Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

Microsoft buys popular Android lock-screen app maker

The acquisition means Microsoft now owns two Android lock-screen apps

Microsoft has added to its stable of Android apps with the acquisition of Double Labs, the makers of the Echo Notification Lockscreen, a popular app on Google’s mobile platform that helps users control the notifications they see.

Echo replaces the default Android lock screen with a new interface for handling push notifications. The app’s marquee feature is its ability to categorize and sort a user’s incoming notifications and only wake their phone for high-priority messages. In addition, users can tell the lock screen to remind them of notifications at a later time or in a different place, so they can postpone seeing notifications about personal emails until they get home, for example.

It’s not the company’s first foray into Android lock screens, either: Microsoft’s Garage division put out the Next Lock Screen app last year, which is another take on replacing the default experience for users of Google’s mobile platform.

The acquisition, which took place in August but was first reported on Friday, gives Microsoft another beachhead on Android, but it’s also aimed at getting Microsoft access to the personalization technology that powers the lock screen’s features. Julie Larson-Green, the chief experience officer for Microsoft’s “My Life and Work” team, told Business Insider that the work with Next and Echo will translate into information the company will use to improve products like Office and Windows 10.

One of Microsoft’s key pillars under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella has been a push to create computing experiences that are more personal and tailored to individual users. By acquiring Echo, Microsoft is picking up more information that it can use to power products like its Cortana virtual assistant, which is currently available in public beta for Android users.

In addition to the two lock-screen apps, Microsoft has a variety of other Android utilities available, including an app launcher currently in private beta, a voice search tool for Bing and an app that provides information about air quality to users in China. It’s part of the company’s strategy under Nadella to build a wide variety of apps and services for customers across platforms, including those it doesn’t directly own.

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Windows 10 is possibly the worst spyware ever made

Buried in the service agreement is permission to poke through everything on your PC.

The usual bumps of an OS launch are understandable and forgivable, but some of the terms of the end user service agreement for Windows 10 put the NSA to shame.

Microsoft is already getting heat after it was found that Windows 10 was being auto-downloaded to user PCs without warning, and more seriously, that it was using the Internet connections of Windows 10 users to deliver Windows 10 and updates to others.

But there are worse offenders. Microsoft’s service agreement is a monstrous 12,000 words in length, about the size of a novella. And who reads those, right? Well, here’s one excerpt from Microsoft’s terms of use that you might want to read:

We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to.

EFF, where are you?
The good news is you can opt out of that feature, but the bad news is it defaults to on. You have to go to the Settings and then open the Privacy applet, where you are greeted with 13 different screens to weed through. Most of the offenders are on the General tab, but you really should go through all tabs, such as what types of data each app on your system can access.
See also: How to change Windows 10’s default privacy settings

Second, Cortana proves problematic because it has access to your camera and microphone, and more importantly, it has access to your contacts, calendar, and probably all of your documents. You can turn this off in the Speech applet.

Next, the new Edge browser has its own share of new problems. Its integrated PDF and Adobe Flash reader has raised some alarms at Trend Micro. Trend is also concerned about the support for asm.js, a JavaScript subset from Mozilla that has been attacked before. However, Trend does like Edge overall.

Overall, we believe that Edge has reached a security parity with the Google Chrome browser, with both markedly superior to Mozilla Firefox. However, multiple attack surfaces still remain which can be used by an attacker. Given the sophistication and demands on modern browsers, this may well be inevitable.

Edge also comes with personalized ads, which can also be disabled.

There is other potential for exploitation. A Microsoft account is mandatory for many services, including Skype. This gives Microsoft more potential to collect info on you that you have to turn off.

Plus, Wi-Fi sharing defaults to on. That means you will be sharing your Internet connection with your neighbors if you leave it in its default state. So you have to open the settings and turn that off, too.

It seems like you will spend the first 10 to 15 minutes of using Windows 10 turning off all of the privacy-shredding settings. It will be interesting to see the fallout as more is uncovered.

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Bad vibe brews about Windows 10

Upgrade errors, Edge-by-default, other problems and gripes sour social media buzz on new OS

Windows 10’s vibe on social media has soured since Microsoft launched the operating system last week, Adobe today said as it cited new data from its metrics platform.

Adobe’s Social, analytics that collect and categorize mentions from blogs, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter and elsewhere, has seen a turn toward skepticism since July 29, when Microsoft began distributing Windows 10 upgrades.

Adobe drops social media impressions into a bunch of buckets labeled “admiration,” “anger,” “anticipation,” “disgust,” “joy,” “sadness” and “surprise.”

On July 29, Windows 10 garnered 49% from admiration and joy, the two most positive categories. After launch day, however, the collective admiration + joy percentage dipped to 40%.

Also notable was the increase in the slice tagged as sadness after Wednesday: On launch day, that negative metric stood at 29%, but post-launch it climbed to 35%.

(The launch-day numbers provided today at Computerworld’s request were slightly different than Adobe published last week; the latter were based on about half a day’s data on July 29, the company clarified today.)

Adobe credited the changes in Windows 10 buzz factor to several sources, including publicized bugs, upgrade problems, some Microsoft practices, and even to a “ransomware” campaign now circulating that leverages the widespread news about the OS’s launch.

Mentions of Windows 10 bugs — a generic term that could include everything from quirks in the OS and its apps, to error messages encountered when trying to upgrade — soared 10-fold in the post-launch period, Adobe said.

In the last two days, Windows 10 bug mentions on social media jumped to a daily average of more than 11,000 from a pre-launch average of just 1,150. Although the 11,000 represented a small fraction — just 0.4% of the 3 million or so Adobe captured — the 10-fold increase signaled that, if nothing else, a bad vibe was brewing.

Contributing to the overall sadness metric — again, Adobe pegged that at 35% post-launch, compared to 29% on July 29 and 27% leading up to the debut — were some surprising factors. While some were expected, including the 13% of the sadness quotient derived from generic error messages some have seen when trying to upgrade (among the least helpful, one that simply read “Something happened”), others were not.

