Patch Tuesday: Not dead yet

Credit: Michael Hiemstra (modified)
In absence of clarity from Microsoft, experts now lean toward Patch Tuesday’s survival after Windows 10’s regime change

Patch Tuesday is not dead.
That’s what experts have now concluded, even though Microsoft will not say straight out if it plans on upending the 12-year practice of providing security patches on the same day each month to everyone.

With Windows 10’s launch only five days away — the new operating system will debut July 29 on previewers’ PCs — the question of whether Patch Tuesday lives and breathes, or will die a sure death, maybe quickly, maybe slowly, still remains officially unanswered.

But security professionals and industry analysts have come to the conclusion that Patch Tuesday will continue, possibly in the same form it has since 2003.

“Patch Tuesday is not going away any time soon,” said Chris Goettl, product manager for patch management vendor Shavlik. “It’s been blown out of proportion.”

“Patch Tuesday” is the label that’s been stuck to the second Tuesday of each month, the day Microsoft has issued its security updates since 2003. (Microsoft prefers the more upbeat “Update Tuesday.”) The practice was begun to make patching more predictable, especially for businesses — the Redmond, Wash. company’s biggest and best customers — who generate the bulk of the firm’s revenue.

Two months ago, Patch Tuesday’s survivability seemed in doubt after Windows chief Terry Myerson said, “We’re not going to be delivering all of the updates to all of these consumers on one day of the month,” when talking about changes to Windows Update under Windows 10.

Observers used that comment to conclude that Microsoft was killing Patch Tuesday and would instead roll out security fixes as soon as they were ready, returning to its pre-2003 practice. Two weeks ago, when Microsoft shipped its July batch, some marked it as the last-ever Patch Tuesday.

Hold the phone, security experts said. While they agreed that Patch Tuesday would be moot for consumers on Windows 10, even in May they were certain it would remain a factor for businesses, although fixes would be available as they exited Microsoft’s testing.

Microsoft hasn’t been any help. This week, it again declined to answer questions about when and how security updates would be distributed to Windows 10 devices.

When asked whether security updates would be offered to all Windows 10 users on the second Tuesday of each month, or issued to all users as the fixes are completed and approved by Microsoft, a spokesman would not address the question. Instead, he said, “With Windows 10, we will deliver ongoing innovations and security updates. Frequency and delivery of updates may vary based upon the update.”

That varied delivery he mentioned would not be any different than the company’s current policy, which at times steps outside the Patch Tuesday schedule to ship rush fixes, or so-called “out-of-bound” updates. It did that just this week when it released an emergency update to all Windows editions.

Asked whether security updates would be packaged within Windows 10’s expected regular tempo of feature and functionality updates — as was an emergency Windows 10 patch distributed July 15 and several more since then — and released to users via the OS’s multiple cadences, dubbed “branches” and “rings,” the spokesman declined to comment. “Microsoft has nothing to share on that at this time,” the spokesman said in an email, using one of the company’s standard lines.

Two months ago, some security pros criticized Microsoft for not being more forthcoming. “Microsoft’s communications have gone to near zero,” said Andrew Storms, vice president of security services at consultancy New Context, in a May interview. “To some degree, that’s part of the reason why everyone is confused.”

Microsoft’s reticence may have exacerbated the confusion, but it largely stemmed from the radical overhaul of the Windows update, upgrade and servicing model. Rather than ploddingly roll out a new OS every three years, Microsoft will continually deliver new tools and functionality, new user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) features and enhancements over the life of Windows 10.

Microsoft has long updated Windows on a regular basis, but only in the form of security patches and bug fixes. They will now be accompanied by more visible improvements. But how the two categories — in Microsoft’s parlance, “non-security” and “security” updates, the former encompassing everything but patches — interact, intersect and overlap, or even if they do at all, is the foundation of the mystery.

Because Microsoft has been feeding off-the-cuff security updates that also include non-security content to Windows Insiders — the people who have opted in to the Windows 10 preview program — many have concluded that that will be the norm for everyone, or at the least, consumers on the “Current Branch” (CB), the earliest-to-get-updates mainstream track that’s the only one available to customers running Windows 10 Home.

“That’s the only cadence that people are seeing right now,” Goettl pointed out.
But there’s no guarantee that how Microsoft ships security updates to the Insider group will be the way it treats the Current Branch. Gabriel Aul, engineering general manager for Microsoft’s OS group, hinted at that possibility Tuesday. “The experience you’re having is because you’re in the Insider program. Not how the rest of the world will experience,” Aul tweeted when a user griped about the barrage of updates to Insider build 10240.

Even with the muddy waters, Goettl remained convinced that consumers would no longer see Patch Tuesday, at least as it’s been known in the past. “Consumers will get things as they come out,” he said today, reiterating his position of May. “They’ll have little choice on it, but that’s okay. Consumers have the least knowledge [about patches] and they shouldn’t be making the decision. Windows 10 will be like the Apple model [for Macs], and that’s in [consumers’] best interest.”

Again, Microsoft has not said as much. Nor has the company laid out how security updates will be presented to businesses. But there, people like Goettl and others were surer of what will happen.

Businesses that rely on the “Current Branch for Business” (CBB) and/or “Long-term Servicing Branch” (LTSB) for non-security updates will continue to see a Patch Tuesday, Goettl asserted. In fact, he argued that it was this critical part of Microsoft’s customer mix that’s calling the shots. “They have forced the course on Patch Tuesday,” Goettl said.

Gartner’s analysts were more aggressive in their belief that Patch Tuesday would remain intact, saying that it would exist for consumer and commercial Windows users. “[Current Branch] does not replace the current monthly security patch program, which will continue to deliver critical security fixes on the second Tuesday of each month,” wrote Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans in a recent report for clients. “Security fixes will continue to arrive each month on Patch Tuesday regardless of which branch you select, although they may arrive even more frequently for those on Windows Update.”

In a follow-up email, Kleynhans said that although Gartner had no inside information, it expects Patch Tuesday to continue.

But Kleynhans, like everyone else, will just have to wait for Microsoft to say how it is. Or isn’t.

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Microsoft muddies waters about free copy of Windows 10 to beta testers

Revised statement leads to more questions: Will preview participants get free copy, no matter how they installed it, or not?

Microsoft on Friday said Windows 10 beta testers will receive a free copy of the operating system’s stable build next month then almost immediately tweaked its statement, again muddying the waters.

Gabriel Aul, the engineering general manager for Microsoft’s operating system group, got the ball rolling Friday in a blog where he also pointed out several changes to the Windows Insider program, Microsoft’s name for its Windows 10 preview regimen. The most newsworthy of Aul’s statements was that Insider participants would receive Windows 10’s final code, even if they didn’t install the preview on a Windows 7 or 8.1 PC eligible for the one-year free upgrade.

