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20 epic Microsoft Windows Automatic Update meltdowns

20 Windows Automatic Updates from hell

Fifteen years ago, Microsoft introduced automatic updating to the unwashed Windows masses. Fifteen years later, it’s hard to find a Windows user who hasn’t bumped into at least one problem with a Windows update or knows someone who has. That’s a billion and a half people.

From inscrutable driver problems to bricked machines and everywhere in between, Automatic Update is a poster child in “what’s wrong with Windows” circles — rightfully so.

Hope springs eternal that Windows 10 will finally bring relief, but much depends on the determination and deep pockets of Those in Charge. One thing’s for sure: In the land of Win10 milk and honey, customers don’t want to be treated like cannon fodder.

Here’s my take on the 20 worst Microsoft Automatic Update patches of all time. Based on either the amount of pain inflicted or the number of people afflicted — or both — they deserve their notoriety.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

November 2001: The UPnP patch debacle
Microsoft introduced Windows automatic updating as one of the great new benefits in Windows Me, around September 2000. A year later, we were treated to a Keystone Kops episode in the guise of MS01-059 — ostensibly, a patch to the Windows Universal Plug ‘n Play subsystem that prevented a buffer overrun. In fact, I think it was the first (though hardly the last) security bulletin conceived and scripted by Comedy Central.

Microsoft patched, repatched, and re-repatched the patch. The FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center followed along like a kid cleaning up after his dog: NIPC issued a warning about the security hole, an update, another update, and ultimately an advisory that Microsoft had finally solved the problem.

April 2004: Windows 2000 bricked
In April 2004, Microsoft sent a slew of patches down the automatic update chute, one of which (MS04-014) locked up a sizable percentage of all Windows 2000 machines. That patch was supposed to fix a hole in the Jet Database Engine.

Knowledge Base article 841382 tells the tale:

[Y]ou may experience any one of the following symptoms:

• Your computer appears to stop responding at startup.
• You cannot log on to Windows.
• Your CPU usage for the System process approaches 100 percent.

The company sure plugged that one.

April 2006: The pretax predicament
On Black Tuesday in April 2006, Microsoft released MS06-015, a patch for Windows Explorer. By the weekend, most Windows users with Automatic Update turned on got it — right across the face. The weekend before tax day, many Windows customers found they couldn’t navigate to the Documents or Pictures folder, couldn’t open or save files, had to type http:// into Internet Explorer to keep it from freezing, and much more.

We ultimately discovered that the patch messed up any machine with an older HP scanner program or an older Nvidia video driver.

Microsoft’s ultimate workaround (KB 918165) included a manual fix procedure that any computer-science grad would be proud to explain, if they can figure it out.

April 2006: Windows Genuine Spyware — er, Advantage
Microsoft uses the Automatic Update channel (and permissions) to install Black Tuesday security patches, as well as non-security-related patches. My favorite example came in late April 2006, when somebody at Microsoft decided Automatic Update would be a great way to install the new Windows Genuine Advantage, uh, feature.

That version of WGA (in addition to throwing off bogus “not genuine” messages) installed a component called WGA Notification that phoned home — sent information to Microsoft about the current computer — with absolutely no notification to or approval from the customer. Lawsuits ensued. I called it Windows Genuine Spyware.

August 2006: The IE patch that created a new buffer overflow hole in IE
Let’s hear it for MS06-042, the cumulative security update for Internet Explorer that not only caused IE to crash, but also introduced a security hole of its very own.

In late August, Microsoft owned up to problems in KB 923762: the part where IE6 crashes while looking at a valid website. Solution? Install the latest, greatest version of MS06-042.

Then in September, Microsoft had to reissue the patch again to “address a vulnerability documented in the Vulnerability Details section as Long URL Buffer Overflow — CVE-2006-3873.”

KB 918899 lists 15 separately identified problems with this patch, from crashes to freezes to inexplicable behavior.

December 2007: Internet Explorer crashes on sites with lots of graphics — like msn.com
Yet another cumulative security update for IE, MS07-069 patched IE so well that many WinXP SP2 customers reported IE6 freezes on sites with many graphics. If you had automatic updates turned on and were running plain-vanilla WinXP SP2, after the patch was installed, you couldn’t let IE go to the default IE6 home page, msn.com.

If you installed the patch for Internet Explorer 7, your (third-party) firewall might not have recognized IE. As a result, it may have kept IE from going out to the Internet. IE produced the marvelously informative error message “Webpage cannot be displayed.”

It took weeks, but Microsoft finally acknowledged the problem and posted a downloadable fix program in KB 946627.

April 2008: Quicken suddenly stops working
Nobody seems to know why, but Microsoft suddenly released the .Net 2.0 Service Pack 1 on a Thursday, one week before tax time, via the automatic update chute. The patch itself had been available as an optional, manual download for months, but somebody flipped the auto update switch.

Within minutes, Quicken users were complaining. QuickBooks got hit, as did TurboTax and software from Commerce Clearing House.

How bad was it? If you were bit, uninstalling, then reinstalling QuickBooks didn’t solve the problem. You had to uninstall, then reinstall .Net 2.0 — if you could get it to uninstall.

All through 2009, 2010, 2011: Bad .Net patches
Over and over again, we saw botched .Net patches — some refused to install, others left .Net dead, others clobbered programs that relied on .Net. It started in January 2009 with a patch that claimed to push .Net Framework 3.5 to Service Pack 1, but didn’t.

Another patch, in March 2009, also identified as .Net Framework 3.5 SP1, installed .Net Framework 2.0 SP2 and .Net Framework 3.0 SP2 as well. It was an unholy mess that had us going in circles for months.

We saw many more .Net patching problems in 2010 and 2011, all compliments of Automatic Update.

March 2009: The XP AutoRun blocker that didn’t
It took Microsoft forever to post a patch that disabled AutoRun in Windows XP. AutoRun, indicted as the culprit behind mass Conficker infections, deserved to die, but Microsoft’s first and second attempts to talk people through the disabling procedure didn’t work.

The final solution is so incredibly convoluted that pages of KB 967715 are devoted to explaining the interactions of all the patches, both delivered via automatic update and manually downloaded. It’s complicated. Bottom line: If you installed only one automatic update, you might’ve thought that you fixed AutoRun, but you didn’t. It took several patches over several months to finally get it right.

December 2010: Patch brings down Task Scheduler
MS10-092 was an innocuous patch, designed to plug a hole in Windows Task Scheduler.

But shortly after people started installing it, they saw messages saying, “The task image is corrupt or has been tampered with.” In some cases, the task was killed. In other cases, the machine froze. Simply uninstalling the patch didn’t solve the problem — great prelude to the holiday season.

KB 2305420 has pages and pages of manual workarounds.

January 2011: A reliability update that wasn’t
On January’s Black Tuesday, Microsoft pushed a nonsecurity patch into the Automatic Update black hole. Known as KB 2454826, Microsoft claimed it was a “performance and functionality update.” Details about the patch at the time were sketchy, but the 0x7F blue screen crashes weren’t.

Microsoft’s advice: Manually uninstall the patch. That’s your reward for turning automatic updates on, bucko.

It wasn’t until the next month that we discovered the real reason why Microsoft pushed this nonsecurity patch out the Black Tuesday chute: It’s a prerequisite for installing the Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate, which Microsoft was flaunting at the time.

April 2012: TurboTax won’t print
Just before tax day — tell me if this is starting to sound familiar — Microsoft released MS12-025, yet another botched .Net patch.

(For the sake of brevity, I didn’t bother to list separately MS10-070, MS11-039, MS11-044, MS11-066, or MS11-069, all of which were incredibly botched .Net patches.)

This particular patch kept TurboTax from printing tax forms … on tax day. #epicfail

May 8, 2012: Duqu patch installation failure
A massive patch known as MS12-034 (with many associated KB numbers) left some Windows customers who used Automatic Update wondering what had gone wrong. Some found that the installer failed with an Error Code 0x8007F0F4. When they checked the KB 2686509 support article, they were instructed to delete a keyboard log file. Many people couldn’t find the file.

The instructions in KB 2686509 go on for pages, explaining how to modify and move keyboard layout files — in response to a known, anticipated error thrown off by the installer. Microsoft finally got around to creating a Fix it that made the patching easier. But lots of unsuspecting Windows consumers wasted hours trying to make heads from tails out of this automatically updated disaster.

February 2013: Blue screens on Internet Explorer 9
Once again, Microsoft threw a bunch of machines into a tizzy by releasing a nonsecurity patch on the fourth Tuesday of the month — and sending it down the Automatic Update chute.

This time, KB 2670838, a “Platform Update for Windows 7 x64-Edition” messed with IE9 so badly that it would put a black bar on the right side of the screen. Click on the bar, and your PC died with a blue screen.

Fortunately, the fix is to uninstall the bad patch.

April 2013: More blue screens
This time, MS13-036/KB 2823324 — a Black Tuesday security patch designed to replace a kernel-mode driver — triggered all sorts of bogus warnings and frequently froze machines. Primary suspects include a common IE add-in from Brazil and Kaspersky Antivirus.