A fifth of the sadness score came from Microsoft’s decision to make the new Edge browser the default in Windows 10 unless users interrupted the “Express Settings” part of the upgrade process, or later manually switched back to a rival browser, like Google’s Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox. Last week, Mozilla’s CEO Chris Beard demanded that his rival, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, step in to eliminate Windows 10’s browser switcheroo.

And slightly more than a fifth was attributed to a new malware campaign that is slinging the free Windows 10 upgrade as bait for ransomware, attack code that encrypts the victim’s files and demands payment for unlocking them. Cisco’s security team first reported the campaign on Friday.

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A look at the new Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2015

In March, Microsoft released Skype for Business Server 2015, its enterprise communications product that is the successor to both Lync Server for on-premises installations and Lync Online for cloud customers.

Skype for Business Server 2015 is a modest upgrade that takes care of a lot of plumbing on the server side but is more of a cosmetic polish on the client side. In this piece, I will take a look at exactly what Skype for Business is, what is new or improved in this release, some things to look forward to and perhaps some “gotchas” as well. Let’s dive in.

Busting some myths

Let me take this opportunity to talk a little bit about what Skype for Business is not:

Skype for Business is not a replacement for Skype. Yes, it seems Microsoft has done it again — it has created two services that seemingly have the same purpose and outcome but go about it in entirely different and mostly incompatible ways (think OneDrive and OneDrive for Business). Skype for Business is Lync, renamed. Skype that you freely download is still Skype, the same customer service Microsoft purchased from eBay a few years ago. It operates independently of Lync/Skype for Business, although some companies have

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First look: Project Spartan, Microsoft’s next-generation Web browser

Microsoft’s new browser combines a minimalist look and feel with a rendering engine designed to keep pace with a rapidly evolving Web

Microsoft’s faster release schedule for its Windows 10 Technical Preview kicked into high gear yesterday with the release of another build a mere 12 days after 10041. This time, with build 10049, Microsoft has added one of Windows 10’s major new features: its next-generation Web browser.

With the new browser (code-name Project Spartan), Microsoft finally breaks from the need to support even the oldest of Web pages and Web technologies. Instead of incorporating Internet Explorer’s Trident HTML and CSS rendering engine, Project Spartan is built around a new engine that is based on Trident’s HTML5 features (and has been available in previous Windows 10 builds as Internet Explorer’s Edge rendering option). Unlike Trident, the new browser engine is designed to be updated, which allows Microsoft to keep its new browser current in a way that was impossible with IE.

for enterprises and take a look at the latest beta of Microsoft’s new OS. | Stay up to date on key Microsoft technologies with InfoWorld’s Enterprise Windows blog and Microsoft newsletter. ]

Maximum possible score is 555. Windows 10 browser compatibility score
There’s a lot in Microsoft’s new browser and, at least in this build, a lot that’s been left out. You won’t find support for device-to-device synchronization of tabs and browsing history or for the promised new extension model. Other features still to come include a download view, browsing history, a roaming reading list (synced across Windows 10 devices), and offline reading. You won’t get access to all of Internet Explorer’s plug-ins, either. Project Spartan will provide a level of plug-in support similar to Windows 8’s Metro IE browser.
Microsoft Project Spartan Reading View

Microsoft is promising an offline reading experience that works across all your Windows 10 devices. While parts of it are still missing, a refreshed Reading View gives you a clear look at Web pages, which is ideal for reading on tablets and phones.

Project Spartan’s user interface is reminiscent of other modern browsers while still remaining familiar to Internet Explorer users. There’s direct access to Cortana from inside the browser (as demonstrated at Microsoft’s January Windows 10 event in Redmond). Cortana can be activated from the browser’s search bar. Building a search-based agent into a browser makes a lot of sense, especially when it’s able to use the context of your searches and browser history to make inferences about what information you need — initially giving you weather and stock information.

Microsoft Project Spartan Cortana

Microsoft has integrated Cortana with Project Spartan’s search tools. While it’s not yet ready to proactively notify you, it’s able to quickly deliver relevant, up-to-date information about the weather and financials.

Another new feature integrates the browser more closely with Microsoft’s OneNote note-taking tool. You’ll be able to annotate pages using ink (a feature that’s focused on Microsoft’s own Surface tablets) or by typing into a Web page, sharing the results as a Web note. You won’t need Project Spartan to see shared Web notes. They can be saved into OneNote as an annotated screenshot of a Web page or emailed to contacts, with the added option of sharing to social networks.

Microsoft Project Spartan annotations

Project Spartan’s new annotation tools let you quickly add notes to a Web page, using a pen or a keyboard. You can then share your annotated Web page through social media or email — or save it to OneNote as part of a research notebook.

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Project Spartan improves on Internet Explorer’s Reading View for viewing page content without distracting graphics or advertising, with a page layout that’s easier to read. Reading View is also integrated with Project Spartan’s Reading List (formerly a separate Windows 8 app). As offline reading won’t arrive until a future build, you’ll have to read saved pages while connected to the Internet. The final version will allow you to share your Reading List across devices, including Windows Phones and small tablets running a mobile version of Project Spartan.

Microsoft is putting Project Spartan front and center in Windows 10, with the new browser pinned to both the Start menu and the Windows task bar. You’ll still be able to find IE, and if you’ve already pinned it, then it won’t be removed. Microsoft recently announced that IE and Project Spartan would have separate rendering engines, and the change has now made its way to Windows with the Edge engine removed from IE in Windows 10 Build 10049. The old IE will remain part of Windows 10 (if only visible from All Apps) for businesses to use with legacy apps.

Web developers will find this build of Windows 10 to be useful for tuning sites and applications in preparation for Windows 10. You won’t find any surprising new HTML or CSS features in this release. Project Spartan is based on the same version of the Edge engine used by IE in build 10041 with some minor additions, among them support for responsive images.

Microsoft Project Spartan tools

Developers will find the latest version of Microsoft’s Web page debugging tools built into Project Spartan, which is handy for getting sites and applications ready for the launch of Windows 10 and the final version of Microsoft’s new browser and rendering engine.

But as in IE of the previous build, there’s support for much of ECMAScript 6, as well as Web Audio, CSS Gradient Midpoints, CSS Conditional Rules, and Touch Events. Now that Microsoft has divorced its new rendering engine from IE’s Trident, Project Spartan will be where you’ll find new Web technologies in the future, making it important to add the Windows 10 Technical Preview to Web test suites.