“Windows Insiders running the Windows 10 Insider Preview (Home and Pro editions) with their registered MSA [Microsoft Account] connected to their PC will receive the final release build of Windows 10 starting on July 29,” Aul said. “As long as you are running an Insider Preview build and connected with the MSA you used to register, you will receive the Windows 10 final release build.”

In several tweets Friday, Aul expanded on the deal, which he had alluded to several months ago without spelling out details.

“Install [build] 10130, connect registered Insider MSA, upgrade to RTM [release to manufacturing], stays genuine,” Aul said in one Twitter message on Friday when answering a reporter’s question of, “So to be clear: install 10130, upgrade to RTM when available, and it’ll stay genuine + activated with no money spent, forever?”

“Genuine” is Microsoft-speak for a legitimate, activated copy of its software. As of Sunday, build 10130 was the most recent of Windows 10; Microsoft released it on May 29.

The move as Aul outlined it would be unprecedented for the Redmond, Wash. company, which has historically turned a deaf ear to suggestions from public beta testers that they be rewarded for their work hunting down bugs with free software.

But while the decision evoked a more generous Microsoft, it was tempered by the reality that most customers running consumer- or business-grade editions of Windows 7 and 8.1 — with the notable exception of Windows Enterprise, the for-volume-licensing-customers-only SKU (stock-keeping unit) — will get a free copy of Windows 10 in any case.

The route to a free copy of Windows 10, Aul implied, would be of interest only to users who did not have a genuine-marked copy of Windows 7 Home Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate or Professional, or Windows 8.1 or Windows 8.1 Pro.

Those users would include people who had PCs currently running an ineligible OS, such as Windows Vista or the even older Windows XP, or who want to equip a virtual machine (VM) with Windows 10 on a device running another edition of Windows or, say, a Mac armed with software like VMware’s Fusion or the open-source VirtualBox.

Aul’s reference to build 10130 may mean that the window of opportunity for the free Windows 10 will shut once that is superseded by the next iteration.

More interesting, however, was an addition to Aul’s blog made between its Friday debut and late Saturday: “It’s important to note that only people running Genuine Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 can upgrade to Windows 10 as part of the free upgrade offer.”

That line was tacked onto the end of the paragraph in which Aul had described the process by which Insider participants would be able to obtain the stable release on July 29, and that all testers — whether they upgraded from Windows 7 or 8.1 or installed the preview on a wiped drive or VM — would be able to run Windows 10 free of charge.

The blog post was also edited, removing the word “activated” from the original. The initial post said, “As long as you are running an Insider Preview build and connected with the MSA you used to register, you will receive the Windows 10 final release build and remain activated. Once you have successfully installed this build and activated, you will also be able to clean install on that PC from final media if you want to start over fresh [emphasis added].”

The revamped post deleted the words in bold above.

Microsoft’s (or Aul’s) changes threw doubt onto the statements Aul had made. He did not reply to a question posed via Twitter late Saturday about whether the process as he outlined still stood.

The removal of “activation” — and the new line with the term “genuine” in it — signaled that it did not. The simplest explanation is that while Microsoft will, in fact, give testers the stable build, it will not be activated with a product key, and thus “non-genuine” in Microsoft parlance, unless some other step is taken, perhaps a connection to a prior copy of Windows 7 or 8.1.

Non-genuine copies of Windows are marked as such with a watermark. Microsoft has not revealed what other restrictions might be placed on an unactivated or non-genuine copy of Windows 10.

Interpretation gymnastics are virtually required when parsing Microsoft’s statements. Microsoft chooses its words carefully, and when it does disclose information, often does so in parcels that are by turns opaque, ambiguous and confusing to customers. That frequently forces it to retract or modify earlier comments.

Something similar occurred earlier this year when Microsoft seemed to say that non-genuine copies would be upgraded to legitimate versions of Windows 10. Days later the company walked back from that stance, saying that the free Windows 10 upgrade offer “will not apply to non-genuine Windows devices.”

The confusion may be frustrating to some customers — as in many other cases, customers who are among the most vocal of Microsoft’s — but moot for the vast majority of users, who will simply upgrade existing, and eligible, PCs. Microsoft’s licensing is complex enough that there are countless edge cases where ambiguity is a side effect.

Still, the lack of clarity about many questions related to Windows 10 at this late date is disturbing, although not rare for Microsoft. At times the company seems entirely unable to come clean about its policies.

Computerworld, for example, installed the 10130 build from a disk image onto a new VM on a Mac — not as an upgrade from one equipped with Windows 7 or 8.1 — and although it was marked as “Windows is activated,” that may not last.


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VMware takes on Microsoft in the identity management space

After a number of strategic acquisitions, VMware looks to simplify identity management.

Microsoft and VMware seem to be continuing on their collision course, and this time it’s VMware’s turn to take a shot. The company on Monday launched a new cloud service that helps companies manage passwords and identities.

VMware Identity Manager is being billed as ID as a Service (IDaaS) because it’s offered as both a cloud service and on-premises. It combines several VMware acquisitions into one program that is equal parts Mobile Device Manager (MDM) and Active Directory.

At its heart, VMware Identity Manager is a single sign-on product supporting cloud, remote, and on-premises users. The product is based on TriCipher technology acquired by VMware in 2010, which is now a part of its AirWatch mobile device management system, which was also an acquisition.

The solution works with other VMware products, such as vCloud Air and vRealize Suite, to provide a single sign-on for administrators to work between management interfaces. The integration with AirWatch Enterprise Mobility Management provides an extra factor of authentication rather than passwords.

It has a customizable and context-aware HTML5 application portal to assist employees with getting set up, automated app provisioning, and offers more secure access to applications across any device. It also federates existing on-premises Active Directory infrastructures to centralize end-user management.

VMware Horizon and AirWatch already supports iOS devices, but VMware announced that it will expand its iOS support with the development of application configuration templates and vertical solutions for industries like healthcare, airlines, education and others. It will provide users with a one-touch sign on for their specific enterprise.

VMware also announced 15 new members of its Application Configuration for Enterprise (ACE) standard, which it launched this year. They include Dropbox, Everbridge, Kony, MicroStrategy, ServiceMax, Showpad, Syncplicity by EMC, and Webalo.

Finally, VMware announced its AirWatch systems now support the AT&T Work Platform, a voice, data, and messaging service for businesses that offers split billing so end-users can split the cost of their business and personal use in a BYOD program.

So it seems VMware and Microsoft are duking it out in the cloud and the data center. Microsoft crept into VMware’s domain with Hyper-V, and VMware comes back with a direct competitor to Active Directory. It will be interesting to see Microsoft’s next move.

