Friday, 20 July 2012

Why all the consumer love at Microsoft? It's the weak spot

Many of Microsoft's enterprise users -- and those of us who love unearthing juicy details about products like System Center, Forefront,  and the like -- have been bemoaning Microsoft's increasingly consumer-centric obsessions.
Sure, Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner might still be taking some half-hearted public pot shots at Oracle, VMWare and IBM. And Microsoft's Dynamics ERP wares, now a billion dollar business in their own right (not even including Dynamics CRM) might get their day in the sun every once in a while.

But the real reason the Softies are putting so many of their eggs in the Xbox, Kinect, the newly announced Home Premium Office 365, and Windows 8 consumer-friendly apps and games is consumer is Microsoft's weak spot. Or... if you are a glass half full kind of gal/guy... consumer is where there's the most room for future growth.

Microsoft's Q4 FY 2012 earnings breakout makes this plain. The Server & Tools units revenues were bigger than Windows/Windows Live, as noted by Business Insider. And the Microsoft Business division (home of Office) was bigger in both revenues and profit than Windows, Business Insider added.) The premium SKUs of Windows Server and SQL Server were selling like hot cakes in Q4 FY 2012, according to Microsoft. Business deployments of Office 2010 and Windows 7 were still strong, despite the fact that launches of new versions of these products are just around the corner.

Meanwhile, gaming console sales were down, Windows consumer PC demand was down, Online Services is still in the red. In short, Microsoft's business product and services sales carried the quarter and the year.

So if you're Microsoft, what do you do? Hire a big-name consumer-marketing and polling pro? Or spend the money on highlighting on the next versions of Exchange Server, SharePoint Server and Lync Server -- all of which also went to public beta this week (though Microsoft officials said next-to-nothing about them so far)?

Microsoft is making a concerted effort to appeal to consumers more than business types in its communication these days. But make no mistake: This isn't because the company is a consumer powerhouse. It's because it isn't one... at least not right now. Whether Microsoft can ever wring the kind of money from consumers as it does from business users remains to be seen, but that's no doubt the hope.
Mary Jo Foley
About Mary Jo Foley

Windows 8's delivery date: October 26

Microsoft is continuing to eke out the Windows 8 news.
The latest tidbit is Windows 8's exact availability date is going to be October 26. (The last we heard at the Microsoft Partner Conference a week ago is it would be in "late October.")

October 26 will be the date Windows 8 will be available preloaded on new PCs and also to those purchasing it through one of the upgrade programs Microsoft has announced recently. Based on previous Microsoft statements, it also seems October 26 will be the date that Windows RT-based Surface PCs/tablets from Microsoft will be available via the Microsoft Stores and select online outlets.

Microsoft officials shared the exact date on July 18 with the thousands of Microsoft salespeople attending the Microsoft Global Exchange Conference in Atlanta, according to a July 18 post on the Windows team blog. (Update: I've added a photo of Microsoft Windows President Steven Sinofsky at MGX, about which one attendee of the conference tweeted and posted publicly today.)
Windows 8 is on track to be released to manufacturing by the first week of August, officials said last week. Windows Server 2012 and Visual Studio 2012 also will be released to manufacturing at the same time. But Windows Server 2012 won't be available to customers until September, Microsoft officials have said. Execs have declined to say when developers will be able to start using the final Visual Studio bits.
Microsoft officials said last week that business users with volume-licensing contracts will be able to get their hands on the final Windows 8 bits shortly after the product is released to manufacturing, which will be two-plus months before the product is generally available via retail. Microsoft officials are declining to say when those with MSDN and TechNet subscriptions will be able to obtain the final Windows 8 bits.
Microsoft officials have said those upgrading from Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and the Windows 8 Release Preview will be able to buy upgrade copies of Windows 8 for $40 each. Microsoft officials have not said how much the promised System Builder SKU will be for those who want to build their own PCs. They also have not said whether a full, non-upgrade version will be available via retail and how much it will cost. But the unofficial word is Microsoft may be dropping full packaged product at retail with Windows 8.