With only a week or so of development time separating this Windows 10 release from build 10041, Project Spartan is not merely the big news but the only news in this release. Apart from the new browser, there are only a handful of bug fixes in build 10049. Still, it’s another step on the road to Windows 10’s promised summer release.

Remember: This is still an early beta release of Project Spartan. On the HTML5Test, Project Spartan beats Internet Explorer 11 (375 to 336) but still lags the latest versions of Chrome (518), Opera (497), Firefox (449), and Safari (396). Much remains to be revealed before Windows 10 launches, including — one hopes — improved compatibility with HTML5.

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Microsoft applies ‘freemium’ tactic to mobile device management for Office 365

Fulfills 2014 pledge to bundle basic MDM tools with all commercial Office 365 subscriptions

Microsoft today made good on a promise from last fall, adding several basic mobile device management (MDM) tools to all commercial Office 365 subscriptions.

“With MDM for Office 365, you can manage access to Office 365 data across a diverse range of phones and tablets, including iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices,” said Shobhit Sahay, a technical product manager with the Office 365 group, in a blog post Monday. “The built-in MDM features are included at no additional cost in all Office 365 commercial plans, including Business, Enterprise, EDU and Government plans.”

Sahay’s announcement fulfilled the pledge Microsoft made in October 2014, when the company said an MDM-specific upgrade would be released in the first quarter of 2015.

The free-of-charge tools now available allow Office 365 administrators to limit access to Office 365 corporate email and documents to company-managed devices; set device-level PIN locking; and wipe Office 365-related data from an employee’s device, such as when they leave the organization and take their personal device with them.

Sahay steered enterprises that require additional features toward Microsoft Intune, a subset of the even more comprehensive Enterprise Mobility Suite. Intune adds support for Windows-powered PCs; covers other mobile apps, including line-of-business apps developed in-house, not just Office 365; and allows administrators to provision devices with additional security configurations like VPN.

An outline of the feature differences between the free MDM for Office 365 and Intune can be found on Microsoft’s website. Intune costs $6 per user per month; Enterprise Mobility Suite runs $7.60 per user per month.

Microsoft’s some-free-some-not approach to MDM meshes nicely with the broader “freemium” strategy that company executives have talked up recently, said Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. “If your life revolves around Office 365, this is most definitely a freemium play,” said Miller. “But this works only with Office 365 apps.”

To assemble a comprehensive Microsoft-made MDM solution, then, organizations with non-Office 365 apps on their employees’ devices — whether home grown or purchased from other developers — or who want to deal with PCs at the same time, will need to pony up for Intune.

Miller said Microsoft’s goal is two-fold: First, to answer customers’ requests for a way to manage the explosion of mobile apps that the firm has released in the last year for Android and iOS, and second, to give away “a taste of [MDM]” as a way to upsell enterprises on Intune.

“If you want to integrate [Office 365] with the rest of an infrastructure, you’re also going to need to go to Intune,” said Miller. “Once you buy into the whole Microsoft story [of things like OneDrive for Business, Azure App Service and Azure Active Directory], Intune starts to be more appealing.”

Although the new MDM tools for Office 365 began rolling out today, it will be approximately four to six weeks before they reach all customers, said Sahay.

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Microsoft will surprise in 2015

As the company seeks new ways to grow, it is likely to explore things once unthinkable for it

You may have noticed that I take a rather cynical view of Microsoft. But I think I am able to recognize when it does good things. As a matter of fact, I think the company made some smart moves in 2014, and it’s going to benefit from them in 2015.

One of those smart moves was to try to move beyond the fiasco that was Windows 8. Yes, Microsoft took its own sweet time in realizing just what a moronic blunder Windows 8.x’s Metro was, but it now is in the process of shoving that awkward interface into the background with Windows 10 (now in beta), bringing back the kind of windows, icon, menu and pointer (WIMP) interface that desktop users prefer.

True, the company needs to do much better in the quality assurance (QA) area. The blunders Microsoft has been making in Windows 10 are sort of understandable (it’s still beta, after all). I still don’t understand, though, how a change to Internet Explorer 11 can foul up an operating system update if, and only if, you have Office installed. No, what I find of much greater concern is an overall pattern of sloppy coding. An Exchange update that knocks out Outlook? Windows 7 patches that block other security patches? If Microsoft doesn’t make QA job number one on the desktop in 2015, Windows 10 may yet prove a flop.

It just may be, however, that Microsoft wouldn’t be that worried if Windows 10 didn’t take off.

I’m serious.

Look at what else Microsoft has been up to in 2014. Midyear, it released a version of Office for the iPad that was newer than the one on its own Surface devices. It followed that up by starting to bring Office to Android tablets. I’m a beta tester for this, and guess what. It’s not bad.

Of course, to fully make use of either one you’ll need an Office 365 subscription.

But wouldn’t that mean that Microsoft is turning from its old role as a purveyor of proprietary software into more of a service and cloud company? Yes, and I think that’s exactly what it’s up to.

This view is bolstered by taking a close look at Microsoft’s most recent quarter. Its Devices and Consumer revenue increased by a respectable 47%, but its Commercial group revenue rose only by 10%. But when you peer more closely at the Commercial group, you see that revenue for cloud computing software and services like Office 365, Azure and Dynamics CRM exploded upward by 128%.

No one ever accused Microsoft of being blind to growth opportunities, and that’s certainly what the cloud and related services look like to me.

OK, it’s not exactly a jolt to say that Microsoft is going to pay more attention to the cloud. But how about this for a surprise? It’s going to make nice with Linux. Don’t take it from me. This is what CEO Satya Nadella had to say this year: “I love Linux.”

Now, there’s a break with the past for you. But why would Nadella say that?

Again, it’s the cloud and services. Microsoft knows for a fact that businesses want Linux servers on their clouds, and so that’s what Microsoft is delivering via Azure.

I’m not saying we’re going to see a desktop release of something with a name like MS-Linux, but an MS-Linux for the cloud isn’t out of the question at all.

I really can see it.