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Microsoft abruptly dumps public Patch Tuesday alerts

Layoffs and reorg have changed security at the company, say outsiders, and not for the better

For the first time in a decade, Microsoft today did not give all customers advance warning of next week’s upcoming Patch Tuesday slate. Instead, the company suddenly announced it is dropping the public service and limiting the alerts and information to customers who pay for premium support.

“Moving forward, we will provide ANS information directly to Premier customers and current organizations involved in our security programs, and will no longer make this information broadly available through a blog post and Web page,” wrote Chris Betz, senior director at the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC), the group responsible for the warnings.

The change also applies to the occasional alerts that Microsoft issued when it gave customers a heads-up about an impending emergency patch. ANS will no longer provide public alerts for those “out-of-band” updates.

Security professionals torched Microsoft over the change.

“They’ve gone from free to fee, and for really no particular reason,” said Andrew Storms, vice president of security services at New Context, a San Francisco-based security consultancy, in an interview. “It doesn’t make sense.”

And Ross Barrett, senior manager of security engineering, at Rapid7, let loose with both barrels. “This is an assault on IT and IT security teams everywhere,” Barrett said in an email reply to questions. “Making this change without any lead time is simply oblivious to the impact this will have in the real world. Honestly, it’s shocking.”

The no-longer-available alerts from the “Advanced Notification Service,” or ANS, have been a part of Microsoft’s monthly security apparatus for the last 10 years, Storms estimated. Those alerts appeared on Microsoft’s website on the Thursday before the next Patch Tuesday, the tag for its monthly security update schedule.

Microsoft will still issue those updates next week — on Jan. 13, at approximately 10 a.m. PT — but only some customers will receive the pre-Patch Tuesday warnings, including today’s. The warnings listed the number of updates and what products they would affect, and described the severity of the underlying vulnerabilities.

Betz explained the sudden disappearance of a public ANS by saying that customers weren’t using it.

“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,” said Betz. “While some customers still rely on ANS, the vast majority wait for Update Tuesday, or take no action, allowing updates to occur automatically.”

Microsoft prefers to call its monthly security release “Update Tuesday,” apparently believing “Patch Tuesday” carries negative connotations.

Storms wasn’t buying Betz’s explanation. “I don’t get it. It’s the wrong economic model,” said Storms. “They say no one was using it, so now they’re going to charge for it?”
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“Privatizing ANS to Premier and paid support protection programs only reiterates that Microsoft wants all of the pie, and will force organizations to pay,” added Tim Byrne, product manager at Core Security, in an email.

Storms said that pulling the ANS plug was probably part of the reorganization that Microsoft has been implementing since 2013, but particularly since the large layoffs of mid-2014. For example, the Trustworthy Computing security group was shut down last September, with some staff let go and others beating a path to the door for new jobs. Others were parceled out to the company’s cloud computing and legal teams.

“We know that there are a lot fewer folks at Microsoft,” said Storms, referring to the layoffs and the shuttering of the Trustworthy Computing Group. “With X-percent fewer employees, I think they’re just trying to make ends meet.”

One result: ANS going from free to paid.

In hindsight, ANS’s vanishing act shouldn’t have been a shock. In November, for instance, Microsoft discontinued its long-running post-Patch Tuesday webcast, where senior security engineers and managers walked through the month’s updates in detail.

Jonathan Ness, senior development manager at MSRC, and Dustin Childs, group manager of response communications — who did the final webcast in November — have both left Microsoft, illustrating Storms’ point about staff reductions.

In a tweet today, Childs simply said, “Wow. #ANS now for premier customers only,” about the change.

ANS was valuable, Storms maintained, and not only to the large corporations that will continue to receive the alerts as part of their Premier Support contracts.

“ANS was very useful for preparation before Patch Tuesday,” said Storms. “It gave you time to make a VM [virtual machine] with the correct version of something so you could test the patches when they came out. There are definitely organizations that have relied on it.”

The ramifications of the new ANS policy are hard to gauge, said Storms, but he worries about the trend in Redmond.

“I’m really surprised,” said Storms. “It’s very uncharacteristic of the Microsoft we’ve come to know and appreciate. They spent years gaining a foothold in the security community, changing how they were viewed in the industry, and they continued to add information and make ANS more valuable over time.”

Others were more blunt. “Microsoft is basically going back to a message of ‘just blindly trust’ that we will patch everything for you,” said Barrett of Rapid 7.

“Microsoft takes some control away from the users [with] this transition,” argued Jon Rudolph, principal software engineer at Core Security, in an email. “By making this switch, Microsoft is … hiding their security report card from the general public.”

Microsoft left the door ajar in one aspect: While ANS won’t issue warnings of out-of-band patches, the company said it could use other unspecified ways to communicate with customers.

“The changes announced today apply to all Advance Notification Service (ANS) communications,” a Microsoft spokesman said in an email response to questions about ANS’s former role in distributing emergency alerts. “If we determine broad communication is needed for a specific situation, we’ll take the appropriate actions to reach customers.”

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Microsoft expands anti-MacBook campaign with switching tips

Microsoft expands anti-MacBook campaign with switching tips

Illustrates the underdog position of its Surface Pro 3 2-in-1

Microsoft recently expanded its campaign against Apple’s MacBook Air with a website that offers practical advice to people who have switched or are thinking of switching to a Surface Pro 3.

The site resembled other ditch-a-rival-OS efforts that have long been a part of the personal computing landscape, including those Apple has used to convince consumers that switching from a Windows PC to a Mac is not difficult.

Microsoft’s MacBook-to-Surface Pro 3 switching site includes general tips on using Windows, descriptions of navigation and operation equivalents of the former on the latter, an explanation of moving content from the Mac to the Surface, and advice on using Apple’s iPhone, iCloud and iTunes on Windows for those who own other Apple devices.

Microsoft has pitted its Surface Pro against Apple’s MacBook Air — the Cupertino, Calif. firm’s lightest and thinnest laptop — since the Surface Pro first hit the market in early 2013, early on arguing that the device is a replacement for both a MacBook Air and an iPad. Later, as tablet sales stalled, Microsoft dropped the iPad comparisons and focused solely on the MacBook Air, contending that the Surface Pro 3 is a better laptop both at the tablet-no-it’s-a-notebook May 2014 debut and in a string of humorous ads on television and YouTube. The Redmond, Wash. company has also run MacBook Air buyback and Surface Pro 3 back-to-school promotions aimed at owners or potential owners of the laptop.

The switchers’ advice website was simply a pragmatic expansion of those marketing efforts.