Firefox 14 Launches With Secure Search

Firefox 13 may have been the most substantial release of Firefox since moving to the new rapid release process and it will probably be the last one we’ll see for a while. The launch of Firefox 14 on Tuesday only brought a few new updates, but what’s there is good.
The big update for Firefox 14 is that Google searches are automatically sent through HTTPS by default. Here’s how team at Mozilla explained it when they introduced HTTPS search in Aurora two months ago:
Enabling HTTPS for these searches shields our users from network infrastructure that may be gathering data about the users or modifying/censoring their search results. Additionally, using HTTPS helps providers like Google remove information from the referrer string. While Google users may expect Google to know what they are searching for, Firefox users may not be aware these search terms are often transmitted to sites they visit when they click on items in the search results; enabling HTTPS search helps sites like Google strip this information from the HTTP referrer string, putting the user better in control of when and to whom their interests are shared.
Of interest for Mac users, Firefox now has full screen support on Mac OS X Lion. Here’s hoping that they add retina display support to Firefox soon. Chrome is already testing it and Firefox obviously doesn’t want to fall behind Chrome in features.
Another great security update is that Firefox 14 features opt-in activation for plugins. What does that mean? When you visit a new site, Firefox will give you the option of allowing only the plug-ins that you trust to be activated. If you visit the site often and trust it fully, you can allow Firefox to load all plug-ins automatically.
The awesome bar is getting a little bit more like Chrome as well. Firefox will now auto-complete typed URLs. It’s a simple additions that’s been a long time coming.
Other security fixes include an improved site identity manager that should prevent spoofing an SSL connection. As you may recall, Firefox now uses a lock favicon to indicate that a Web site is on an SSL connection. Some developers could spoof this to trick people into thinking they were on a secure site when they were not.
Firefox has also added more support for various HTML5 APIs that should help improve HTML5 applications like gaming. Two of the big ones are the Pointer Lock API and a new API that prevents your computer from sleeping. The Pointer Lock API is super important as it opens up the possibility of HTML5-powered first-person shooters.
It’s not a huge update, but there’s some great stuff to be had in Firefox 14. Now it’s time to play the waiting game as Waterfox updates to the latest source code. I really hope Firefox 15 finally adds an x64 executable. If Mozilla is serious about the future of HTML5, restricting Firefox to x86 isn’t helping anybody.
If Firefox hasn’t already updated itself to the newest version, you can grab Firefox 14 at Mozilla’s site.

Google May Have To Start Censoring Search Results In France

Google May Have To Start Censoring Search Results In France
The entertainment industry has a bone to pick with Google. They feel that the search engine directly aids in helping people pirate content on the Web. While there are some legitimately good ideas out there to compete with piracy, the entertainment industry seems content with just censoring the Web.
A future of Google censorship may be coming to France soon as the country’s Supreme Court recently ruled that Google can be required to censor search terms for words like “Torrent,” “RapidShare,” and “Megaupload.” The ban would see these words and others not return anything in Instant or Autocomplete searches.
Music industry group SNEP lost its two previous battles with Google at the lower court levels. It’s a surprise then that the Supreme Court would rule with SNEP instead. According to TorrentFreak, the Supreme Court used an article in the Intellectual Property Code that “allows courts to take almost any emergency measure to protect rightsholders.”
The court did say, however, that Google isn’t accountable for any piracy that may take place on the Web. They just feel that the search engine should make it harder for people to discover said content on the Web.
Google will be taking the case before the Appeals Court now for a final verdict. If the Appeals Court rules in SNEP’s favor, it could set a disastrous precedent in France and courts around Europe. European courts already feel that it’s perfectly fine to block Web sites on the IP level, but censoring search results is a whole new can of worms. It’s a slippery slope that could lead Europe to becoming more like China, a country that bans search results that put the state in a bad light.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the Appeals Court decides this case. We’ll keep you updated on any further developments.

Google Nexus 7: a device that finally raises awareness of the 7 inch form factor

The last 7 inch Android tablet that I purchased was the HTC Flyer, after owning the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, and I have been using it for over a year. I wasn't going to pick up a new Nexus 7, but at the low price point I couldn't resist and my pre-order arrived a couple of days ago. The Nexus 7 is a fantastic bargain and I think it is a better option for tablet users than the Amazon Kindle Fire that is more focused on Amazon's ecosystem and reading. It is lacking a bit in quality and there are still very few tablet optimized apps for Android, but it is still a pretty exciting tablet device.
You can check out my image gallery containing product images and several key screenshots from the new Nexus 7.