Microsoft pulled the patch, then issued a replacement patch: “Microsoft has released security update 2840149. This security update resolves the issue that was introduced by security update 2823324.”

August 2013: The biggest, baddest bungled batch ever
Within 48 hours of the month’s automatic update, Microsoft publicly admitted six Windows patches were bad and pulled four of them, all associated with MS13-066 and Active Directory Federation Services.

As far as I can tell, that’s a record. It’s not only a record for bad patches. It’s a record for how quickly Microsoft acknowledged, documented, and in some cases, pulled the offending patches. We’ve seen bad Patch Tuesdays since, but this one stands out, in both good and bad ways.

November 2013: Outlook 2013 gets special treatment
One of the patches in the November 2013 set caused no end of problems with Outlook 2013 — Outlook hangs when trying to sync IMAP accounts; Out of Office replies on Exchange Server triggered “currently unavailable” messages; Free/Busy data for the Outlook Calendar didn’t download; S/MIME certificates wouldn’t validate; and more.

Unfortunately a second patch released in the November crop made it impossible to fix all of those Outlook 2013 problems by simply uninstalling the bad patch. In the end, users in the know discovered they could resuscitate Outlook 2013 by uninstalling both patches, then deleting and rebuilding the Outlook profile.

Microsoft, which did so well in August — “well” in the sense it cleaned up quickly — really blew it in November.

May 2014: Windows 8.1 Update won’t install, Microsoft backs off its deadline
In a scene straight out of Dante’s “Inferno,” Microsoft cracked the whip and told all Windows 8.1 users that they had to install the KB 2919355 update (so-called Win8.1 Update 1) by May 13, or they wouldn’t get any new patches. Predictably and with much wailing, a vocal subset of Windows 8.1 customers discovered Update 1 wouldn’t install, for love nor money — or anything resembling either or both.

Quite dramatically (tell me if you can visualize the seventh ring), Microsoft finally relented on May 12 and said it would allow the tardy minority to receive updates — but only this one last time.

(I think it’s poetic justice that Win 8.1 Update 2 stalled, then fizzled completely, ultimately leading to a re-release that didn’t do much.)

August 2014: Blue screens all around, Microsoft recommends you manually yank the patches
Four patches in August were credited with driving blue screens on Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and RT machines. Microsoft pulled the patches on Sunday, then issued a very unusual notice, buried deep in a Knowledge Base article: Even if you weren’t having any problem with the patches, you were supposed to manually uninstall them.

Apparently the patches continue to cause problems, even after they were installed, in certain unusual circumstances.

It’s a bit much to tell your Aunt Mabel to manually uninstall a handful of patches, based on a warning in a KB article, but there you have it.

December 2014: Roughly a quarter of all the patches this month generated problems
With only a few of the bad patches fixed before the end of the year, December 2014 represents the worst combination of bad patches and lackadaisical responses I can recall. In response to the unprecedented number of screw-ups, Microsoft pulled a few patches, released two Fix its, created a Silver Bullet patch that specifically killed one of the bad patches, and wrote up numerous manual work-arounds.

Even at this late date, more than two months later, the problems brought down on Excel macro programmers haven’t been fixed.

Would you say Automatic Update is getting better?

Come out of the Automatic Update cave and into the light
That’s by no means an exhaustive list. Some problems are inevitable when you’re dealing with a Windows hardware and software gene pool that looks like the La Brea Tar Pit, but I think you can draw three important conclusions:

First, patching Windows is hard.

Second, Microsoft needs to do a better job of tracking and reporting on problems as they appear.

Third, for Pete’s sake, set Automatic Update to Notify but Don’t Download on any machine controlled by a reasonably savvy Windows jockey.

If somebody tells you differently, point them to this list. If they’re still convinced Automatic Update is the way to go, ask them to refrain from dragging their knuckles on the floor.


 

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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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Did Microsoft reach into your PC to stomp a botnet?

Report claims the company turned off botnet software on user’s PCs. Is that their right?

Microsoft took down yet another botnet, but its method for doing so many not sit well with a lot of people, as the company removed software from their computers without their knowledge.

In October 2013, Microsoft targeted a Tor-based botnet malware called “Sefnit,” which used the Tor network to anonymously perform click fraud. It was a fairly sizable network, with 3 million users per day, which hijacked user computers to click on ads that would make the Sefnit users money via a commission.

For those of you who don’t know, Tor, the abbreviated name for The Onion Router, is free software designed to protect online anonymity. Tor directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide volunteer network designed to hide a user’s location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. While it’s popular with hactivists and people genuinely concerned about privacy, it’s also a haven for illegal activity, such as the Silk Road drug dealing website.

Microsoft went after the Tor software because it found some popular apps like Browser Protector and FileScout were bundled with a vulnerable version of Tor Browser & Sefnit components. It found infected PCs had v0.2.3.25 of Tor Browser, which did not self-update.

On October 27, 2013, Microsoft modified the antivirus signature database used by all of its security products to remove the Sefnit-added Tor client service from user PCs. The update was pushed through in the November Patch Tuesday update.

Microsoft estimates it got about 2 million copies of the malware, and there are another 2 million PCs to reach. A spokesperson for the company issued a statement that said “Microsoft Malware Protection Center (MMPC) has protections to remove the services started by the Sefnit malware, but it does not uninstall Tor, remove any Tor binaries, or prevent users from using Tor.”

Now, I’ve busted out the pompoms for Microsoft’s antivirus efforts in the past, and no way will I make an exception. But I have to say that in the case of Sefnit, this looks like a lose-lose situation. They can’t leave it out there, but customers are bound to be unnerved by Microsoft removing a third-party product from their system, even if it is malicious.

Microsoft has already faced privacy issues around Kinect and Skype. This won’t help. They are doing the right thing, but it won’t help their image. I think this may call for more than just a blog post on their part.


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8 ways that Chrome may be challenging Windows

8 ways that Chrome may be challenging Windows

Most of these are still in the experimental stages, appearing in development versions of the Chrome browser or the Chrome OS. The one thing they all share: They suggest that Google wants to take on Windows itself — not just Internet Explorer — through Chrome.

Offline apps
This is the most upfront example of Chrome encroaching into Windows’ territory: You can install certain apps from the browser that you can use even if your computer is offline. These so-called packaged apps function independently from Chrome, so the browser itself doesn’t need to be running. After you install a Chrome packaged app for the first time, an app launcher will appear on the Windows taskbar. Clicking this opens a panel displaying shortcut icons. The shortcut can be set onto the desktop or the taskbar.

In essence, the way you launch and use Chrome’s offline apps is no different from any other typical Windows desktop application.

Viewing — and editing — Microsoft Office files
In Chrome OS, you can view Microsoft Office files within a browser. In the regular versions of Chrome browser for Windows and OS X you can do the same, but only after installing the beta extension Chrome Office Viewer. This extension works invisibly and comes pre-installed on Chrome OS. When a final version of this extension is released, perhaps it too will come already installed on Chrome, or its functionality will be embedded into the browser’s code. What’s even more intriguing is that current development versions of Chrome OS also include rudimentary technology to let you edit your locally stored Excel and Word files.

Voice control
Through Chrome you can search Google using your voice: Click the microphone icon inside the search box, and, when prompted, say the word or phrase you want to search. A digital female voice will even read aloud a summary of the results. Google just released an extension that allows you to search Google with your voice, hands-free, by saying “OK, Google…” and then the word or phrase you want to search. Google could be expanding this technology so you could control the functions of future versions of Chrome through your voice, or even launch apps (including offline ones), by saying “OK, Google…” followed by the name of the app.

Viewing PDFs by default
You can use Chrome now to load and view PDFs, whether they are locally stored on your system, or when you click a link to one that’s online. Future versions could be set to load PDFs you come across online by default within the browser. Google claims this action for the sake of security, on the argument that malware can be embedded within PDFs. But this would also help ensure that your activity remains within the Chrome ecosystem.

Blocking malware
We’re not going to say you won’t need antivirus or antimalware anymore, but Google intends to take the load off such tools by implementing a malware blocker in future versions of Chrome. This will flag files (particularly Windows executables) you try to download that Google’s database suspects could possibly mess with the browser or Windows.

Notification center
The Chrome notification center, which resides on the Windows desktop notification area, will pop open cards containing alerts sent by your Chrome apps or extensions (such as Gmail, Google Calendar or Hangouts). Many third-party applications situate themselves on the Windows desktop notification area, of course, but we think it’s notable that Chrome’s notification center is being expanded upon, and it overall looks and functions similarly to Google Now. This suggests that it could become the foundation for the latter should Google bring their personal assistant service over to their desktop browser.

Touch controls
When Google released the Pixel, the expensive Chromebook with a touchscreen, it suggested touch UI features could be soon implemented into Chrome for Windows 8. It wasn’t until six months later that some of them showed up in the development builds of Chrome: Swiping the screen to the left or right triggers the same actions as the back or forward buttons of the browser. There’s also an onscreen keyboard and pinch-and-zoom.