But it was also a stark reminder that Microsoft’s devices strategy operates from a position of weakness: Only an OS or device maker with a minority stake has reason to admit it must convince people to switch from a dominant player.

Apple, for example, has long offered tips on how to switch from Windows to OS X because its Macs have been a puny part of the overall personal computer market. If Apple is to grow its market share, it’s best bet is to steal customers from the Windows world.

Not surprisingly, Apple’s Windows-to-OS X switching site has the same kind of advice as Microsoft’s newer MacBook Air-to-Surface collection, including keyboard shortcut equivalents.

Yet until the debut of its Surface line in 2012, Microsoft had not seen the need to dip into the switchers market.

Microsoft has never disclosed unit sales of the Surface, but most analysts believe it sold fewer than one million in the most recently-reported quarter, its best ever revenue-wise. Nor does Apple reveal the numbers of its MacBook Air notebooks sold; instead, it publicizes sales of Macs overall, which in the September quarter totaled 5.5 million, a record.

Apple stopped disclosing the split between notebook and desktop sales in late 2012, but during the two years before that, the former accounted for 73% of all Macs. If that same fraction is applied to the September quarter sales, Apple sold approximately 4 million laptops. The MacBook Air is Apple’s bestselling notebook, so by that reckoning it sold more than 2 million, or at least twice the number of Microsoft’s Surface.

It’s unclear whether Microsoft’s pitch to MacBook Air owners is effective enough to tempt many to switch to Windows and the Surface Pro 3. Most analysts believe Microsoft will get few MacBook Air users to change. But some think that’s beside the point.

“Comparing yourself to something viewed as the premium device on the market is a good idea,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analysts of Moor Insights & Strategy, in a June interview. “You want to pick on a winner, not a loser.”

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The Onion’s 9 best bits about Microsoft

Poking fun at the software giant and founder Bill Gates since 1996

Going on two decades of ridicule
The Onion, self-branded “America’s Finest News Source,” has been making fun of Microsoft — and, in particular, Bill Gates — since at least 1996, according to its online archive. Here are nine of what we’ve judged to be the best efforts.

Bill Gates To Get Half
Publication date: July 23, 1996

Sample: “Don’t touch anything until you’re sure it’s not part of my half,” Gates instructed the world’s citizenry yesterday via the several million 40-foot-high projection screens he has scattered throughout the globe. “I don’t want anyone messing up stuff in my half.”

Bill Gates Spends $56 Million On Amazon In One Night
Published: Sept. 22, 2011

Sample: “The kids were in bed, and I was thinking about how it had been a long time since I’d heard any Yes, so I bought the MP3 for ‘Leave It,'” Gates said as he opened one of the 13,846 boxes that had arrived at his house.

Microsoft patents ones and zeros
Published: March 25, 1998

Sample: “Microsoft has been using the binary system of ones and zeroes ever since its inception in 1975,” Gates told reporters. “For years, in the interest of the overall health of the computer industry, we permitted the free and unfettered use of our proprietary numeric systems. However, changing marketplace conditions and the increasingly predatory practices of certain competitors now leave us with no choice but to seek compensation for the use of our numerals.”

Thousands Wait Overnight At Microsoft Stores For Second Generation Zune
Published: Dec. 17, 2007

Sample: The sleek new Zune, whose record-breaking sales have made the Zune name synonymous with “mp3 player,” was so sought-after that thousands formed long lines outside hip, minimalist Microsoft Stores across the country days before the device went on sale. In Midtown Manhattan, the hysteria reached such a fever pitch that some were willing to pay as much as $200 for a spot in line.

Microsoft Signs Justice Dept. Attorney To $350 Million Endorsement Deal
Published: Jan. 21, 1998

Sample: Klein, who will appear in Microsoft TV and print ads, joins a growing list of high-profile government personalities who have signed endorsement deals with the software giant, including solicitor general Seth Waxman, FTC chair Robert Pitofsky, and federal judge Thomas Penfield Jackson.

Microsoft Ad Campaign Crashing Nation’s Televisions
Published: Oct. 27, 2008

Sample: The Microsoft ads, which began airing earlier this week, are being blamed for generating critical system errors in more than 70 million televisions. In addition, thousands of frustrated Americans said that the ads have caused their TVs to become unresponsive, their screens to turn blue, and a small box with the message “terminal application error” to suddenly appear.

Bill Gates Finally Getting Into Radiohead’s Kid A
Published: Sept. 12, 2001

Sample: “I listened to it a few times when I first got it, but it just wasn’t grabbing me,” Gates told The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Xbox capable of controlling users
Sample from video: “TechBuzz is raving. ‘This is the future of gaming. With the Xbox One we are closer than ever to being completely piloted by a console. It’s the immersive obedience experience we’ve been waiting for.’ ”

Modern-Day John Henry Dies Trying To Out-Spreadsheet Excel 11.0
Published: Feb. 27, 2006

Sample: Peters challenged the computer after an interoffice memo announced that Excel’s powerful upgraded accounting software would render jobs in the accounts receivable division obsolete and result in sweeping layoffs. Although warned repeatedly by his colleagues in billing, Peters insisted that he could beat the software “to the bottom of a large balance sheet of bedrock-hard figures.”


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Windows XP’s user share plunge not real, just a data adjustment

Net Applications says XP dropped like a stone because the company yanked some Chinese websites from its tallies

The Internet metrics company that claimed Windows XP’s user share plummeted by a record amount last month said Tuesday that it had struck several Chinese websites from its tallies, causing the dramatic decline.On Monday, the firm acknowledged a problem with the data. “We are still researching, but it does appear to be an anomaly,” said Vince Vizzaccaro, head of marketing for Net Applications, in an email reply to questions over the weekend about the validity of the Windows XP and Windows 8 changes.

On Tuesday, Net Applications explained why Windows’ XP’s user share had fallen off the proverbial cliff.

“This drop was primarily caused by a major change in the network of sites we have in China,” the company said in a statement. “A group of large Chinese publishers with a very large number of visitors per day had audiences heavily skewed towards Windows XP (nearly 100% XP). In researching the nature of the sites, we determined they were not appropriate for our network. We removed those publishers ourselves, which caused the shift since Chinese traffic is weighted higher due to lower coverage.”

Net Applications weights website visitor tallies by country using estimates of each nation’s online population, a way to account for markets where it has little actual data, and balance those against countries where it has considerable amounts of information. Because Net Applications collects significantly less data from China, for example, than it does from the U.S., each visitor from China is “worth” more to the result than one from the United States.