I can also see 2015 being the year that Microsoft finally buries the hatchet with Red Hat, the leading enterprise server Linux distributor. On Azure, Microsoft already supports CoreOS, Oracle Linux, openSUSE, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and CentOS. But to really get Linux customers on board it needs to support Red Hat Enterprise Linux as well. And 2015 will be the year it happens.

Of course, Microsoft’s old proprietary ways would make MS-Linux on Azure a tough sell. The open-source crowd has never wanted anything to do with that Microsoft. That’s why it’s significant that Microsoft is getting more involved in open-source development.

Sure, there are limits it’s not about to cross. I mean, you’re never going to see Microsoft open-source Windows. (And I hate to think how the open-source community would react to the deplorable state of that code.) But Microsoft is opening newer products, such as Project Orleans for Halo and .Net for servers. That’s kind of amazing.

So the real story from Microsoft in 2015 won’t be Windows 10. Oh, it will get the headlines, some of them on stories that I’ll write. But the real news, the news that will change the bottom line, will be in clouds, services and open source.

That’s a big deal. What it means is that Microsoft 2015 will no longer be the company that Bill Gates made and Steve Ballmer almost ruined. It’s a whole new Microsoft, and I, for one, will be very interested in seeing how it all works out.

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Microsoft updates Windows 10, gets an earful from users about OneDrive changes

Testers call OneDrive sync changes in Windows 10 ‘stupid,’ ‘big step backwards’

Microsoft yesterday rolled out the next update to its Windows 10 Technical Preview, just three weeks after the previous version arrived.

But one change that Microsoft trumpeted — an alteration to how OneDrive, the company’s cloud-based storage service, synchronizes files — got a big thumbs down from users.

The update, tagged “Build 9879,” followed the Oct. 21 release of Build 9860, which came 20 days after the initial Technical Preview.

So far, Microsoft’s cadence for Windows 10 has been faster than what analysts anticipate will be the practice when the new operating system publicly launches in mid-2015. Then, updates will ship as often as monthly for consumers, while businesses will be able to choose between that and two additional tempos that Gartner has tagged “near-consumer speed” and “long-term servicing.” The former will roll up the “consumer-speed” updates every four to six months to versions that fast-acting enterprises will test and deploy, while the latter will remain feature- and UI-static for as long as two to three years, receiving only security updates.

In the technical preview, customers have an update frequency choice of only “Fast” or “Slow,” with the former representing the final’s consumer speed while the latter will probably have no corresponding cadence.

“If you’re in the Slow ring, you won’t receive the build right away — we’ll publish to Slow after we see how everything goes with the Fast ring,” said Gabe Aul, the engineering general manager for Microsoft’s operating system group, in a blog post yesterday.

Microsoft is using the Technical Preview to not only show customers what Windows 10 will include, but also to test the faster release pace. Build 9879, however, is a full, in-place upgrade, and not one of the smaller updates that next year will include only changes since the last version.

Aul touted several changes to Windows 10 in the latest build, including one that users bashed as a step backwards.

“We’re also introducing changes to how OneDrive syncs your files in this build,” Aul wrote. “In Windows 8.1, we use placeholders on your PC to represent files you have stored in OneDrive. People had to learn the difference between what files were ‘available online’ (placeholders) versus what was ‘available offline’ and physically on your PC.”

In other words, OneDrive on Windows 8.1 did not automatically place actual copies of all files in the cloud storage service on a device, but instead showed placeholder icons, what Microsoft calls “smart files,” that included a thumbnail image of the file — useful when searching through photographs — and searchable metadata. When clicked, the placeholder/smart file kicked off a file download to the local device. That was counter to, say, Dropbox’s method of everything-is- available-locally-on-every-device, but also saved local storage space and the bandwidth necessary to download and synchronize large OneDrive collections.

With Windows 10, OneDrive will use what Aul called “selective sync” in that users choose which files are synched with actual downloads. Other files remain on OneDrive, but do not show up in File Explorer, Windows 10’s file management tool. To see everything in OneDrive, users must instead open a browser and comb through OneCloud’s online interface.

Users hated the change.
In comments appended to Aul’s blog, on a short thread on Microsoft’s support discussion forum, and also in a much larger collection of complaints on Microsoft’s Windows Feature Suggestion Box, customers gave Aul a piece of their minds.

In nearly 60 comments linked to the feature request, “Add an advanced option to restore showing ALL OneDrive files in Explorer, synced or not,” Windows 10 Technical Preview users lambasted the OneDrive change.

“Stupid to remove a perfectly working and very useful feature,” said Asbjarn today. “And how does this square with the recently announced unlimited storage for OneDrive? Or perhaps that is the real reason. Theoretically unlimited storage, but in practice limited by the storage capacity of your smallest device.”

“The change to OneDrive is unbelievably stupid in this release,” echoed one of several anonymous commenters.

“I was about to get a subscription for Office 365 Home Premium just for the OneDrive space — but if this will be the way it works in the future it offers me zero advantage over Dropbox or Google Drive,” added Kyriakos Ktorides.

“OneDrive has reverted back to how it was in Windows 7, big step backwards,” complained Øystein Johnsen. “Unusable now.”

“Yeah, you guys screwed the pooch on this change,” said Nate Laff. “I get what you were trying to do…, but I just uploaded my entire family photo collection to OneDrive in the last week (200+ GB). Obviously it’s impossible to sync that entire folder down to each device.”

Mary Branscombe, a freelance writer who has blogged for ZDNet and written for CITEworld — the latter, like Computerworld, is operated by IDG — was the one who kicked off the request to restore the Windows 8.1 smart files functionality in Windows 10.

Branscombe reached out via Twitter to Omar Shahine, the partner group program manager for OneDrive, to ask if Microsoft would reconsider.

“It was a tough change to make,” Shahine replied on Twitter. “It is certainly the future but there were significant issues with the model that required change.”

In a tweet a little later, Shahine said, “Yes. It’s a huge change. Not denying it. Yes it is worse in some ways. But it was necessary.”

Late Wednesday, Shahine added that Microsoft would be posting a response to the outcry on the feedback thread. As of mid-day today, the promised reply or explanation had not appeared.

Shahine did not immediately reply to a request for more information on Microsoft’s position regarding the OneDrive changes in Windows 10.