Chrome OS, the Windows 8 app
Mozilla has been working on a Windows 8 app version of Firefox. But Google may be taking a radically different approach: They’re experimenting with making their Windows 8 app version of Chrome into what would essentially be Chrome OS. So when you launch it, you would get the full-screen Chrome OS experience. This would include its own desktop UI with taskbar (“app tray”) that would let you multitask multiple browser windows, and could presumably let you install and run Chrome offline apps, within it. So this app version of Chrome would turn your Windows 8 computer or device into a Chrome OS one.


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Microsoft to face computer makers’ rebellion at CES

Microsoft to face computer makers’ rebellion at CES
Windows 8.1 PCs that also run Android should ‘scare the heck’ out of Microsoft, says analyst

Microsoft will face a rebellion of long-time partners at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) when OEMs introduce Windows personal computers also able to run Android mobile apps.

According to two analysts, multiple OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) will roll out what one called “PC Plus” at CES, the massive Las Vegas trade show slated for early January.

Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies mentioned PC Plus in passing in a Dec. 16 piece he authored for Time. “A PC Plus machine will run Windows 8.1 but will also run Android apps as well,” Bajarin wrote, adding that the initiative would be backed by chip maker Intel. “They are doing this through software emulation. I’m not sure what kind of performance you can expect, but this is their way to try and bring more touch-based apps to the Windows ecosystem.”

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, confirmed the project. “This is going to make buzz at CES,” said Moorhead in an interview. “OEMs will be trumpeting this … it’s going to be a very hot topic [at the trade show].”
Concept isn’t new

The concept of Android apps running on Windows isn’t new.
BlueStacks, which both Bajarin and Moorhead mentioned, launched its App Player software for Windows in March 2012, added a Mac version in June of that year, and rolled out a Surface Pro-specific version in March 2013. The App Player, offered both as a free download from BlueStacks’ website and through agreements with several OEMs bundled with some Windows-powered PCs and tablets, relies on virtualization — dubbed “LayerCake” by BlueStacks — to run Android apps on other OSes.

In July 2013, Taiwan OEM Asus introduced the Transformer Book Trio, a convertible device that, as a laptop, could execute both Android apps and Windows 8 programs, including the latter’s “Modern,” nee “Metro” apps. More recently, reports circulated that Samsung is developing a dual-boot tablet that could launch into either Android or Windows RT 8.1, Microsoft’s touch-centric operating system.

The PC Plus project, however, is aimed at personal computers, most likely traditional “clamshell” notebooks, not tablets. And it doesn’t rely on BlueStacks’ technology, even though Intel invested in the Palo Alto, Calif. company in March. “This is very different from BlueStacks,” Moorhead said.

While Bajarin vouched for some kind of emulation that would make Android apps possible on Windows 8.1, Moorhead posited several technologies OEMs could deploy.

“There are three [possible] implementations, including dual-boot, which would be a fast-switch mode where you press a button and within seconds you’re in Android,” Moorhead said. Others would include software emulation of Android within Windows, and some type of virtualization-based solution that would run an instance of Android in a virtual machine, just as OS X users can run Windows on their Macs through VMware’s Fusion or Parallels’ Desktop for Mac.

Ideally, the Android apps would run in full-screen mode after the user clicked on its tile within Windows 8.1.

While some have mocked the idea — previously, Bajarin called Asus’ Trio “gimmicky” — Moorhead said that the maneuver is legitimate. “Tactically, this is a way for OEMs to differentiate their products, and build out the amount of apps on their devices,” he said. Focus on mobile apps

The latter is among OEMs’ biggest concerns about its software partner. Microsoft has been criticized by customers, analysts and even computer makers for the small size, relative to Apple and Google, of its Metro app store. Selling touch-enabled laptops has not been easy for OEMs because consumers have balked at paying the higher prices when they see little in return from Windows and its app arena.

By adding Android apps to the available inventory, the computer makers can promote their wares as able to handle not just legacy Windows software but also Google’s OS and its enormous ecosystem.

If that smacks of some desperation, well, OEMs are desperate. They’ve watched their PC business shrink over the last 24 months as consumers worldwide have postponed upgrades or forgone new purchases, instead spending their technology dollars on smartphones, tablets and hybrid “phablets” — large-screen phones that double as a diminutive tablet for basic tasks like watching video.

Also, many OEMs who depended for decades on Microsoft and each iteration of Windows to bump up sales have been critical of the Redmond, Wash. company’s Windows 8 implementation and strategy, and with the firm’s decision to enter the hardware business and directly compete with them.

“OEMs are throwing some real deep passes as they see double-digit declines in the PC market,” Moorhead observed. “This is one of the long balls that they’re throwing, hoping something sticks.”

For Moorhead, PC Plus is also another sign that OEMs are, in the face of Windows 8’s sluggish start and shaky reputation, willing to desert Microsoft and enlist alternate OSes, even if those moves are experimental in scale.

“Strategically, [PC Plus] could get millions of consumers more comfortable with Android on PCs,” said Moorhead. “The gamble is coincident with OEMs’ interest in alternative operating systems. Just imagine for a second what happens when Android gets an improved large-screen experience.”

Some computer makers, including Windows stalwarts like Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, have already introduced laptops powered by Google’s browser-based Chrome OS as a way to circumvent Windows on screens larger than tablet-sized displays.
Limited options

Android and, to a much lesser extent, Chrome OS, are the only alternate games in town for OEMs. Linux has failed to spark interest except among a tiny fraction of technology’s cognoscenti. Apple’s iOS and OS X are out of bounds, as Apple restricts them to its own hardware.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft reacts to the double dipping of these OEMs. While a PC with Windows 8.1 still means Microsoft has been paid for the operating system’s license, the company will not be happy with PC Plus and its implications.

“This should scare the heck out of Microsoft,” said Moorhead. “They should be very, very afraid because if goes widespread, it demotivates developers to create native Windows apps.”

As evidenced by the size of the Windows Store’s app stock and the rushed quality of some apps, including many from top brands, Microsoft already has a hard time convincing developers to invest in a platform that has yet to gain a significant portion of the OS market. In addition, it’s a platform in which many users seem comfortable sticking with the traditional desktop half and its familiar mouse-and-keyboard applications.

“Google does not actually sanction this and Microsoft has not taken a position on this dual-OS integration idea yet,” said Bajarin. “It will be interesting to see if this takes off and, if so, how Google and Microsoft will feel about it once it hits the market.”

If Microsoft isn’t able to convince OEMs to drop the PC Plus idea, Moorhead said, it has carrots and sticks for more serious arm-twisting.
How Microsoft could respond

“I think what Microsoft will do is pull co-marketing funds from any SKU that offers Android,” said Moorhead, referring to “stock-keeping units,” or each individual PC model that hews to PC Plus. That would effectively raise the OEMs’ cost of doing business for those PCs that support Android apps.

And if, as Bajarin said, Intel is behind PC Plus, then Microsoft faces another defection from the partnership that brought in billions for each company over the last two decades. Intel already makes processors able to run Android, and if its support for PC Plus relies on customized silicon it offers OEMs, the backing will further fragment the Wintel oligarchy.

Microsoft declined to comment on PC Plus and OEM plans.

Neither Bajarin or Moorhead had seen PC Plus in action, and Moorhead refused to offer an opinion on its chances until he did.

“I have to see the experience before I can weigh in,” said Moorhead. “It could be completely transparent [the switch from Windows to Android and back], or it could really screw up the experience. There are a lot of ways you can confuse customers, and this has the potential to confuse people who use it.”

The jarring discontinuity of Windows 8.1 — which boasts not only a traditional desktop but also the tile-based, touch-enabled Metro user interface (UI) — could be trivial compared to a disastrous combination of Android and Windows UIs.

PC Plus also has the potential to alienate Google, Moorhead noted. “I don’t think Google will like this either,” he said. “I think they’d be okay with dual booting and toggling between OSes, but I don’t think they would like Android apps being used full-screen.”

Google could retaliate by barring such hardware from obtaining apps from the Google Play e-market, speculated Moorhead, because it would see a full-screen implementation as threatening its revenue if the PCs aren’t tied — as are brand-name Android smartphones and tablets — to the services, like search and mapping, that bind customers to its ecosystem of behavioral and location tracking.

CES will run Jan. 7-10, and Moorhead is looking forward to the trade show because of PC Plus and its impact on Microsoft-OEM relationships.

“This is a gift that will keep on giving,” said Moorhead, predicting not only a splash of coverage next month, but after those initial shots of rebellion, months more ripples from PC Plus’ impact.


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Windows 8.1: Update or upgrade?

Two out of three of my machines upgraded easily.

By now, if you are a Windows 8 user, you probably upgraded or at least tried to upgrade to Windows 8.1. Of my three machines that ran Windows 8, two of them upgraded rather uneventfully, if slowly. The third, an old Celeron desktop machine, failed because evidently there wasn’t enough free memory to create a RamDisk. I tried a few things to remedy this but frankly after seeing 8.1 run on my other machines, I decided it wasn’t worth moving heaven and earth to accomplish. Overall, that is my impression of 8.1 – nice to have, not a must-have.

As I said, the upgrades went pretty slowly. The first machine that I upgraded, my VAIO Duo, was upgraded the first day the 8.1 upgrade was available. It was about as hard to download the upgrade file as it was to download a new iOS version from Apple on the first day it was available. That is, I guess, the measuring stick today. So by that measure I guess it was about normal. What I was surprised about was how long it took to install on my machine. But, again, it was not terribly out of reason.