Net Applications did not say why the sites it yanked were suddenly “not appropriate” after they had been used to calculate user share previously. And in a follow-up email, Vizzaccaro declined to describe or name the Chinese sites that affected the data. However, he did say that Net Applications drops sites for several reasons, including “gaming” its analytics and receiving traffic from bots, browser toolbars or other automated page-view generators.

The company argued that by scrubbing out the Chinese websites’ tallies, the result is a better picture of the percentages of the world’s personal computers that run Windows XP and other operating systems. “The current data set is more accurate than in the past due to this,” Net Applications said.

Assuming that Net Applications is right — which outsiders might find hard to swallow — the data showing a record fall of Windows XP, and for that matter the record increase of Windows 8, were in reality adjustments, not one-month real-world changes. In other words, Windows XP had been declining at a more rapid pace all along, while Windows 8 had been increasing faster than Net Applications had measured previously.

The one-off decline of Windows XP’s user share also impacted other operating systems. Because Net Applications reports user shares as percentages of a whole, a drop in XP would require a corresponding increase elsewhere. That may have been the cause of the dramatic October boost to Windows 8’s user share as it, too, was readjusted. It also meant that other OSes, such as Windows 7 and Apple’s OS X, may have been under-reported previously.

There are oddities that remain in Net Applications’ data, however, even after the company’s explanation. For October, the firm pegged the user share of Windows NT at 1.64%, an inexplicable increase from 0.05% of September. Windows NT, a precursor to Windows 95, was first released in 1993.

The California company’s data, which is widely used by the media to track the ups and downs of browsers and operating systems, had reported October’s numbers on Saturday. According to its estimates, Windows XP’s user share had plunged a record 6.7 percentage points last month, while Windows 8 had soared by 4.5 points, also a record.

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A conference on high-skilled immigration policy looks at big picture

WASHINGTON – A two-day conference on high-skilled immigration policy, which attracted researchers from the U.S. and Europe, offered Microsoft an opportunity to voice frustration over U.S. immigration policy.

William Kamela, a senior federal policy lead at Microsoft who detailed the stakes and options his company faces, said the firm will apply for “roughly” 1,000 H-1B visas in next April’s application period. “And we will get maybe 50% of those,” assuming there is another visa lottery, he said. Lotteries are held once the overall 85,000 cap is exceeded.

The company’s argument for access to more high-skilled foreign workers seems unaffected by its recent layoffs, even if the number of H-1B workers it seeks next year is potentially smaller than in some previous years. In 2013, Microsoft, for instance, received approval for 1,048 H-1B visas.

Microsoft is cutting about 14% of its workforce. The focus, instead, was on a need to find people with desired skills.

“At the end of the day, you do run into the very real reality that there are small numbers of folks in very select areas that a lot of companies want that we just can’t find,” said Kamela.

The National Academies held the conference, and Microsoft, along with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, were the sponsors. Microsoft was the only tech firm to appear on a panel.

Kamela sat next to Felicia Escobar, special assistant to President Barack Obama on immigration, on the panel. Kamela made it clear that Microsoft could shift some work to Canada or overseas — options for other multinationals who are in search of talent, he said.

“If I need to move 400 people to Canada or Northern Ireland or Hyderabad or Shanghai, we can do that,” said Kamela, who later explained that about 60% of Microsoft’s workforce is in the U.S., yet it makes 68% of its profits overseas.

Focusing on computer science related degrees, Kamela said that a recent graduate “probably has four job offers today,” and can go shopping for the best salary offer.

Kamela said that competition for these students is growing because computer science skills are now sought by all the major industries, including healthcare, financial services and manufacturing. “Every one of these industries needs robust IT departments,” he said.

Escobar was circumspect about what the president might do on immigration policy, but said major changes will be difficult. The president has said he plans to seek reforms through executive order in the absence of action by Congress.

“There are limitations – big limitations – as we think about trying to fix the system within the confines of the law,” said Escobar.

While the focus of the conference was on the “competition” for skilled immigrants, Escobar said that “when we think about a race for talent, I think we’re also thinking about our investments in people here, too — to increase the pipeline here” of skilled U.S. workers.

In talking about the difficulty Microsoft faces getting H-1B visas and high rejection rates as a result of the visa lottery, Kamela said it’s a bigger problem for a startup that submits only a few lottery applications.

“How do we make sure that those companies (startups) get a bite of the apple,” said Kamela, “and they’re competing against us and Google and we can pay more.”

Microsoft may well be the leading corporate critic of the H-1B program, and its officials have frequently appeared at forums and hearings on the topic.

Michael Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard, raised warnings about increases in foreign workers.

Teitelbaum said there are “contradictions” with policies that encourage more students to pursue degrees in engineering, science and mathematics, while at the same saying “we want to import more scientists and engineers, particularly, on a temporary basis.”

“The message they (students) are getting is this is not an attractive long-term career path,” said Teitelbaum, who added that U.S. policies have produced a boom and bust cycle in STEM employment.

“If we have mass layoffs at the same time that the employers are claiming they can’t hire enough people, which is what’s happening, seems to be happening, right now,” said Teitelbaum, “they are going to get the message that maybe I should do something else.”


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2014 Computer Certifications Training and IT Career Certifications Practice Exams, Practice Tests, Notes and Study Guides

Certkingdom is an online based company that provides various IT certification exam services free of charge. We provide free IT Certification practice tests, study guides, jobs listed and networking tutorials mainly focused on Microsoft, Cisco, CWNP, Citrix, Oracle, CompTIA, Linux and Networking certifications. Under the Microsoft brand, IT professionals can access desktop, server, applications, database and developer study guides, tutorials as well as certification tests.

The range of CompTIA services encompasses CompTIA A+, CDIA+, Cloud+, CTT+, Mobility+, Network+, PDI +, Project+, Security+, Server+, Storage+ Powered by SNIA, Mobile App Security+ and Linux+ ,CCNA, CCNP, CCT, CCENT and CCIE under the Cisco brand. CWSP, CWAP, CWDP, CWNE and verify a CWNP are featured under the CWNP IT brand.

Citrix Certified Expert for Apps and Desktops; Professional for mobility, networking, apps and desktops as well as Associate for networking, apps and desktops. Oracle applications, database, enterprise management, industries, operating systems, Java and Middleware, virtualization, systems and foundation are featured under the Oracle brand. Linux are also covered by Certkingdom. Career Certification is also featured.

There are several reasons to opt for the Certkingdom IT Certification services apart from the free access to the various tutorials, study guides, tests, networking tutorials and listed jobs. IT experts will best prepare for the real tests by practicing with the various guides, tests and even tutorials featured on the website. Many professionals have successfully passed their certification exams by using these materials to study. This simply means that they have been tested and proven to work.