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Microsoft slashes IE support, sets ‘huge’ edict for Jan. 2016

Microsoft slashes IE support, sets ‘huge’ edict for Jan. 2016
Company makes another move that will complicate the lives of its best customers: enterprises

Hard on the heels of a decision to step up the frequency of Windows updates, Microsoft on Thursday announced it would give customers 17 months to stop using older versions of Internet Explorer (IE), including the most popular of them all, IE8.

The decision will further complicate enterprises’ use of Microsoft’s software, analysts said.

“This is huge,” said Michael Silver of Gartner. “IE has been one of the biggest inhibitors if not the biggest inhibitor preventing organizations from moving to Windows 7 and Windows 8. I’ve spoken to organizations that said they’d have deployed Windows 8 if they didn’t have to upgrade IE. This is another way Microsoft is trying to persuade, or force, organizations to keep current. For some organizations, like those in regulated industries, that’s really difficult.”

In a surprise announcement yesterday, the head of IE’s marketing said that after Jan. 12, 2016, Microsoft would support IE9 only on Windows Vista, IE10 only on Windows Server 2012, and IE11 on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

IE7 and IE8 will drop off support completely, no matter what OS they run on.

The browsers will continue working, but Microsoft will halt technical support and stop serving security updates for the banned versions. Because of the large number of critical vulnerabilities Microsoft patches in its browser — 84 in the last two months alone — it will be extremely risky running an unsupported version.

Roger Capriotti, who leads IE marketing, cited a number of reasons for the change, including better security, less version fragmentation for Web app and site developers, and improved compatibility with third-party and Microsoft’s own Web-based applications and services, such as Office 365.

“Running a modern browser is more important than ever for the fastest, most secure experience on the latest Web sites and services,” Capriotti said in a long blog post Thursday.

The move was a repudiation of a decades-old support policy that promised to support an edition of IE for as long as the operating system(s) able to run it. Under the now-in-tatters policy, 2006’s IE7 was to receive security updates until April 11, 2017, the call-it-quits date for Windows Vista. IE8, which launched in early 2009, and 2011’s IE9 were to stay on the support list until Jan. 14, 2020, the retirement date for Windows 7.

Likewise, IE10, which launched in September 2012, was supposed to receive patches until April 9, 2023, the end date for Windows 8.

In other words, Microsoft just scratched off a year of support for IE7, four years for IE8 and IE9, and seven years for IE10. After Jan. 12, 2016, the only current browser — Microsoft is sure to release others before then — that will retain support on the dominant versions of Windows will be IE11.

What’s striking about the support change is that Microsoft will abandon IE8, the most widely-used edition, in less than a year-and-a-half. According to data from metrics company Net Applications, IE8 was used by 37% of those running one form or another of Internet Explorer, more than the 29% share that the much newer IE11 controlled last month.

And IE8 use has been growing: In the last three months, its rate of growth has been four times that of IE11.

What was Microsoft thinking?

Al Hilwa, an analyst with research firm IDC, focused on the security angle. “We have a situation where the security consequences of using outdated software is like putting enterprises in a slowly-heating pot,” Hilwa said in an email. “We are definitely reaching the boiling point in terms of hacker intrusions and exploitation. The problem is changing and software provisioning has to change with it.”

But Silver and others saw more at work in Redmond than Capriotti let on.

“Microsoft suggests that users will have a better experience with newer versions of IE, and that’s probably true, but this will also reduce Microsoft’s support costs,” said Silver.

Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft concurred. “This wasn’t a complete surprise. In the world of new efficiencies [at Microsoft], it didn’t shock me that they did this. They’re looking for ways to build better software faster,” he said, referring to CEO Satya Nadella’s oft-stated goal to change Microsoft’s culture, including accelerating software release tempos and making development teams more accountable, productive and economical.

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Windows will be crucial to a PC market revival in 2015

Gartner projects Windows XP upgrades will stop the PC market bleeding next year

Microsoft’s Windows OS could play a crucial rule in returning worldwide PC shipments to modest growth next year after multiple years of decline, Gartner said on Monday.

PC shipments could reach around 317 million in 2015, increasing from 308 million units expected to ship this year, the research firm said in a study. Shipments this year are expected to decline by 2.9 percent compared to 2013, which is lower than previous yearly declines.

The “revival” of the PC market will be driven by upgrades of old business PCs with Windows XP, which are no longer supported by Microsoft, said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. He estimates that roughly 60 million PCs will be upgraded this year.

Businesses are largely upgrading to Windows 7 and avoiding Windows 8, which is viewed more as a tablet OS. Microsoft could release a new OS sometime next year, which could supplant Windows 7 as the OS of choice for businesses. However, it takes time for companies to test and deploy PC OSes, as happened with Windows 7, which took more than a year to find a foothold in businesses.

Counting PCs, tablets and smartphones, Gartner said overall shipments of computing devices are expected to reach 2.4 billion units this year, increasing by 4.2 percent compared to the previous year. Shipments will further increase to 2.6 billion units in 2015.

After the first iPad shipped in 2010, tablets were increasingly adopted as alternative computing devices to PCs. Gartner is projecting tablet shipments to increase to 256 million this year, up from 207 million last year. Tablet shipments will reach 321 million in 2015, overtaking PCs, Gartner said.

Tablets will get cheaper and more functional, Atwal said, adding that these trends will continue to drive adoption in the coming years.

Worldwide mobile phone shipments will be 1.86 billion units this year, rising by 3.1 percent compared to the previous year, Gartner said. The worldwide growth will continue in 2015, with shipments totaling 1.95 billion units.

Android will continue to be the dominant OS across devices, according to Gartner. The OS will be installed in 1.17 billion devices shipped this year, an increase of 30 percent. Apple’s iOS will receive a boost from the new iPhone due later this year, and the company’s iOS and Mac OSes will be in 271 million devices shipped this year, increasing by 15 percent compared to the previous year. Microsoft’s Windows desktop OS and Phone OS will be in 333 million devices shipped this year, rising slowly from 326 million the previous year.

But Windows will be in 373.7 million devices shipped in 2015, overtaking the combined shipments of Apple’s iOS and Mac OS, which will be in 301.4 million devices, Gartner said. Android will remain the dominant OS, installed in 1.37 billion devices shipped next year.