Once my machine upgraded, I rushed over to the desktop to see my old friend, the Start button. To my chagrin, it really wasn’t a start button. There was a button where the Start button would go, and it was the Windows logo. Pressing that button brought me to the Windows 8 Metro interface. It’s not really what those clamoring for the return of the Start button were looking for.

Of course, when I right clicked the Windows button I saw the familiar Start button options, albeit in a different sort of fly out menu. But I guess if you really need those old start options, right clicking did give you what you needed.

OK, so less than overwhelmed I headed over to see the shiny new, improved Windows Store. I liked the look of the featured apps. I downloaded the Facebook app finally and a few of the other suggestions. However, I was kind of bummed when I realized that they no longer had apps broken down by category. Now they had popular free, popular paid and recommended for me. Again, more like iTunes or Google Play I guess. But I liked the old categories better.

I am just not that familiar with Windows 8 applications, and I used to enjoy browsing the different categories for apps that I considered interesting. I just don’t browse as well under this new format. I hope Microsoft will restore the categories soon.

Beyond that, I do think Windows 8.1 was snappier on my machine. I wouldn’t say it was a game changer overall, but a solid upgrade.

I upgraded my other laptop a few days after the rush was over. That upgrade went much faster on the download and about the same on the install. Again, same type of results. One thing I did notice is that since my other laptop is not a touchscreen, having the Start button was more useful with a mouse. I didn’t have to mouse in from the corner or side and go to another screen and all of that.

I was speaking with Mark Laymon, founder of the co-working Caffeine Spaces here at the FAU R&D Park. Mark is a mouse user for 20 years. He doesn’t have a touchscreen. He thinks while overall Windows 8.1 was “all right,” it was no big deal. The biggest thing for him is when he has to shut down, he no longer has to try and drag the mouse over from the right edge and find the power button and all of that. He just goes to the familiar start button menu. Also, reaching stuff like the control panel and other places from the Start button is a lot easier for him.

That just confirms for me what I already knew. Windows 8 is really made for a touch interface. While you can get by with just a mouse, it loses some of its power without touch. Even now, when I am on my old laptop or other machines, I find myself touching the screen to move things around or scroll down. It is only when nothing happens that I realize I am not in touchscreen Kansas anymore.

So overall if you use a mouse, Windows 8.1 is a decent upgrade and offers some help. If not and you haven’t upgraded yet, it probably doesn’t rise to the top of your list. One thing to keep in mind though is that Microsoft made a big deal about Windows 8.1 being a free upgrade. I don’t know what their plans are, but maybe it doesn’t stay free forever? Just a thought.


 

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Enterprises more accepting of Android, while Windows is losing ground

Only 26 percent of enterprise staff are very interested in developing mobile apps for Microsoft’s OSes, according to a new survey

Enterprises are increasingly interested in developing apps for Android-based smartphones and tablets, showing how Google’s OS is becoming more accepted, according to a poll. At the same time fewer are willing to spend resources on Microsoft’s OSes.

For the second time, cross-platform tool company Appcelerator has queried IT directors, CEOs, development directors, CTOs and people in a number of other roles what their priorities are in the mobile market. The results hint at how the enterprise arena is slipping away from Microsoft, while at the same time acceptance for Android is growing and iOS is the number one priority.

As part of the survey, Appcelerator asked the 804 participants how interested they were in developing consumer and enterprise apps for the various mobile platforms. Apple was on top, with 80 percent saying they were very interested in developing applications for the company’s smartphones and tablets, which is roughly the same response elicited by the first quarter version of the survey.

The third-highest priority was Android-based smartphones, which 71 percent of the respondents said they were very interested in, an increase of 7 percentage points from the first quarter. But unlike Apple, Google and its hardware partners have so far failed to convince enterprises that Android-based tablets are as important as smartphones based on the OS. Fifty-nine percent stated they were very interested, though that was an increase compared to 52 percent during the first quarter survey.

“Android interest is increasing … there are probably a few reasons for that. One could certainly be because of Android’s strong overall market share and with BYOD enterprises have to build apps for multiple platforms,” said Nolan Wright, co-founder and CTO at Appcelerator.

After that there is a big gap down to Windows-based smartphones and tablets, at 26 percent and 25 percent, respectively, compared to 29 percent and 30 percent in the first quarter study. To add insult to injury more than 60 percent thought that Windows 8 would ultimately fail as a mobile platform.

“That is probably a reflection of market demand. I think Windows hasn’t done too well in the market, and the interest for developing apps is following that. It will be interesting to see what happens with Nokia,” Wright said.

Earlier this month Microsoft announced it would buy Nokia’s Devices & Services business in an effort to beef up its mobility push. Wright thinks the deal could help change Windows’ fortunes.

“From what we hear there is a genuine interest in the enterprise for Microsoft to have viable products. So it certainly still has an opportunity,” Wright said.

But Microsoft isn’t the only vendor struggling to drum up developer interest for its platform. Only 12 percent said they were very interested in developing apps for BlackBerry phones, which is two percentage points better than in the first quarter study but still a much smaller share than competing OSes.

On Friday, BlackBerry said it would as part of its efforts to stay alive refocus on enterprises. To succeed the company will have to convince them to use its devices, and an important part of that is making sure apps are available.

For enterprises that want to build applications for multiple platforms at the same time, HTML5 is an option. Sixty percent of the respondents said they were very interested in developing mobile, HTML-based Web apps, making them a higher priority than native applications for BlackBerry and Windows devices as well as Android-based tablets.

 


 

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SharePoint 2010 cheat sheet

How to find your way around SharePoint 2010 and make the most of its features.

SharePoint has taken the world by storm. As of last year, if Microsoft broke SharePoint’s revenue out as a single entity, it would have created the fifth largest software company in existence, according to Jared Spataro, senior director of SharePoint product management at Microsoft.
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IT folks: We hope you’ll pass this guide on to your users to help them learn the SharePoint 2010 ropes.

All told, hundreds of thousands of SharePoint licenses and millions of installations of both the free and the paid enterprise edition exist in the world.

All of which means there’s a good chance you use SharePoint — even just a little bit — if you have any sort of corporate job. But most users barely scratch the surface of what is possible in Microsoft’s premier collaboration platform. Or perhaps your company has been using SharePoint 2007 and now you’ve got 2010 rolled out, and you’re feeling lost.

There’s nothing to worry about. With this cheat sheet, you’ll learn all of the basics of navigating and using a SharePoint site, and where to go to find some of the most popular customization options as well.
Get to know SharePoint 2010

If you’re just starting with SharePoint
What’s new in SharePoint 2010
Creating a document library
Uploading and interacting with documents
Customizing the document library
Creating and customizing calendars
Integrating SharePoint content with Outlook 2010
5 tips for working with SharePoint 2010

And don’t forget to take a look at our Microsoft Office 2010 cheat sheets too:

Word 2010, Excel 2010, Outlook 2010 and PowerPoint 2010.

Note: There are a couple of versions of SharePoint 2010. One is free of charge and is called SharePoint Foundation 2010; the other is a licensed, enterprise-ready product called Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. While they both look the same and have the same feel for users, SharePoint Server offers a few additional features, such as those for really advanced workflows, “my” sites where you can post status updates and blog entries, and a lot of administrative functions. In this piece, we’ll focus on the very commonly used SharePoint Foundation 2010 version, which has 100% of what users need.
If you’re just starting with SharePoint

(If you’re a veteran SharePoint user and want to start with what’s new in the 2010 version, you might want to go directly to the next section. Also check out our “5 tips for using SharePoint 2010” related story, with advice that’s a bit more advanced than most of what you’ll find here.)
Microsoft SharePoint wiki page
What a page looks like inside SharePoint.
Click to view larger image.

SharePoint’s primary reason for being is to serve as a place where things can be shared. This can include everything from documents to calendars to lists to pictures to discussion boards and more. All of it can be a part of a SharePoint site, and any user you designate within your organization’s network — and in some cases, even users outside of your network such as partners or vendors — can then access those pieces and collaborate with you.

SharePoint 2010 has a defined list of content types that you can create on a given site. They include:
Microsoft SharePoint document library
What a document library looks like inside SharePoint.
Click to view larger image.

A page. This is exactly what it sounds like — a page that is edited within the browser using the editor functionality in SharePoint. These pages primarily contain text, but you can embed images, links, lists and Web parts within them. (Web parts, or little bits of code, are sometimes installed on SharePoint pages to perform specific functions.)

A document library. You can create a document library that lets you upload Word files and other files to share. These document libraries allow you to check files out to make sure that only one person edits them at any given time, to keep versions on file so that you can see the revision history and activity of a given document and to create folders to structure documents logically within the library.
Microsoft SharePoint image repository
SharePoint can handle other, non-textual kinds of content, including photos.
Click to view larger image.

Other kinds of libraries. These include picture libraries that store only image files and XML forms that your business can use to route information through Microsoft InfoPath, an application some companies use to process forms and route them for approval and filing. Another supported content type is a wiki; these allow for a quick way to edit text and have it remain on the Web. You can link that text to other Web pages as well — a poor man’s shareable text editor, you might say.

