Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Windows 7: A Turning Point for Microsoft?

The now officially named Windows 7 carries the heavy burden of Vista's disappointments. Consumers, business users, and pundits have foisted such high expectations on the currently in development OS's back, that it 'will be a miracle if the final result satisfies anyone. However, lost amid all the hand-wringing is Microsoft's startling decision to lighten Windows 7's load.

In a stunning reversal, Microsoft announced that future versions of Windows would no longer feature e-mail, contact management, calendar, photo management, and moviemaking in the initial install. Instead, Microsoft customers will be encouraged to download these apps from Windows Live online services. And although these services are, for now, somewhat underpowered compared with their current in-OS counterparts, there's every expectation that Microsoft will enrich the entire lineup in time for the Windows 7's 2009 or 2010 launch.

This is precisely the opposite of what Microsoft did 15 years ago when it launched what would be the last great version of DOS. Back in 1993, Microsoft stuffed the popular desktop PC platform (which still led Windows by a good margin) with its own versions of virtually every popular utility on the market. DOS 6 shipped with memory management, disk compression, backup, antivirus, and hard drive optimization. Two areas—memory management and compression—had, had before then spawned a cottage industry of solutions that were designed to access memory between 640K and 1MB (hard to believe, isn't it?) and help users extend their already-overstuffed 20MB (yes, I said "MB") hard drives.

Despite the bluster displayed by these utility manufacturers, Microsoft's effectively killed their businesses by its decision to build utilities into its OS, and few survived into the next decade.

Now, for perhaps the first time in memory, Microsoft is doing exactly the opposite—uncoupling key products from its operating system. Publicly, Microsoft said it has "believed for some time now that a combination of rich functionality that comes with the Windows OS and consumers' favorite services on the Web produce the best Windows Experience." Sounds rather like the Macy's Santa who sends customers to Gimbels in Miracle on 34th Street, but without the sincerity.

Look, I'm glad Microsoft is finally taking the fat out of its OS with Windows 7. While its techs are at it, why don't they look at grabbing the spinal column of Windows—the Registry—and ripping that out as well? Just reach into the back and pull. Sure, it'll make the OS a bit wobbly at first, but I'm sure Microsoft will come up with a better, and more reliable, substructure for Windows 7.

This is a watershed moment, but I don't think that Microsoft has really had a change of heart. I still think it wants to crush the competition. The problem is that it no longer controls the playing field. Applications run on the browser and can pretty much ignore the OS (unlike the browser, which needs the OS to run).

Microsoft has rarely built "best of breed" utilities (most of the DOS 6 replicants were pale imitations of its commercial competitors), and most of the in-OS apps that Windows 7 is shedding are decent products, but they're often not the best. Hey, I like Movie Maker, but I get much, much more out of Adobe Premiere Elements. What Microsoft did have going for it with these apps and the utilities it baked into the OS in the early 90's is convenience. The apps were available right inside the platform—no disks required. Back then there wasn't an Internet, where you could simply download a new option.

Today, if you don't like what's inside Windows, you simply go online and find another, often free or very affordable option. There's no way for Microsoft to effectively compete with this model except to give up. Obviously, Microsoft isn't giving up, but the idea of its products and services competing on their own merits is certainly a new concept for the company. The only thing that would be more shocking is if it unbundled Internet Explorer from Windows 7 and let consumers start by choosing how they want to surf the Web and access online small business services.


Monday, October 13, 2008

MySpace sells small businesses on self-service ads

New Corp’s MySpace allows small businesses and individuals to create their ads targeted to its 76 million members starting today.

MyAds, the self-service advertising service launched by MySpace, targets small businesses as they allow them to create and expose their own advertisements without burning a hole in their pockets. This service releases its “beta” version for a public test today after testing it for three months by 3,400 clients.

"If I'm a small business, I can't afford to hire an ad agency to do my creative. I can't afford to hire a graphic designer. I can't afford to hire a media buyer," Chris DeWolfe, MySpace chief executive stated in an interview.

A model customer of the service is Bacon Salt – a product that claims it can turn anything to taste like bacon. According to Arnie-Gullov Singh, an executive at Fox Interactive Media, this product’s traffic went up to 200% overnight with the use of MyAds.

The MyAds service is free to set up but has a minimum of $25 charge for campaigns which can go up to as high as $10,000. The fee that the advertisers will pay will depend on the number of clicks their ads get. Their ad will either be a 728x90 or a 300x250 banner ad. This will continue to be displayed until the campaign expires or had reached the advertiser’s spending limit.