Whether one is studying for a job interview, computer certification exams or just want to improve their IT knowledge and skills, Certkingdom is the perfect website to visit. With the extensive study materials at the disposal of IT professionals, they have no reason to fail their exams.

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Microsoft kills off plan to pay people to write good things about Internet Explorer

It was only a couple days ago when Microsoft released its Internet Explorer Developer Channel, “a fully functioning browser designed to give Web developers and early adopters a sneak peek at the Web platform features we’re working on.” Any chance IE might have gotten some long-term social media love was dashed after a clueless “social strategist on behalf of Microsoft” invited the wrong person to write something positive about Internet Explorer.

The “wrong” person was TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington who posted the unsolicited blog-for-pay letter on Uncrunched. The “strategist” was from the advocate marketing firm SocialChorus, which lists Bing as a customer. In part, the message stated:

The new Internet Explorer is a brand new experience with many different features. This reworked Internet Explorer lets you search smarter and do more with its cool new features, such as multitasking, pinnable sites, and full-screen browsing.

In this program, we are looking to spread the word about the new Internet Explorer web experience in a cool, visual way, which is where you come in! Internet Explorer has teamed up with many partners in gaming, entertainment, and more, and we’d love to see you talk about your opinions on these collaborations.

“Compensation” as well as “fun prizes and rewards” were offered for writing a flattering Internet Explorer post. SocialChorus asked bloggers to use specific hashtags. Instead of positive reviews however, the hashtags #IEbloggers and #reThinkIE have turned into more IE bashing tools. Some of those tweets are funny!

Additionally SocialChorus asked “rethink Internet Explorer” bloggers to sign a contract and receive “program access where you will see cool social content, the complete blog post prompt, and all required blog assets.” In order to be compensated, you must “Share your post or related photos with our hashtag (#IEbloggers) on 2 to 3 social networks (Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter).”

The link with more details about the program has since been deleted (you can see it in full here) but not before it caught the eye of Google’s Matt Cutts, who is the head of Google’s webspam team. Cutts tweeted that he was “asking for more info while the webspam team investigates.”

Both Google and Bing have policies about passing links from paid posts; Google penalized Chrome back in 2012 for a sponsored post scheme, meaning searching for “browser” on Google would not bring up Chrome.

Meanwhile Microsoft PR damage-control went into overdrive. Arrington later updated the post with Microsoft’s comment: “This action by a vendor is not representative of the way Microsoft works with bloggers or other members of the media. The program has been suspended.”

Just the same, SocialChorus had asked for the glowing Internet Explorer posts to be up by July 10, so if people who signed contracts weren’t informed that Microsoft yanked the money, you still might see some pro-IE posts around that time.

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Google unseats Microsoft as the U.S. browser powerhouse

Google’s strength in mobile browsing pushes it past Microsoft’s Internet Explorer

Google has unseated rival Microsoft as the leading browser maker in the U.S. for the first time, Adobe said this week, citing data from its analytics platform.

The rise in Google’s domestic fortunes followed Microsoft’s reduction to second fiddle worldwide in May 2013.

According to the Adobe Digital Index (ADI), a measurement of browser usage based on tracking visits to the average U.S. website, Google’s desktop and mobile browsers — Chrome on both platforms, the aging Android browser on the latter only — slipped past Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), which retained its premier position on the desktop but had little to show for its effort on smartphones.
U.S. browser share chart
The U.S. browser war reached a milestone in April as Google replaced Microsoft as the No. 1 maker of Web browsers, said Adobe. (Image: Adobe.)

For April, Google accounted for 31.8% of all browser usage in the United States. Meanwhile, Microsoft owned a 30.9% share.

Apple’s Safari was in third place with a combined desktop and mobile share of 25%, while Mozilla’s Firefox, which lacks a meaningful presence in mobile, was a distant fourth with just 8.7%.

The rise of Google’s browsers, and to a lesser extent Apple’s Safari, and the corresponding declines of both IE and Firefox, can be attributed to mobile browsing, primarily that conducted on smartphones. “Today, mobile [operating systems are] more important, giving Google and Apple a leg up with default status on Android and iOS,” said ADI analyst Tyler White in a statement.

Adobe tallied visits, which in analytics parlance is synonymous with a session on a website, a period during which a user may view numerous pages before leaving, or before a time limit of inactivity expires. Adobe thus actually measures a type of “usage share,” or how active users of each browser are on the Web.

Other analytic firms count differently. California-based Net Applications uses visitors, an expression of the number of unique individuals — actually their browsers, as the tracking is done with cookies — to measure “user share,” which is analogous to the number of copies of each browser in use during a specific period.

Because Adobe drew its data only from consumer-facing sites — some 10,000 of them during April — it was little surprise that the Chrome/Android browsers outpaced IE. Microsoft’s browser has a lock in businesses, where it’s often mandated as the only allowed desktop browser, but it has a less-dedicated — some would say less-coerced — base among consumers. On mobile, IE accounted for just 1.8% of usage.

Google’s climb to the top spot in the U.S. followed its push into that place globally by almost a year: Adobe’s data had Google’s Chrome/Android passing Microsoft’s IE in May 2013 worldwide. “Outside the U.S., Google’s browser share has grown even more rapidly,” an Adobe spokesman said in an email Friday.

Adobe’s take on the desktop versus mobile contest was in line with other, earlier calculations by Net Applications, in that while IE’s strength was its desktop browser, the rise in mobile browsing caused its overall share to drop six percentage points in the last year. Meanwhile, Chrome/Android and Safari benefited from their primary positions in mobile on Android and iOS, respectively, the two most-used mobile operating systems on the planet.

Chrome’s 31% usage share on the desktop, for example, lagged behind IE’s 43%, but Google’s mobile browsers made up for that shortfall in spades. Safari’s puny 10% on the desktop — in fourth place in the U.S. — was helped out of the cellar by Safari’s 59% usage share on mobile.

Mozilla, Adobe said, was in the weakest position of the Big Four because of its lack of a viable mobile strategy. In the last two years, Mozilla has lost a steady drip of Firefox desktop users and been hit by the increasing importance of mobile browsing, with its total usage share falling from nearly 20% to its now sub-9%.

Although Net Applications’ numbers are global and not U.S. specific — the company does not publicly release the latter — the trends shown by its data are similar to Adobe’s.

But not identical.
By Net Applications’ reckoning, Microsoft remained the top browser maker worldwide in May 2014 with a desktop + mobile user share of 48%, more than double that of runner-up Google and its 21%. Apple and Mozilla continued to battle for third place, with the former making strides in its move to pass the latter. In May, Firefox accounted for 13.8%, Safari for 13.4%. Safari cut the April gap between it and Firefox by more than half in May, and may become No. 3 as early as this month.