A site itself. Sites are basically collections of content, so you can create sites underneath your main SharePoint site (kind of like large folders on your file system) to collect related materials that deserve their own focus. Meetings, blogs, documents and teams might have their own sites. If the hierarchy is confusing, think of it like this: A site is a file drawer in a file cabinet, and the libraries, lists and other types of content are the individual folders within that file drawer. (See example.)
Microsoft SharePoint templates
Microsoft includes templates that can be used to create a featured content type, including meeting workspaces and issue-tracking lists.
Click to view larger image.

A list. Lists are collections of like items. You can choose from announcements, a calendar, a list of contacts, a custom list in both list form and an editable datasheet form, a discussion board, an issue tracking list, a list of links, a list of project tasks (with a Gantt-like chart), a survey, a task list or an imported Excel spreadsheet. (See example.)

Content based on a template. There are many default templates in SharePoint that you can use to quickly create a featured content type, including meeting workspaces, issue tracking lists and more.

What’s new in SharePoint 2010

Like much of the Microsoft Office family, SharePoint 2010 is based around the concept of the Ribbon, Microsoft’s interface that displays all of the options, choices and operations you can perform on any given page. It differs a lot from SharePoint 2007, which didn’t have the Ribbon, but many of the same options are there — just in a different place.
SharePoint 2010 interface
Key portions of the SharePoint 2010 interface.
Click to view larger image.

The Site Actions menu. This is where all of the action happens, literally. From here you can create new pages, document libraries and SharePoint-based sites; edit the pages you see; synchronize an offline copy of the site to the SharePoint Workspace application (assuming you have that feature as part of Office 2010); and access settings to customize the sites’ accessibility and permissions. To change major aspects of sites within SharePoint or to create new items, you’ll probably want to go to the Site Actions menu first.

The Credentials area. This menu, accessed when you click on your display name in the top right corner of the Web page, is where you sign into or out of a site, and where you change any user-modifiable sections of the Web page.

The Ribbon. Borrowing liberally from Office 2007 and Office 2010, SharePoint includes the Ribbon, a panel at the top of the window where almost all of the functions possible on a given page are grouped and displayed. Most SharePoint pages have the Browse tab turned on by default, which gives you a breadcrumb-style hierarchy. In other words, it helps you to navigate among pages on the site and see how you arrived at the current page. The Ribbon is also context-sensitive; it shows you different options depending on where you are within SharePoint. So if you’re in a document library, the Library Tools Ribbon panel will appear; if you’re in different types of lists, other tools will show up in the Ribbon.

The Quick Launch bar. Running along the left side of your SharePoint Web page, this bar helps you jump among the various parts of your site, including to different lists, libraries, discussion areas, picture collections and the site Recycle Bin. (This works exactly like the Windows recycle bin except it holds items from the SharePoint site only.) Another option is to see a full tree-like view of all the places on your site.

The Search box, where you can type in any sort of search query, click the magnifying glass icon to the right and then take advantage of the indexing engine on the site to get comprehensive results from any file that includes your search term.
Creating a document library
SharePoint – creating your own library
From the Site Actions Menu, click “New Document Library.”

The most common use for SharePoint is as a document repository. You and other team members and colleagues can put documents and files all in one specific place, accessible to everyone, and then avoid the all-too-familiar email blasts with Word documents attached.

(I would wager that if you never saw another “please disregard the previous message, I’ve attached the correct newest version of the file here” message pass through your inbox, it would probably not be too soon.)

You can then simply email hyperlinks to documents on the SharePoint site when collaboration needs to happen. As users modify and update files, the latest version — as well as previous versions, if you wish — along with all of the history of who revised what, and when, is stored in a single place.

To get started serving up and sharing documents and files in SharePoint 2010, you will probably need to create your own document library. This is fairly straightforward.

Open SharePoint in your Web browser.
From the Site Actions menu (remember, this is at the top left of your window), click New Document Library.
The Create window appears. Enter a friendly name and a useful description of your new library. (See example.)
Decide whether this library should appear in the Quick Launch bar — the navigation aid that appears to the left in most SharePoint Web windows.
Choose whether or not a new version of the file is created each time someone edits a file in this library. When in doubt, choose yes; you would be amazed how often this versioning history comes in handy.
Finally, select the type of template that will become the default if someone chooses the New File option on the ribbon within your library. This is not an important choice, as a document library can hold just about any type of file.
Click Create to close out and be taken directly to your new library.

Uploading and interacting with documents

Once you’re in the document library, you can very easily upload new content to the library by clicking the Add Document link at the bottom of the middle pane.
SharePoint – uploading new content
Uploading new content into your document library.

When you do, the Upload Document window appears.

Here, you can select the single document you would like to upload, or you can click the Upload Multiple Files link; this will open a new dialog box with a hotspot where you can drag and drop multiple files from a regular Windows Explorer window to upload. You can also just browse normally for files one at a time and add them to this group. You can click OK and then the group of files will upload directly to the library.
SharePoint document import
Importing one or more documents to your library.
Click to view larger image.

If you have enabled versioning, you can add version comments here as well, for a reader-friendly description of what has changed in this new version of the file you are uploading. Click OK to finish out, and you’ll see the newly uploaded file in the list with the green “new” symbol just beside it.

If you click the drop down arrow beside the file, you get a context-sensitive menu full of commonly used options. These include:

View Properties. Selecting this option opens the document properties page, where you can adjust the name and title of the document. You can also get a smaller ribbon of options on this page, allowing you to view the version history of the document, delete it or check the document out of the library (to prevent other people from editing it at the same time). You can also set an alert to notify you when actions are performed on the item, and manage alternate copies of this document. In case other copies are located in other places on the SharePoint site, you can be notified when updates are made on every copy. Here, you can also see who created the document and when, who the last editor of the document was and when that last edit occurred.
SharePoint document properties
Viewing document properties.
Click to view larger image.

Edit Properties. This option brings up the same page as View Properties, but actions are enabled on this page by default so you can actually edit all of the settings instead of just seeing what they are.

Edit in Microsoft Word/Excel. This opens the document in either application, depending on what type of file you are acting upon. It’s handy to open the files directly from SharePoint instead of trying to navigate to the SharePoint site from within the File/Open dialog boxes in the individual Office applications.

Check Out. The Check Out option locks a file for editing by a single user. If other users attempt to save back to the file, they’ll be notified that they can’t make changes until the user who has the file checked out currently checks it back in and makes it available for editing.
SharePoint – checkout
Checking out a file locks it for editing by a single person.

Version History. This option opens the Version History window and shows you all the versions of the document that SharePoint knows about, including the number, the date and time of the version, who uploaded a particular version, how big the file is and any free-form comments that were included by the user at the time of the upload. (You can’t edit previous comments; you can only add new comments to new document versions.) This creates a user-friendly audit trail that can help you track down inadvertent or incorrect modifications and back up to a good version if someone makes a catastrophic mistake.

Alert Me. This helps you set up alerts for this particular item. We’ll talk more about Alerts in the “5 tips” piece of this cheat sheet.
SharePoint – version history
You can see the version history of any file.

Send To. On this menu, you can move a document to another library on the SharePoint site, or you can email a link to this document library to someone else. You can also download an independent copy of this document to use locally on your own PC, although choosing this option doesn’t keep the copy of the document on the SharePoint site updated. You can also create a new document workspace — a SharePoint subsite — with this document preloaded in case more focused collaboration is necessary, for a subcommittee, for instance.
SharePoint – deleting a file
Deleting a file from the library.

Delete. This simply deletes the file, after a confirmation prompt, from the document library. A copy is stored in the site’s Recycle Bin (accessible by default, unless the administrator has turned this feature off, in the left Quick Launch bar at the very bottom of the menu) in case you delete something by mistake. (If the Recycle Bin appears, it’s enabled; if you don’t see it, it’s not enabled; you can’t use it if you can’t see it.)
Customizing the document library

SharePoint 2010 lets you use the Library Tools Ribbon to manage and further interact with documents in your libraries. In some cases these are actions you can perform in other ways (as described above); this just gives you a different way in. For instance, on the Document tab, you can perform operations grouped as follows:
SharePoint – customizing the library
Using the Library Tools Ribbon group to manage the documents in your libraries.
Click to view larger image.

The New group: Here, you can create a new document, upload a single document or multiple files at the same time, or create a new folder within the library.

The Open & Check Out group: In this group, you can begin editing a document in its native application such as Word, check out a document to lock it for further editing, check it back in or discard a check-out if you made no changes and have no revisions to check back in.

The Manage group: Here, you can view and edit the properties of a document, view its version history and the permissions on the document (if your administrator has enabled such a feature), and delete a document from the library.

The Share & Track group: You can have SharePoint open a new message in your email client with a hyperlink to a selected document embedded within by clicking the Email and Link button, or you can set up an alert on a document or manage all alerts on a SharePoint site through the Alert Me button.

The Copies group: You can download a copy of a document, send a copy to either another location or to a new document workspace, manage copies in other SharePoint locations or go to the source of a copied document in this group.