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Microsoft fixes Exchange Online outage after almost 9 hours

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The company pinned the blame on a networking infrastructure failure

Microsoft has finally fixed an Exchange Online outage that left affected users without access to email for almost nine hours on Tuesday, prompting many to vent their frustration online as they struggled to get their work done.

The company hasn’t said how many customers were impacted, but judging by the volume of complaints posted in discussion forums and social media sites, it must have hit a substantial number of users.

Plus, the length of the outage, and the fact that it struck during U.S. work hours, makes it a significant and embarrassing one for Microsoft, which is locked in a fight with Google in the cloud communication and collaboration software market.

Exchange Online is sold as a standalone service, and also as a component of Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud communication and collaboration suite for businesses, schools, government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

In an update posted in page 15 of a discussion thread in the Office 365 support forum, a Microsoft representative declared that the service had been restored around 6 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time. The outage hit shortly after 9 a.m.

“Investigation determined that a portion of the networking infrastructure entered into a degraded state. Engineers made configuration changes on the affected capacity to remediate end-user impact,” wrote the Microsoft support official, identified as David Zhang.

A common theme among affected users who complained online was that Microsoft was slow to acknowledge the outage and didn’t communicate well with customers. Many felt that the Office 365 status dashboard wasn’t updated quickly enough to reflect the problem.

A good sample of these complaints is encapsulated in the reactions to this update Microsoft posted to the Office 365 Twitter account at one point during the afternoon.

Outages such as this one create difficult situations for IT departments whose companies have shut down their on-premises servers and switched to vendor-hosted cloud services like Office 365. In these situations, IT pros have little to no control over the outage and yet have to field queries and complaints from their angry users.

Inevitably, these types of outages also trigger second-guessing of the decision to move to cloud services and give up the inherent control of running one’s own servers for email and other applications. This second-guessing is usually directed at the high-level IT executive who pushed for the move to the cloud, like CIOs, CTOs and IT managers.

Office 365 comes in a variety of editions that vary in price and in the applications and tools they include. Most Office 365 editions come with Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and OneDrive for Business, and some also include the full-featured Office productivity app suite.

The basic version of Office 365 for Education, called A2, is free, while the most sophisticated version for businesses, Office 365 Enterprise E4, costs US$22 per user, per month and includes a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee.

A Microsoft spokeswoman contacted via email acknowledged the problem, but didn’t provide details about the number of customers affected.

Leaked features in Windows 8.1 Update 1

Windows 8.1 Update 1

Microsoft is expected to release Windows 8.1 Update 1 for free, either next month or early April. It won’t be as extensive an update in terms of features and codebase as Windows 8.1 was for Windows 8. Instead, it will add functions that appear to be aimed at improving the experience for users who interact with the OS through a keyboard and mouse (or touchpad). We acquired a leaked build of Update 1. Here are the new functions it will add to Windows 8.1 (and the rumored ones that it probably will not). Of course, keep in mind things may change (i.e. features added, removed or revised) before this update is officially released

Context menus for apps in the Start Screen
When you right-click the shortcut tile of an app in the Start Screen (or its icon in the Apps View), a context menu will pop open, which will make things easier when you’re using a mouse.

Pinning apps to the taskbar
You’ll be able to pin Windows apps to the desktop environment’s taskbar, by right-clicking its shortcut tile in the Start Screen (or its icon in the Apps Menu). Then when you click its icon on the taskbar, you’ll launch the app or switch to it if it’s already running.

This will make things visually simpler to keep track of, from the desktop, Windows apps you have running. Previously, you could only do this by summoning the Switch List (a sidebar that shows thumbnails of Windows apps running on your system) by moving the mouse cursor to the upper-left corner.

Desktop taskbar set along the bottom of apps and Start Screen
The desktop taskbar will appear along the bottom of Windows apps, as well as the Start Screen.

Title bars for Windows apps with minimize and close buttons
A Windows app will display a title bar with the app’s icon on the upper-left corner of the app, and minimize and close buttons set to the upper-right corner, when you move the mouse cursor to the top of the screen. Clicking minimize will send you to the desktop, where the app’s icon will be set on the taskbar.

Access split-screen mode through the app’s title bar icon
Clicking the Windows app icon on its new title bar will present you the option to send the app into the Snap split-screen mode, either into the left or right panel.

Search and Power buttons on the Start Screen
On the Start Screen, there will be a Search tool icon and Power button set to the right of your user account picture.The search icon is simply a shortcut that will open the search tool in the Charms bar. Clicking this power button will give you the options to sleep, shut down, or restart your computer.

List apps by their first letter
Under the Apps View, you will be able to narrow down your list of apps by the first letter of their names.

Show more apps
Additionally, there will be a setting which will size down the icons in the Apps View.

Make visual elements of the OS even bigger
Under the Display settings window, two more sizing presets will be available to your computer if it’s capable of displaying a resolution of at least 3200-by-1800 pixels: 250% and 500%. These ranges will further enlarge the size of text, icons and UI elements.

Control Panel in PC Settings
In the PC Settings app, there will be a link on the lower-left corner that will launch the desktop Control Panel application.

A very slight update to Internet Explorer 11
A new version of Internet Explorer 11 may be part of Update 1, although there may not be any noticeable changes to it. The version number for the browser in the leaked Update 1 we acquired does not list an exceptional increase in value over the current one. So maybe it will just be a minor, bugfix update to the browser that Microsoft will roll into Update 1 for convenience.

Lower memory and disk space requirements
Supposedly, Update 1 will reduce Windows 8.1’s system memory use and on-board storage, in order to tune up the OS to run more efficiently on low-end tablets. This may benefit owners of Windows 8.1 tablets with 8-inch screens and Intel processors from Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba.

Boot-to-desktop by default?
Early on when news about Update 1 hit the Internet, there was a rumor that booting to the classic and familiar-to-most-users desktop environment would be set as the default. But the latest leaks don’t have this setting switched on, so it appears you’ll still need to turn this on manually if you’d rather bypass the Start Screen whenever you first start your computer.