MyAds uses the “Hypertarget” technology which means that advertisers can choose which audience they would want to expose their ads to. They can match their ads to specific users based on their profile helping them get a positive response.

Another good thing MyAds has for advertisers is that it will not require them to be account holders or users of MySpace in order to place their ad on the site. This service will allow the advertisers to lead users to other sites outside of MySpace.

Jeff Berman, MySpace president of sales and marketing, said "We are working with virtually every one of the top 100 brands in the country now. So the concerns that advertisers previously had being in the space have largely been addressed. We are going up against major portals and Yahoo for major integrated branded ad campaigns, and winning. I think that is the best proof that there is of where we stand with advertisers."


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Windows HPC Server 2008 Goes Mainstream

Microsoft late last month released Windows HPC Server 2008, the data center-class operating system that promises to broaden the development and implementation of high-performance computing (HPC) applications on the Windows platform. Company officials launched the successor to Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 at the High Performance on Wall Street computing conference in New York.

Based on the core Windows Server 2008 OS, Microsoft's new HPC platform is regarded as a substantially improved upgrade for creating large server clusters. It could also be pivotal in bringing parallel computing on the Windows platform to a wider swath of applications that require support for real-time, low-latency computations. Microsoft says the new release is also much faster to deploy and easier to administer than Computer Cluster Server 2003.

"Microsoft has taken high-performance computing to the mainstream by making it part of our overall product strategy," said Bill Laing, corporate VP of Microsoft's Windows Server and Solutions division, speaking in a keynote address at the Wall Street conference.

Pitching High Performance

Redmond is engaged in a 25-city launch event to target a broad swath of customer segments, including manufacturing, life sciences, public sector, and oil and gas, among others.

Despite tightened integration with Visual Studio and .NET Framework, some developers might find HPC Server 2008 challenging, says John Powers, founder and CEO of Oakland-based Digipede Technologies LLC. "I think the programming model still needs additional improvements," Powers explains, citing lack of support for legacy code that doesn't utilize Windows Communication Foundation.

Much of the legacy code that developers may need to support is Linux-based, he says. Mendillo notes that support for Iron Ruby, Iron Python, Fortan and a built-in Posix-compliant shell should help many developers bridge to non-Windows environments.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Computer Security Advice for Small Businesses

Companies in today’s business environment continuously are confronted with online threats to their networks. These threats put personal and confidential information at risk and come in many forms, including viruses, worms and spyware.

While small business owners work hard to prevent these external threats from invading the company’s network, surprisingly, many common business security threats are caused by employees unknowingly opening their network to viruses by downloading or clicking on items that mimic or appear to be standard programs. Others unwittingly infect the corporate network by sharing a memory stick between work and an infected home computer.

While large businesses typically have the resources to combat virus outbreaks, small and midsized companies need additional guidance in taking on internal security issues. Educating people and businesses on how new security threats can cripple company networks through user actions can be a critical first step to protecting ourselves from the latest security threats.

USB devices

A large number of security threats to companies result from undocumented or unsecured USB drives. When these devices are placed on several different PCs – from an employee’s work computer to his home laptop – viruses can be carried from one computer to the other. An employee may take a USB drive home to load family pictures and bring it back to the office, only to share a virus from the home computer with a work PC.

Employers should talk to their employees about getting in the habit of basic computer hygiene with all the PCs they use. If workers keep their home computers safe and up to date, companies are likely to benefit from the greater awareness instilled in the employee, as well as the reduction in viruses spreading through USB drives.


Firewalls are now every day practice within a small business. Companies understand the importance of securing the network and employees’ computers from the inside.

What happens when employees start traveling and working remotely? Once outside the company firewall, employees start to access different wireless providers and automatically open themselves up for attacks. When an employee is traveling, they are less likely to run normal updates, preventing their computer from updating its current security protection.

Network Access Protection, a security feature from Microsoft’s latest operating system, ensures that when an employee is back in the office their computer must be fully updated before it will allow the machine to reconnect to the server. The employee must run the appropriate security updates, helping the company catch any threats that may infiltrate the employee’s PC. Planning and budgeting to support remote working solutions should be part of any IT plan, but one step that is sometimes overlooked is the review of the company’s existing technology licenses. Businesses sometimes discover discounts or unused rights to software that could easily support NAP.