The Workflows tab: Here you can manage workflows, publishing and approvals. More on this in the next major section.

Creating and customizing calendars

Arguably the second most common activity users head to SharePoint for is to create, view and edit team calendars. SharePoint is a reasonably flexible solution for sharing calendars that multiple people need to see and that pertain to a specific project. They’re better suited to that than just sharing peoples’ individual Exchange calendars, for instance, since the latter are mostly locked down and contain a lot of extraneous information that other team members don’t need to see.
SharePoint – creating a new calendar
Creating a new calendar via the Site Actions menu.
Click to view larger image.

For tracking due dates, events and project meetings, SharePoint calendars are great.

To create a new calendar on a SharePoint site, head to the Site Actions menu and then click More Options. From the List section, click Calendar, and then type in a plain-English name for the new calendar and click the Create button.
SharePoint – creating a calendar event
Creating an event in your new calendar.

Once your calendar is created, you can add events by clicking the Events tab in the Calendar Tools group on the ribbon, and then clicking the New Event button.

From there, you can enter the name of the event, the location, the duration and times, a description, a category (if you are using them), whether or not this event is a recurring or an all-day event and whether to create a meeting workspace for this event. (A “meeting workspace” is a mini-site within SharePoint.) Hit Save when you have completed the form.
SharePoint – adding more info about events
Adding more information about events to your calendar.
Click to view larger image.

After your calendar has been populated, you can experiment with the various views that are available specifically for calendars in SharePoint. On the calendar’s SharePoint page, click the Calendar tab in the Calendar Tools ribbon group, and then in the Manage Views group, click the drop down list under Current View.

You will see a few options from which you can choose:

Calendar: This is the default and popular grid we are all accustomed to.

All Events: This is a tabular listing of all events listed on the calendar — past, present and future.
SharePoint – calendar views
After your calendar has been populated, you can experiment with the various views.

Upcoming Events: This is also a tabular list, but only of forthcoming events.

These different views are helpful if you need to edit a batch of events in bulk and don’t want to click through the monthly views of the calendar to get to each event.
Integrating SharePoint content with Outlook 2010

If you’re like many SharePoint-using organizations, your IT department has also deployed Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, so you are using a mail client that integrates very well with SharePoint. In particular, Outlook 2010 has a variety of features that help you combine information you already store in Outlook with information within SharePoint. Here are some examples.
SharePoint – putting calendars into Outlook
Integrating SharePoint calendars into Outlook.
Click to view larger image.
Putting SharePoint calendars into Outlook

If you have a team with deadlines, deliverable due dates and events you need to keep track of separately, a SharePoint calendar is a convenient way for all members to add, update and maintain a single record of dates. But sometimes it can be inconvenient to have to track multiple calendars, especially when your personal calendar lives within the Outlook client and the team calendars live on the SharePoint site.

You can bring down SharePoint 2010 calendar information into Outlook and either look at the contents of that calendar beside your own, or use Outlook’s very nice overlay feature to see a single calendar at once with all of your pertinent information. Here is how:

Open the SharePoint calendar in your Web browser. (Frankly, despite Microsoft saying SharePoint 2010 works well in other browsers, this feature works best in Internet Explorer and poorly in other software.)
In the Calendar Tools Ribbon, click the Calendar tab and then click Connect to Outlook from within the Actions subgroup.
You’ll get an Internet Explorer security warning. Click Allow here to let the process work.
Outlook will then open, if it’s not already, and present a dialog box asking you if you are sure that you want to open that SharePoint calendar within Outlook. You can either click Yes here to accept the default configuration, or click the Advanced button to customize the name the calendar will take in Outlook as well as its description.
Outlook will display the SharePoint calendar in the left pane under the Other Calendars heading. Click the check box to make sure it is displayed.

Of particular interest here is the fact that these calendars are now linked between Outlook and SharePoint. If another member of your team updates the Web version of the SharePoint calendar, those changes will migrate directly down to the Outlook display of that calendar.

If you adjust a date or otherwise make a change to the linked SharePoint calendar from within Outlook, that change will migrate back up to SharePoint automatically and likewise go back down into any other users’ individual Outlook clients if they have chosen to link the calendar as well. It is all seamlessly synchronized.
Synchronizing task lists from SharePoint into Outlook

Your project team might also store lists of tasks within a SharePoint site. This is particularly interesting in a scenario where other users of SharePoint directly assign tasks to you within the user interface. If you do not have SharePoint alerts set up to notify you of new activities on your site, and you fail to check the website often enough to keep updated and fresh on new developments, then you might miss a deadline or not complete a task the right way.
Syncing task lists from SharePoint into Outlook
You can use Outlook as a single place to collect information about all your SharePoint tasks.
Click to view larger image.

By synchronizing tasks between SharePoint and Outlook, you can use Outlook as a single place to collect all of the information on whatever tasks you have on your plate.

Open the SharePoint task list in your Web browser. Again, Internet Explorer works best in these scenarios.
In the List Tools Ribbon group, click the List tab, and then click Connect to Outlook from within the Connect & Export subgroup.
You’ll get an Internet Explorer security warning. Click Allow here to let the process work.
Outlook will then open, if it’s not already, and present a dialog box asking you if you are sure that you want to open that SharePoint task list within Outlook. Click Yes.
Outlook will display the SharePoint task list in the left pane under the Other Tasks heading if you have selected the Tasks view. Click the check box beside the listing to make sure it is displayed in the right pane.

The two-way synchronization for tasks works exactly the same way as it does for calendars — changes in one place automatically make their way to other linked places with no muss and no fuss.
Sharing Outlook contact details with SharePoint

Your team might also store important contact details and information in a SharePoint site. You can synchronize this to Outlook in the same way as you can with calendars and task lists.

Open the SharePoint contact list in your Web browser. You probably know by now that Internet Explorer works best for these synchronization activities.
In the List Tools Ribbon group, click the List tab, and then click Connect to Outlook from within the Connect & Export subgroup.
You’ll get an Internet Explorer security warning. Click Allow here to continue.
Outlook will then open, if it’s not already, and present a dialog box asking you if you are sure that you want to open that SharePoint contact list within Outlook. Click Yes.
Outlook will display the SharePoint contact list in the left pane under the Other Contacts heading if you have selected the Contacts view. Click the check box beside the listing to make sure it is displayed in the right pane.

In this series

Word 2010 cheat sheet
Excel 2010 cheat sheet
Outlook 2010 cheat sheet
PowerPoint 2010 cheat sheet

Now for a bit of a technicality: SharePoint stores contacts in its database a little bit differently than does Outlook. Some of the fields are named differently. This could affect how your mail merges perform, for example, if you’re trying to blast out a piece of email or snail mail to a group of contacts that is represented within Outlook but linked from SharePoint. Luckily, the differences are minor, but they still exist nonetheless. (See chart, below.)
Outlook vs. SharePoint field names

Outlook field name SharePoint field name
Last Name Last Name
First Name First Name
Full Name Full Name
E-mail E-mail Address
Company Company
Job Title Job Title
Business Business Phone
Home Home Phone
Mobile Mobile Phone
Business Fax Fax Number
Business Address Address
Business City City
Business State/Province State/Province
Business Zip/Postal Zip/Postal code
Business Country Country/Region
Web Page Web Page
Notes Notes
Source: Microsoft


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Windows XP’s user share nose-dives

Start of the last push before Microsoft dumps support?

Maybe people are listening to Microsoft’s demand that they ditch Windows XP.

According to metrics company Net Applications, Windows XP’s user share plunged to 33.7% of all personal computers in August, a record-setting one-month fall of 3.5 percentage points.

When XP’s share of only those PCs that are powered by Windows was calculated, the decline was slightly sharper, from 40.6% of all Windows systems in July to 36.9% in August, a drop of 3.7 percentage points.

However it’s measured, XP’s plummet was dramatic. The decline easily bested XP’s previous record of a one-month slide set in December 2011, the month after “Peak PC,” the industry’s high-water mark and when Windows 7 was quickly gaining ground at the expense of XP.

XP’s loss was made up by other Microsoft operating systems, the one-year-old Windows 8 and the four-year-old Windows 7, with the gains split 2-1 in favor of Windows 8.

Windows 7 grew its user share of Windows PCs to 50% last month, while Windows 8 boosted its share to 8.4%, a record for the struggling operating system.

Microsoft has beaten the dump-XP drum for more than two years. Last month, it did so again when a manager in its security group warned that the aged OS will become a prime target for cyber criminals once security updates end on April 8, 2014.

But those calls by Redmond have gone largely unheeded.

In the 12-month stretch from August 2012 to July 2013, for example, Windows XP lost an average of half a percentage point each month, or one-seventh of what it shed last month alone. More recently, XP’s decline had actually slowed: In the six months from February to July 2013, XP fell just four-tenths of a point per month on average, or about one-ninth its August decline.

It’s impossible to tell whether the XP slide represents actual abandonment of the OS and replacements of older PCs, since Net Applications measures only online activity. The decline, or part of it, could have been caused by fewer XP owners using the Internet, or at least the very small part that Net Applications monitors.