Firefox’s decline could not come at a worse time. Mozilla’s contract with Google for making the latter’s search engine the default on Firefox comes up for renewal in November. According to Net Applications, Firefox had a combined desktop + mobile user share of 21.1% three years ago when it negotiated the current contract, which paid Mozilla approximately $300 million annually, nearly all of its revenue.

Going into this year’s tête-à-tête with Google, Mozilla will be bargaining from a much weaker position, down 35% in total share since 2011.

Net Applications had mobile gaining more ground at the expense of desktop browsing in May. By the end of the month, mobile browsing had jumped to 18% of all browsing worldwide. At the current pace, mobile should reach the 20% milestone in October, and account for more than a quarter of all browsing by this time next year.

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Microsoft plans to patch IE zero day — eventually

Attackers are probably trying to develop exploit code, the CTO of Qualys says

Microsoft said Thursday it plans eventually to patch a vulnerability in Internet Explorer 8 that it’s known about for seven months, but it didn’t say when.

A security research group within Hewlett-Packard called the Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) released details of the flaw on Wednesday after giving Microsoft months to address it. The group withholds details of vulnerabilities to prevent tipping off hackers but eventually publicizes its findings even if a flaw isn’t fixed.

Microsoft said it had not detected attacks that used the vulnerability, which is a “use-after-free” flaw, which involves the handling of CMarkup objects.

The company did not give a reason for the long delay but said in a statement that some patches take longer to engineer and that “we must test every one against a huge number of programs, applications and different configurations.”

“We continue working to address this issue and will release a security update when ready in order to help protect customers,” it said.

To exploit the flaw, an attacker would have to convince a user to visit a malicious website. If the attack were successful, a hacker would have the same rights as the victim on the computer and could run arbitrary code.

Microsoft’s next patch release, known as “Patch Tuesday,” is scheduled for June 10. It occasionally issues an emergency patch if a vulnerability is being widely used in attacks.

Wolfgang Kandek, CTO of Qualys, wrote that exploit developers are probably studying ZDI’s advisory to try to develop an attack.

“We do not know how quickly an exploit will be released, but the remaining time to Patch Tuesday is not that long,” he wrote.

The Belgian researcher who found the flaw, Peter Van Eeckhoutte, wrote on his blog on Thursday that although Microsoft has known of the bug for a long time, “I don’t believe this is an indication that Microsoft is ignoring bug reports or doesn’t care about security at all, so let’s not exaggerate things.”

“In fact, Microsoft is doing an excellent job in handling vulnerability reports, issuing patches and crediting researchers,” he wrote. “But I would be really worried if the bug was actively being exploited and left unpatched for another 180 days.”

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A wish list for Windows 9

Whether it comes in October or next year, there are some features I’d really like to see added.

I have to give Reddit some credit for becoming the place where people make amazing admissions. The Ask Me Anything (AMA) threads are always interesting, fascinating and sometimes shocking.

A few weeks back, a Windows interface designer did an AMA with some shocking admissions that will either cost him his job or were approved at the top levels of the company. What he said was the despised Windows 8 interface was made with casual data consumers in mind.

The designer went on to discuss the thinking, and it all made sense, but at the same time it doesn’t matter. What it told me was Microsoft catered to the lowest common denominator in terms of users and ignored the vast majority of users who knew how to navigate the desktop.

There’s an old joke I used to tell to Apple users (before they started getting violent): If you build a machine even an idiot can use, only an idiot will use it.

Throughout the testing of Windows 8, Microsoft ignored the criticisms. It may have even shut down a former employee who ran a harshly critical website about the Windows 8 UI. Honestly, we don’t know what happened there, but the sudden disappearance of the ex-Microsoftie Windows 8 critic sure looked fishy.

But that was also reflective of the obstinate style of Steven Sinofsky, who has by now welcomed Steve Ballmer to the Microsoft Retirement Home. He wasn’t known for being a good listener, but he did have a knack for changing products radically, and not always for the better. Don’t forget, he gave us the Office Ribbon.

So I really hope Terry Myerson, the head of the Operating Systems Engineering Group, is more receptive to input. I go through this ritual with every Windows release. I never get what I want, but it’s always fun to vent.

1) Voice command. Forget this touch nonsense, I want J.A.R.V.I.S. I don’t want to smear my monitors with my fingerprints, I want to say to the microphone “Create a new Word doc and save it in the March 2014 Network World directory.” Or “Find the email from [insert editor I work for here] on my [generic] feature.” Or ask “Has WTFComics been updated since I last visited?” and have it check the website to see if it has indeed updated.

You get the idea. Dragon is nice for dictating but I don’t like to dictate my work. What I want is contextual command of the PC to replace a whole lot of mouse clicks and searching. To me, that is more important. It doesn’t have to have Paul Bettany’s voice. Scarlet Johansson’s will do.

2) Bluetooth smartphone integration. When I get into my 2012 Toyota Camry, the in-dash system immediately syncs with my iPhone. From the steering wheel I can make calls, take calls, and flip through the contacts list. When a call comes in, the radio goes off and I see the name or phone number of the caller on the screen.

Why can’t a PC do that? A Bluetooth adapter and some software should do it all. I should be able to send and receive calls on my PC without ever picking up the phone; all I need is the keyboard and mouse (or voice commands) along with the Webcam microphone and computer speakers.

3) SSD install. Many people have a similar setup as me – a solid-state drive (SSDs) as the C: drive, with 1TB and larger drives in the D: spot. SSDs are great, but the capacity doesn’t rise like HDD. If you double the capacity of an SSD, you double the price.

So many people have 150GB C: drives and struggle with capacity, or install it on the D: drive. Windows should recognize that the C: drive is a small SSD and there is a very large HDD down the chain. The system should ask users if they want to put their data and applications on the big D: drive. That way, they could keep the SSD running just Windows and put everything else on the hard drive, which is more reliable and easily backed up.

4) Desktop virtualization. The XP compatibility mode in Windows 7 was a nice try, but it didn’t work very well. Hyper-V should be a part of the desktop OS and allow older apps to run in containers, similar to how it’s done now on the server side. People stalled on their Windows 7 deployments for compatibility reasons, but if they knew they could run Windows 7 (or 9) and their XP apps would run in a secure sandbox, there would not have been the hesitation.

5) Better driver management as a part of Windows Update. I’ll grant you this won’t be vital for long. Hardware changes so fast that driver and BIOS updates tend to trickle off after six months to a year. And Microsoft does this now, to a degree. But I still have to go to Gigabyte for the majority of my driver updates. Let’s put it all in one place.