The return of the Start menu UI?
Another early rumor that likely won’t pan out: a “mini version” of the classic Start menu UI, application launcher would be included in Update 1. There hasn’t been official confirmation yet by Microsoft that such an interface even exists for Windows 8.1.

So if you’d like to be able to find and launch your desktop applications through a Start menu interface like the kind found in previous versions of Windows, you’ll still need to use a third-party program, such as Start8.

Available through Windows Update
According to a leaked report, unlike the Windows 8.1 upgrade, which was released as a free download for Windows 8 users but only through the Windows Store, Update 1 will be pushed through the standard Windows Update tool. This will probably (and hopefully) work out more conveniently, as the Windows 8.1 upgrade process tends to be inconvenient due to the quirky nature of the Windows Store UI and what has appeared to be its servers’ difficulty in delivering the download quickly.

Prepare thy Windows 8.1 computer for March
The speculation is that Microsoft will release Update 1 at its weekly “Patch Tuesday” schedule, which would mean either March 11 or April 8.

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Microsoft scraps ‘Windows-first’ practice, puts Office on iPad before Surface

New CEO Satya Nadella comes out swinging on ‘cloud first, mobile first’ strategy

As expected, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today hosted a press conference where the company unveiled Office for iPad, breaking with its past practice of protecting Windows by first launching software on its own operating system.

CEO Satya Nadella expounded on Microsoft’s ‘cloud first, mobile first’ strategy today as his company unveiled Office for iPad as proof of its new platform-agnosticism.

Three all-touch core apps — Word, Excel and PowerPoint — have been seeded to Apple’s App Store and are available now.

The sales model for the new apps is different than past Microsoft efforts. The Office apps can be used by anyone free of charge to view documents and present slideshows. But to create new content or documents, or edit existing ones, customers must have an active subscription to Office 365.

+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD Trial Microsoft software and services — for free +

Microsoft labeled it a “freemium” business model, the term used for free apps that generate revenue by in-app purchases.

Today’s announcement put an end to years of speculation about whether, and if so when, the company would trash its strategy of linking the suite with Windows in an effort to bolster the latter’s chances on tablets. It also reversed the path that ex-CEO Steve Ballmer laid out last October, when for the first time he acknowledged an edition for the iPad but said it would appear only after a true touch-enabled version had launched for Windows tablets.

It also marked the first time in memory that Microsoft dealt a major product to an OS rival of its own Windows.

“Microsoft is giving users what they want,” Carolina Milanesi, strategic insight director of Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, said in an interview, referring to long-made customer demands that they be able to run Office on any of the devices they owned, even those running a Windows rival OS. “The connection to Office 365 was also interesting in that this puts users within Microsoft’s ecosystem at some point.”

Prior to today, Microsoft had released minimalist editions of Office, dubbed “Office Mobile,” for the iPhone and Android smartphones in June and July 2013, respectively. Originally, the iPhone and Android Office Mobile apps required an Office 365 subscription; as of today, they were turned into free apps for home use, although an Office 365 plan is still needed for commercial use.

Talk of Office on the iPad first heated up in December 2011, when the now-defunct The Daily reported Microsoft was working on the suite, and added that the software would be priced at $10 per app. Two months later, the same publication claimed it had seen a prototype and that Office was only weeks from release.

That talk continued, on and off, for more than two years, but Microsoft stuck to its Windows-first strategy. Analysts who dissected Microsoft’s moves believed that the company refused to support the iPad in the hope that Office would jumpstart sales of Windows-powered tablets.

Office’s tie with Windows had been fiercely debated inside Microsoft, but until today, operating system-first advocates had won out. But slowing sales of Windows PCs — last year, the personal computer industry contracted by about 10% — and the continued struggles gaining meaningful ground in tablets pointed out the folly of that strategy, outsiders argued.

Some went so far as to call Windows-first a flop.

Microsoft has long hewed to that strategy: The desktop version of Office has always debuted on Windows, for example, with a refresh for Apple’s OS X arriving months or even more than a year later.

Microsoft today added free Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for the iPad to the existing OneNote.

On his first day on the job, however, Nadella hinted at change when he said Microsoft’s mission was to be “cloud first, mobile first,” a signal, said analysts, that he understood the importance of pushing the company’s software and services onto as many platforms as possible.

Nadella elaborated on that today, saying that the “cloud first, mobile first” strategy will “drive everything we talk about today, and going forward. We will empower people to be productive and do more on all their devices. We will provide the applications and services that empower every user — that’s Job One.”

Like Office Mobile on iOS and Android, Office for iPad was tied to Microsoft’s software-by-subscription Office 365.

Although the new Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps can be used free of charge to view documents and spreadsheets, and present PowerPoint slideshows, they allow document creation and editing only if the user has an active Office 365 subscription. Those subscriptions range from the consumer-grade $70-per-year Office 365 Personal to a blizzard of business plans starting at $150 per user per year and climbing to $264 per user per year.

Moorhead applauded the licensing model. “It’s very simple. Unlike pages of requirements that I’m used to seeing from Microsoft to use their products, if you have Office 365, you can use Office for iPad. That’s it,” Moorhead said.

He also thought that the freemium approach to Office for iPad is the right move. “They’ve just pretty much guaranteed that if you’re presenting on an iPad you will be using their apps,” said Moorhead of PowerPoint.

Moorhead cited the fidelity claims made by Julie White, a general manager for the Office technical marketing team, who spent about half the event’s time demonstrating Office for iPad and other software, as another huge advantage for Microsoft. “They’re saying 100% document compatibility [with Office on other platforms], so you won’t have to convert a presentation to a PDF,” Moorhead added.

Document fidelity issues have plagued Office competitors for decades, and even the best of today’s alternatives cannot always display the exact formatting of an Office-generated document, spreadsheet or presentation.

Both Milanesi and Moorhead were also impressed by the strategy that Nadella outlined, which went beyond the immediate launch of Office for iPad.

“I think [Satya Nadella] did a great job today,” said Milanesi. “For the first time I actually see a strategy [emphasis in original].

“Clearly there’s more to come,” Milanesi said. “It was almost as if Office on iPad was not really that important, but they just wanted to get [its release] out of way so they could show that there’s more they bring to the plate.”

That “more” Milanesi referred to included talk by Nadella and White of new enterprise-grade, multiple-device management software, the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS).