And since Net Applications’ methodology relies on weighting its data by country, a small decline in XP usage in China, where more than 70% of all personal computers run the operating system and the Internet population is enormous, may have had an outsized impact on the results.

Rival analytics vendor StatCounter, for example, showed no corresponding decline in XP’s usage share for August: According to the Irish firm, XP actually gained one-tenth of a percentage point last month.

StatCounter and Net Applications tally shares in different ways. StatCounter counts page views — a metric best described as “usage share” — while Net Applications examines unique visitors, a number Computerworld has often labeled “user share.”

Windows XP’s huge drop last month made shambles of earlier estimates that forecast it would still account for more than a third of the world’s personal computer operating systems at the end of April 2014. After the large decline of last month, revised projections now peg XP’s expected April 2014 user share at a lower range, between 23% and 28%, based on the latest three-month and 12-month averages, respectively.

Overall, Windows slipped by four-tenths of a percentage point to 91.2%. Linux, which gained three-tenths of a point to end August with 1.5%, and Apple’s OS X, which grew by a tenth of a point to 7.3%, took up the slack.

Within the Windows universe, however, there was plenty of movement, as XP’s decline best illustrated.

Windows 7, which has assumed the mantle as the standard in business, boosted its user share by over a percentage point, climbing to 50% of all machines running a Microsoft operating system. Windows Vista continued to lose users, falling to 4.5%.

Most of the share lost by XP, however, ended up in Windows 8’s camp: The newest OS grew by a record 2.5 percentage points to close August with 8.4% of all Windows-powered systems.

Windows XP’s last public security update is planned for April 8, 2014.


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Bookmaker handicaps Microsoft CEO race

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is the current favorite at 5 to 1; Apple CEO Tim Cook is at 100 to 1

Adding insult to injury after Wall Street boosted Microsoft’s stock price when CEO Steve Ballmer announced he would retire, now a U.K. bookmaker is taking bets on Ballmer’s replacement.

Ladbrokes, a 127-year-old bookmaking conglomerate that runs nearly 3,000 betting shops in the U.K., Ireland, Belgium and Spain, has opened wagers on Microsoft’s next CEO with a list of 26 candidates that include current and former Microsoft executives as well as people from rivals such as Apple and Facebook.

“There is always interest in high-profile CEO vacancies and we feel that offering the odds gives our view of the likelihood of the chances various contenders have,” said Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes in an email.

Current Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop was the favorite, at odds of 5 to 1. Betting $100 with Ladbrokes on Elop to get the CEO chair would return a profit of $500 if he was, in fact, named to the top spot.

Elop, 49, worked for Microsoft two years, running the group responsible for Office after another former executive, Steven Sinofsky, left that position to head up Windows development. Elop has been the CEO at Nokia since September 2010.

Kevin Turner followed Elop at odds of 6 to 1, while Sinofsky and Julie Larson-Green were listed at 8 to 1.

Turner, currently Microsoft’s COO, was previously the CEO of Sam’s Club, the warehouse outlet owned and operated by Wal-Mart. Sinofsky was ousted from Microsoft last November, reportedly after clashing with Ballmer, but according to some analysts also because of his strategy and execution on Windows 8 and Windows RT. Larson-Green, a Sinofsky protégé, has worked for Microsoft for two decades and now runs the Devices and Studios Engineering Group, which handles hardware device design, including the Surface tablet line and Xbox game console. Previously, she was in charge of Windows engineering.

Ladbrokes’ list leans toward former and current Microsoft employees; 58% of the wager-ready candidates have ties to Microsoft.

Along with Elop and Sinofsky, the eight former executives on the bookmarker’s list included co-founder, former CEO and current chairman Bill Gates at 50 to 1; Jeff Raikes, who runs Gates’ foundation (25/1); and Paul Maritz, who stepped down as VMware’s CEO last September (14/1).

All seven current Microsoft employees on the list have been touted on one roundup or another of possible Ballmer replacements, including Qi Lu (10/1), head of the new Applications and Services Group; Terry Myerson (12/1), leader of the Operating Systems team; and Satya Nadella (14/1), the chief of Cloud and Enterprise.

The 11 outsiders included Reed Hastings, CEO of NetFlix and a former Microsoft board member (16 to 1 odds); eBay CEO John Donahoe (20/1); Marissa Mayer, the new CEO at Yahoo (33/1); and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook (40/1).

But the oddest candidates on Ladbrokes’ odds list were Jonathan Ive, who overseas all software and hardware design at Apple, and current Apple CEO Tim Cook. Ladbrokes gave Ive odds of 40 to 1, and Cook even longer odds of 100 to 1.

In the off chance that Cook moved north to Redmond, Wash., someone who put down $100 would see a profit of $10,000.

“We often take bets on things like this, under the umbrella of ‘novelty betting,'” said Donohue of Ladbrokes. “It’s not something we will take vast sums of money on at all, with the average stake less than £10 [$15.54 at today’s exchange rate].”


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Microsoft expands bug info-sharing program to larger crowd

Microsoft expands bug info-sharing program to larger crowd
Acknowledges increased risk of leaks to hackers

Microsoft today announced an expansion of a program that shares information with select security firms that will give a new class of researchers access to threat data before the company patches its software.

The current Microsoft Active Protections Program (MAPP) will be scrapped, said Mike Reavey, a senior director of the Microsoft Security Response Center, or MSRC, in an interview Friday. Taking its place will be a new two-pronged program.

MAPP for Security Vendors will take the place of the original MAPP, which debuted in October 2008. Like its predecessor, MAPP for Security Vendors will provide detailed data on vulnerabilities Microsoft intends to patch. Some of the vetted vendors, those with the longest time in MAPP, will receive vulnerability details from Microsoft earlier than before: Three business days prior to Patch Tuesday rather than the current one day.

What Reavey called “entry-level partners” will continue to get bug information just a day ahead of time.

In 2008, Microsoft cast MAPP as a way to give proven security developers time to write detection signatures so that they could protect customers as soon as patches shipped. Reavey said the motivation hadn’t changed.

“Vendors have told us that if they had a bit more time, they could create even higher-quality protection that would cover more scenarios and have less of a chance of generating false positives,” said Reavey.

Also new to MAPP for Security Vendors is an initiative that will rope some participants into helping Microsoft’s quality control work.

Dubbed MAPP Validation, the initiative will give a subset of the security vendors additional threat detection data — not of the vulnerabilities themselves, but how to spot attacks exploiting those vulnerabilities — up to a couple of weeks before patches go public.

Those companies, said Reavey, will be obligated to file bug reports and test the detections — he called those responsibilities a “tax” levied in return for the right to receive early information — in the hope that they will spot problems Microsoft overlooked.

“Not everyone will want to sign up for [MAPP Validation],” Reavey acknowledged.

Microsoft already has a similar program, called the Software Update Validation Program (SUVP), where large corporate customers test patches before they’re released to help Redmond find flaws that break workflows or cause crashes.

The completely new part of MAPP, called MAPP for Responders, may be the most controversial. Under that part of the program, Microsoft will share threat intelligence information, including malicious URLs, malware file hashes, incident data and detection guidance, with a broader audience.

Microsoft envisions that MAPP for Responders will include corporations, government-funded security response teams — called CERTs, like the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team — and private organizations.

Expanding MAPP to a wider audience increases the risk that bug and threat information may leak, leading to active attacks before patches reach customers.

Reavey admitted the danger, but said it is manageable. “This isn’t really vulnerability information, but instead general threat intelligence,” he said. “It’s less volatile. But it’s still a risk.”

MAPP has had one very public leak in the past: In March 2012, Microsoft confirmed that sample attack code, called a “proof-of-concept exploit,” posted on a Chinese hacker site had come from its sharing program. Several months later, Microsoft fingered Chinese security company Hangzhou DPTech Technologies for the leak and dropped the hammer, booting the firm from MAPP.

As part of the new MAPP, Microsoft will also kick off a cloud-based service, MAPP Scanner, where participants can submit suspicious Office documents, PDFs, and URLs. Microsoft’s own tools, developed in-house over the last several years, will power MAPP Scanner.

The documents, files and URLs will be opened in a cloud-based virtual machine to see if they are trying to exploit a vulnerability. The results will be shared with participants and fed into Microsoft’s own security process.

“We know how effective [those tools are] for us to speed up the process,” said Reavey, of detecting new threats and even uncovering “zero-day” vulnerabilities. “[Offering the tools to others] is a great opportunity to get detections in place as soon as possible.”

A pilot run of MAPP Scanner will launch almost immediately, said Reavey, but the other components will take time to roll out. He expected them to go live before the end of the year.

Reavey declined to outline the criteria Microsoft will use to vet security vendors and responders, saying that the company will over the next several months create guidelines after talking with current and potential participants.


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Bill Gates’s return may save Microsoft, but it’s not likely

Some talk has been going around about Bill Gates making a return to help Microsoft rebound from its recent mistakes, but don’t hold your breath.

Slow news days (a royal birth aside) can lead to bored reporters straying into speculation territory since they have no news on which to report.

The latest comes from International Business Times, which ran an article speculating that Bill Gates might have to mount up his white horse and save his faltering company from the bumbling hands of the man he picked to take over the firm more than a decade ago, Steve Ballmer.