6) Make rollback work. I’ve messed up my installs plenty of times, but the rollback feature in Windows has never worked. Ever. Either get this thing working or just take it out and leave it to the third-party aftermarket.

7) Full Windows Phone integration. Seriously, you want to make your phone a success? It should have seamless email, contact, and calendar sharing between the phone and PC.

Fingers crossed.

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Microsoft sets Oct. 31 as stop date for Windows 7 consumer PC sales

But extends end-of-sales date for business PCs running Windows 7 ProfessionalMicrosoft has set Oct. 31 as the end of sales of new consumer-grade Windows 7 PCs, but for now has left open the do-not-sell-after-this-date for business machines.

On the site where it posts such policies, Microsoft now notes that Oct. 31, 2014, is the end-of-sales date for new PCs equipped with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium or Ultimate. All three are consumer-oriented versions of Windows 7; Home Premium has been the overwhelming choice of OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) for consumer systems.

Microsoft’s practice, first defined in 2010, is to stop selling an older operating system in retail one year after the launch of its successor, and halt delivery of the previous Windows edition to OEMs two years after a new version launches. The company shipped Windows 8, Windows 7’s replacement, in October 2012.

The setting of a deadline for consumer Windows 7 PCs followed a glitch last year when Microsoft named the same Oct. 31 date for all Windows 7 PCs, but then quickly retracted the posting, claiming that the notification had been posted “in error.”

Some OEMs, notably Hewlett-Packard, have made headlines for marketing consumer-grade Windows 7 PCs, a sign of the fragmentation of the once-dominant Windows oligarchy, which always pushed the newest at the expense of older editions.

But while it has established an end-of-sales date for consumer PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed, Microsoft has yet to do the same for business PCs.

Microsoft will give a one-year warning before it demands that OEMs stop selling PCs with Windows 7 Professional, the commercial-quality version. Under that rule, Microsoft will allow computer makers such as Lenovo, HP and Dell to continue selling PCs with Windows 7 Professional until at least February 2015.

It’s likely that the extension will be much longer.

Windows 7 has become the standard version for businesses, which have spurned Windows 8, largely because of its two-user interface (UI) model, which they consider disruptive to productivity and a needless cost that would require employee retraining.

Most analysts believe that Windows 7 will remain the most popular Microsoft operating system deployed by companies for years to come.

“There’s a good chance that enterprises will stay on Windows 7 as long as possible,” said Gartner analyst Michael Silver in an October 2013 interview. If his prediction turns out to be accurate, Windows 7 may reprise the stubborn persistence of Windows XP, the nearly-13-year-old OS that Microsoft will retire in April.

Even after Windows 8’s launch, Windows 7’s user share, a rough measurement of the prevalence of the OS on operational machines, has continued to grow. From October 2012 to January 2014, Windows 7’s user share increased nearly 3 percentage points, representing a 6% gain during that period, according to data from analytics company Net Applications.

Some of Windows 7’s gains certainly came at the expense of Windows XP, which has fallen more than 11 percentage points, a 28% decline, since October 2012 as users abandoned the old OS.

By making Windows 7 available, Microsoft and its OEMs not only continue to serve customers who want the OS, but make sure that new PC sales do not slump even more dramatically than they have already.

Consumer PC sales have plummeted — last month Microsoft said sales of consumer-grade Windows licenses fell 20% in the December quarter compared to the same period the year before — while the Redmond, Wash. company’s business line of operating systems grew 12% year-over-year. In effect, enterprise spending kept PC shipments from tanking even more than the 10% contraction the industry experienced in 2013.

Extending Windows 7 Professional’s availability on new hardware will also give Microsoft breathing room to continue its retreat from Windows 8’s radical shift to a touch-first, tile-based UI, and to roll out a successor that caters even more to customers who rely on keyboard and mouse.

Microsoft is expected to unveil an update to Windows 8.1 this spring, perhaps in April, that will restore several desktop-oriented features and tools. Some reports based on leaked builds of this Windows 8.1 Update 1 have noted that on non-touch devices, the boot-to-desktop option will be enabled by default; if accurate, most users of traditional PCs will skip the colorful, tile-style Start screen. Windows 9 may appear as early as April 2015.

Retail sales of Windows 7 by Microsoft to distributors and customers were officially halted as of Oct. 31, 2013, but that deadline has been meaningless, as online retailers have continued to sell packaged copies, sometimes for years, by restocking through distributors who squirreled away older editions.

As of Saturday, for example, had a plentiful supply of various versions of Windows 7 available, as did technology specialist The former also listed copies of Windows Vista and even Windows XP for sale through partners.

Even after Microsoft pulls the plug on Windows 7, there will be ways to circumvent the shut-down. Windows 8.1 Pro, the more expensive of the two public editions, includes “downgrade” rights that allow PC owners to legally install an older OS. OEMs and system builders can also use downgrade rights to sell a Windows 8.1 Pro-licensed system, but factory-downgrade it to Windows 7 Professional before it ships.

And enterprises with volume license agreements will never be at risk of losing access to Windows 7, as they are granted downgrade rights as part of those agreements, and so will be able to purchase, say, Windows 8.1 or Windows 9 PCs in 2015 or 2016, then re-image the machines with Windows 7.

The end-of-sales dates for Windows 7 are not linked in any way to the support schedule for the 2009 operating system. Microsoft will provide free non-security bug fixes and vulnerability patches for Windows 7 until Jan. 13, 2015 — called “mainstream support” — and follow that with a five-year stretch of “extended support” during which it will ship free security updates until Jan. 14, 2020.

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Amazon and Microsoft drop cloud storage prices by up to 50%

Microsoft will continue to match Amazon’s prices

Last April, Microsoft committed to matching Amazon’s Web Services’ (AWS’) prices for compute, storage and bandwidth.

So when Amazon announced on Thursday it will drop its S3 (Simple Storage Service) and Elastic Block Store (EBS) prices by up to 22%, Microsoft followed suit the very next day.

“We are matching AWS’ lowest prices (US East Region) for S3 and EBS, reducing prices by up to 20% and making the lower prices available in all regions worldwide,” Microsoft posted in its official blog today.

Amazon S3 Storage price reduction chart.

For Microsoft’s “Locally Redundant Disks/Page Blobs Storage,” the company is reducing prices by up to 28%. It is also reducing the price of Azure Storage service by 50%.

Amazon’s new prices take effect Feb. 1. Microsoft’s price cuts begin March 13.

“We’re also making the new prices effective worldwide, which means that Azure storage will be less expensive than AWS in many regions,” Microsoft said.

Amazon said it dropped its prices for its S3 storage by 22% and its EBS standard volume storage and I/O operations by up to 50%.

Amazon’s EBS price chart.



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