“With the management suite and Office 365 and single sign-on for developers, Microsoft is really doing something that others cannot do,” Milanesi said. “They made it clear that Microsoft wants to be [enterprises’] key partner going forward.”

Moorhead strongly agreed. “The extension of the devices and services strategy to pull together these disparate technologies, including mobile, managing those devices, authenticating users for services, is something Microsoft can win with. It’s a good strategy,” Moorhead said.

“This was the proof point of delivering on the devices and services strategy,” Moorhead concluded. “And that strategy is definitely paying off.”

Office for iPad can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store. The three apps range in size from 215MB (for PowerPoint) to 259MB (for Word), and require iOS 7 or later.

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Management vendors show Windows Phone some love

Windows Phone

Microsoft also has to ship enterprise feature pack on time, analyst said

IBM-owned Fiberlink and BlackBerry are adding Windows Phone to the list of platforms they can manage and protect, as enterprise interest for the smartphone OS is increasing.

Microsoft has always had a strong position in the enterprise, but has struggled to keep up with Apple and the Android camp as they have stepped up competition with Blackberry over the enterprise smartphone market.

But with an upcoming enterprise update and wider support from MDM (mobile device management) vendors, Microsoft will soon be in a better position.

“Of course it’s really important that the MDM platforms enterprises use have support for the OS. Many have already chosen and purchased a product, and they will hardly throw it out and buy a new one to get support for Windows Phone,” said Leif-Olof Wallin, research vice president at Gartner, via email.

Blackberry has recently started pushing cross-platform management functionality more aggressively as it tries to turn around its fortunes.

“What we have said in conjunction with that is that as we hear from customers that they really want to support a platform we don’t currently support, we’ll add it. So the requests from customers got sufficient enough for Windows Phone that it was time to step up to that. BES 12 seemed to be the logical time for us to look at that capability,” said John Sims, president of global enterprise solutions at BlackBerry.

BES (Blackberry Enterprise Server) 12 will start shipping at the end of the year, and can be used manage devices running Blackberry’s own OSes, Android and iOS, as well.

A broader adoption of Windows Phone 8 in the U.S. and Europe was also enough for Fiberlink to launch the MaaS360 Secure Productivity Suite for Windows Phone 8, which includes secure email, calendar, contacts and browser. To protect enterprise assets, the IT department can use enterprise app containers to prevent data leaks and block the forwarding of documents, according to Fiberlink.

Microsoft is also taking matters into its own hands with a long-awaited enterprise feature pack that was first announced in July last year.

The update will arrive “later this spring” and improve security with signed and encrypted S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) and a virtual private network client that automatically is triggered when an enterprise resource is accessed, Joe Belfiore, who runs Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform, said Sunday.

The feature pack is an important update for Microsoft, according to Wallin.

“Microsoft must put out the feature pack during the first half of the year like it promised to show the company is serious about the enterprise market. Surprisingly, there were a number of small things missing from Windows Phone 8 that when put together showed a lack of focus on enterprise needs,” Wallin said.

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Ubuntu 13.10 takes aim at Microsoft, Apple, Google

Although not reviewed here, we tried Canonical’s optional Landscape service, which can be hosted internally or by Canonical. It reports conditions of covered Ubuntu instances. It can inform an administrator if instances need updates, has failed in a number of ways, when administrative approval is needed, when certain types of jobs are completed, and when upgrades are available and applied.

It’s a bit primitive compared to other third-party packages, and those that are largely OS-specific, like Microsoft System Center. It’s possible to watch administrative jobs like cloud populating, as well as dreary desktop instance monitoring.

Cross Platform
“The Desktop, The Server, and The Smartphone” sounds like the title to a bad poem, but it’s possible to do with Ubuntu 13.10, although the number of smartphones supported today appears to be just two. We had a leftover Nexus 4 from another experiment, and went through the provisioning steps to upgrade it to Ubuntu, via Ubuntu’s developer site.

Currently, the smartphone/phablet program is available only to developers and OEMs. We therefore put on our developer hats and gave it a try. The Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4 are the only phones supported, and only a shell and core apps are available. We used a T-Mobile SIM to make a call. The call worked. The steps in between using an Android 4.2+ phone and running Ubuntu are many.

The phone has to be reflashed, via a USB cable connection. Then, our Nexus had to be unlocked, via the factory OEM unlocking method, all described on the Ubuntu website. Once back into Android Jelly Bean 4.1, we downloaded the image needed, which is a one-way step. This is the step that requires the most patience, as it takes much longer than we expected. We were ready to restart the process when magically, the phone restarted and came up. We made a call, and yes, went to Facebook. It’s well-documented, and heavily full of caveats.

Ubuntu warns frequently and dramatically that the process can brick a phone, and we believe this. It’s for developers today, but it looks, feels, and behaves like Ubuntu’s Unity interface. It’s possible if you don’t brick the phone on the way to Ubuntu, that you can back-grade to Android, which we did, although it had its own harrowing moments.

The good news is that like other components of this release, Canonical tips its hand where it’s going, the undertaking they’re going through to bring a cross-platform user interface into (hopefully) the next LTS release.

This is a spaghetti-against-the-wall release. IT organizations with an Ubuntu focus will want to pay attention to the release, as it’s a harbinger of things to come. It has enough in the form of early-release apps that some portions, the attractive ones, aren’t ready for release — just as Microsoft trial-balloons features before they’re entirely ready for production. But one quality of this release is that it’s a hell of a tease, and more so when the competitors have enormous amounts of capitalization and history behind them. The ideas and momentum seem to be crystalizing, and Canonical has a lot of work ahead of it to take these into reliable production.

How We Tested
We deployed Ubuntu 13.10 on native and virtual machines in our lab and at Expedient/Indy, which hosts our network operations center. We used a limited number of notebooks, principally Lenovo Thinkpads and VMs under Oracle VirtualBox and Microsoft Hyper-V V3. Server bare metal took place on an older Dell server, as well as into VMs on VMware 5.5 running on a Lenovo ThinkServer and Hyper-V V3 on a HP DL-380G8. Although OpenStack constructs are available for these hypervisors and others, we didn’t test Hadoop clusters in our examinations.

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