The main impetus for the story is not rumor or leads from analysts, but because of what happened last Friday, when the company suffered the biggest one-day percentage sell-off in stock the last 13 years. After gaining a little ground in recent months, Microsoft backslid 11.4% in one day.

“As investors continued to show concerns about the standings of one of the most influential tech companies in the world, Microsoft might have no other option but to bring the man that guided the firm to greater heights. Yes, Bill Gates might actually return to his old post,” the article said.

That’s a bit of a leap there. Certainly, the stars are aligning against Ballmer. There were calls for his head more than once. Microsoft has made an awful mess of the PC industry with Windows 8 and its tablet strategy has failed. The recent reorg, as many people noticed, did nothing to put a successor in place.

Investors are losing their patience. Once again, the long knives are out at Seeking Alpha, with one blogger noting that the recent reorg puts 70% of the company’s profitable businesses under an executive with a track record of enormous loss. Another flat out says Ballmer has to go, noting a lack of technological innovation at the company under his leadership.

And Gates would have a good reason to return. His charitable foundation is built entirely on his Microsoft stock holdings. He can’t give away his billions if Microsoft stock keeps plummeting in value.

But the IBT article misses a key issue: Gates’s passion. It’s just not with technology, nor has it been for some time. His evangelical zeal is to save the world, or at least the Third World. He’s not interested in cloud computing; he’s interested in malaria treatment and clean drinking water. Look at his tweets. Do you see any interest in tech? Only tangentially.

To cure the ailing beast that is Microsoft will require someone with tunnel vision and determined enthusiasm, and I just don’t see it in Gates anymore. Yes, it’s his baby. Yes, it’s his fortune. But he has moved on. It needs to be someone else – someone not invested in Microsoft, the way Lou Gerstner was not invested in IBM when he took over, to make the tough, dispassionate decisions that must be made.


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With reorg, Microsoft bets big on home-grown hardware

New group dedicated to devices means a head-to-head battle with OEMs, analysts argue

Microsoft’s reorganization is the biggest shot yet fired against the company’s core partners, the computer makers who have made the software developer a technology giant, analysts said today.

“There were clear lines of demarcation where Microsoft’s efforts ended and OEMs’ started, but this could challenge OEMs down the road,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in an interview Thursday.

Moorhead was referring to the corporate reshuffling announced earlier today by CEO Steve Ballmer — specifically the creation of a hardware group within the company.

The Devices and Studios Engineering Group will be led by Julie Larson-Green, who will oversee all hardware development, from the Xbox and Surface to mice and keyboards. In his memo to employees today, Ballmer said that she would also assume responsibility for the “supply chain, from the smallest to the largest devices we build.”

Larson-Green, a former lieutenant to Steven Sinofsky, who until he was ousted last fall ran the Windows division, was most recently head of Windows engineering, and shared responsibilities for desktop and tablet OS team with Tami Reller, former Windows CFO.

Because Devices and Studio Engineering will be one of just four engineering groups — the others focus on operating systems, applications and services, and cloud and enterprise — and because Microsoft has never had a unit at that level dedicated to devices, Moorhead interpreted the reorg results as a major change in direction for Redmond.

“This is the first time they have ever had a division called ‘Devices,'” said Moorhead. “To me, that means Microsoft is very, very serious about hardware, as serious as Apple is about tablets.”

Unless Larson-Green’s fiefdom ends up smaller than the weight the new structure seems to assign it, and unless Ballmer’s mantra of “devices and services” is a smokescreen, the company must expand its hardware offerings.

Moorhead certainly expects that to happen. “One of the first things they’ll do is a Surface notebook,” Moorhead predicted. “Second, they’ll do a smart watch or some kind of wearable [computer].”

And because turning a profit on hardware, PCs included, requires a large-scale commitment — necessary to purchase components at reasonable prices — Microsoft will, in effect, become a direct competitor with its OEM (original equipment manufacturing) partners, the Dells, the HPs, the Lenovos of the world.

“PCs require scale, and are just not suitable to niches,” said Moorhead, a former executive with AMD, the chip-making rival to Intel. “They were acting this way before [with the Surface tablets] but this is whole new level. This is such a big change that I’d argue it’s a reinvention of Microsoft.”

Another analyst agreed.
“Microsoft doesn’t have an incredible track record on hardware,” said Bob O’Donnell of IDC. “Surface isn’t exactly tearing up the charts. For [hardware] to become a core focus, I just don’t know, it seems odd to me. But they will expand their hardware. I expect a Surface phone, more Surface tablets, including a smaller tablet, and more.

“Microsoft has taken shots at OEMs before,” O’Donnell added, referring to the surprise debut a year ago of the Surface tablet line. “But the [Devices and Studio Engineering] group reinforces that. This is another shot at the OEMs, no question.”

But two other analysts rejected that line of reasoning, believing that, corporate revamping aside, Microsoft is not about to alienate its OEMs, which produce the overwhelming bulk of all PCs, tablets and smartphones, and those device categories’ countless accessories and peripherals.

“The fact that Microsoft has a ‘devices’ group says nothing about its relationships with OEMs, whether [Microsoft] will be more competitive with OEMs,” said Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that focuses exclusively on tracking its target’s every move.

David Cearley, Gartner’s lead Microsoft analyst, echoed Helm, but in even stronger terms. “They’ve been very clear that they’re committed to targeting specific areas, high-value niches only, that can demonstrate the capabilities of their operating systems,” said Cearley, essentially repeating the positioning Microsoft took last year when it raised a ruckus among OEMs by moving into hardware.

“But Microsoft competing head-to-head with OEMs? No,” Cearley said. “They’ll expand Surface with different screen sizes and smaller tablets, but the market for those devices will still be targeted.

“Microsoft still needs to work with a broad set of OEMs” to have scores, or even hundreds, of different device designs on the market, Cearley continued. That breadth of choice has been a decades-long selling point Microsoft has relied on to tout its software, and it’s not about to walk away from that philosophy.

But the recasting of the company — the recounting, over and over, that Microsoft is now “devices” as well as “services” — was too dramatic for Moorhead to believe it wouldn’t change Microsoft and how it interacts with OEM partners.

“They’re going after an end-to-end experience,” said Moorhead. “They started off and spent most of their lives in a time where OS was king. But when OSes are free, as it relates to mobile, for example, things have to change.”

O’Donnell concurred with Moorhead that the new Devices and Studios group would be much more aggressive in competing with OEMs. But he questioned whether Microsoft would, in effect, pull off an “Apple” by mimicking its Cupertino, Calif. rival, which controls much more of its ecosystem, building all its own hardware as well as crafting its own operating systems.

“Is Microsoft trying to become Apple?” O’Donnell asked. “One can certainly presume that, in fact, some of these moves are an attempt to turn them into an Apple-like company. But the key differentiator is that Microsoft has nowhere near the hardware position of Apple.”


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Windows RT users happy with the device, so far

Despite an unending stream of FUD being hurled at the Surface tablet, people who have bought it seem pretty enamored with their purchase, according to reviews piling up on BestBuy.com and Staples.

Microsoft launched the Surface tablet in its retail stores, all 65 of them, before expanding to Best Buy (1,900 stores total) and Staples (1,400 stores) earlier this month.

So far, sentiments for the device are fairly positive. On Best Buy’s website, the Windows RT tablet sports a 4.7 out of 5 rating, based on 28 customer reviews. Only one customer was unhappy with the device and rated it one out of five stars.

“No Outlook so not full MS Office, all other tablets have version of word, excel, and powerpoint, so very disappointing,” wrote customer gates77. He liked screen customization, but also noted “Battery life wasn’t to [sic] good and typecover isn’t as good as some logitech keyboards. Can’t load any of my windows 7 programs.”

The most popular feature about Surface RT seems to be Windows 8. “Windows 8 runs like a charm, the Windows Apps Store is growing by the day and I am able to use all my favorite apps such as iHeartRadio, NY Times, USA Today, Kayak, Netflix, Endgadget, eBay, ESPN…” wrote Cricketer from New York on Staples.com.

“The live tiles are a great innovation,” wrote Philipm785 of Atlanta. “They provide genuinely useful information without having to launch the apps and the multiple sizes and custom groupings that can be easily scrolled and zoomed are way easier to get around than the multiple screens of tiny uniform icons you get on iOS.”

The hardware is also receiving kudos. “It’s a perfect laptop replacement for those who don’t need lot of processing power. Don’t wait for the surface pro. The battery life is all day,” wrote desiboy of New York on BestBuy.com.

“I gave away my Android tablet after using this for a while,” wrote MZach of NC. “The keyboard and touchpad are unobtrusive but there when you need them and the keyboard has cursor keys!”

Even people giving 5-star reviews have complaints, include volume output, the “primitive” email app, lack of apps and x86 support, Flash support in IE10, and the price itself.

It’s encouraging to see, but I’m actually not totally surprised. Early adopters tend to be enthusiasts. As it moves beyond the early adopter stage and away from Microsoft enthusiasts into the mass market, that score will drop as more cons pile up. We’ll see what people say when the much more expensive x86 models arrive next year.

 


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