that Microsoft left open," he said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is still in a difficult balancing act with Android-heavy partner HTC and the new group of partners has been slow to develop actual devices. "We still haven't seen much of the fruit of those relationships. A lot of us had expected it's going to come, it's going to come," Llamas said.

From IDC's perch, there's not a question about Nadella's commitment to Windows Phone. "When CEO Nadella says, 'We are cloud-first, mobile-first company,' that's probably one first too many, but they're serious about being mobile," Llamas said. As evidence, he pointed to the way the Microsoft Band is optimized for use with a Windows Phone.

Officially, IDC expects Microsoft to up its game in smartphones over the next few years. "We're going to see better rationalization between Microsoft, Windows Phone and the smartphone business," Llamas said. For now, IDC is calling for Microsoft to jump to 5.6 percent market share in 2018.

Based on Microsoft's statements to investors at the time the Nokia acquisition was announced, however, there's no way to look at 2014 as anything other than a failure. Microsoft officials said the break-even point was 50 million phones a year, which looks further away this year than it did last year. They also expected to achieve a 15 percent share of the market by 2018, which now is almost triple what IDC expects them to reach.

According to industry analysts, 2014 may have been one of the last big growth years as the smartphone market approaches saturation. For Microsoft, 2014 was a lost year.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 03, 2014 at 9:59 AM0 comments