In the box and first impressions

I enjoyed watching all the unboxing videos where people really struggled to get the Nexus 7 out of the box. As a reviewer, I have a small blade to use for opening boxes so that I can return the review devices in mint condition so it really wasn't as difficult as it was made out to be. Inside the box you will find the Nexus 7, USB charger, and USB cable.
As soon as I pulled my new Nexus 7 from the package I noticed movement and a creaking sound when I held it on the left edge. It turns out 3/4 of my left side display glass panel is raised above the frame and moves down below the frame when you hold it. I then conducted a Google search and read quite a few stories of failed pixels and displays that are not secured to the front of the device. I am going to call Google to see if I can exchange it since I don't trust the quality over the long term with glass that is not secured to the front. I haven't seen any official Google statement about glue not drying or anything so am not sure what the problem is here, but quality control definitely failed somewhere along the line.


Specifications for the ASUS manufactured Nexus 7 include the following:
  • Quad-core Tegra 3 processor
  • 7 inch 1280x800 pixels resolution HD display
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS
  • 16GB internal storage (8GB available too)
  • 1GB RAM
  • Bluetooth, NFC, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, and GPS
  • 1.2 megapixel front facing camera
  • 4325 mAh removable battery
  • Dimensions: 7.8 x 4.72 x 0.41 inches and 12 ounces
The device seems pretty dang impressive after seeing the price and the list of specifications. If I didn't have the display defect then I would be impressed with the device at $250. It can't begin to compare to the quality of the new iPad, but it is priced at half the cost too. I look forward to using the quad-core NVIDIA Tegra device, especially with games.


The display is excellent and is the one major visible difference I see when I place it next to my HTC Flyer. The display has a 216 ppi with high resolution and is just about the perfect resolution for a 7 inch device. The only other physical thing on the front is the 1.2 megapixel front facing camera. You will also find virtual capacitive touch buttons for back, Home, and task switcher that appear on the bottom in both portrait and landscape orientations.
The power and volume buttons are found along the upper right side with nothing on the top and left sides. A 3.5mm headset jack and the microUSB port are found on the bottom.
The back is covered in a non-slip material with a leather feel and indentations all over it. It feels great in your hand and is quite thin at less than half an inch. I am very impressed with the hardware design and find it much more comfortable to hold and use than my HTC Flyer. The Kindle Fire now feels a bit thick and chunky in comparison and the Nexus 7 competes with the Galaxy Tab 7.7 in design.


The Nexus 7 is the first tablet to launch with Android Jelly Bean that includes several new features like Google Now, enhanced notifications, and Project Butter improvements. Google Now is slick, but seems much more useful to me on a smartphone that always has a connection and I am not convinced I will use it that much on the Nexus 7 with only a WiFi connection.
Google uses a dynamic home page where the most recently opened/used content appears so you can quickly jump back into it. You have five displays to use for placing shortcuts and widgets, but I missed how to add widgets at first because tapping and holding on the display just allows you to change wallpaper. You have to go to the App launcher and then tap Widgets up top (or swipe from right to left a few times) and then tap and drag widgets to the home screen. You can tap and drag shortcuts onto each other to easily create folders of apps and then rename them, such as for Games or Reading. In terms of the OS, it doesn't get much better on Android. You will not find any extra manufacturer or carrier bloatware on the Nexus 7 as this is a pure Google experience.
Several Google apps are loaded into the ROM and cannot be removed. These include Gmail, Chrome, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Talk, Gallery, Play Movies, Play Books, Play Magazines, Play Store, Play Music, Google Currents, Google+, Google Wallet, and YouTube. I was very pleased to see that Chrome was loaded by default as the web browser. I am not a fan of Currents, but I cannot remove it from the device at this time. You do get $25 in Google Play Store credit after you sign in on your device and the first time you enable Google Wallet's prepaid card you get $10 in credit there as well. BTW, when my Nexus 7 arrived I just had to enter my password as my Gmail account name was already entered.
Exchange email is supported natively in Jelly Bean and looks similar to the Gmail client, check out the screenshot in my image gallery. There really is not much more loaded than the Google apps and utilities so you have plenty of room to load up your favorite apps. Then again, there are not nearly as many apps for Android tablets as there are for the iPad. You should also be well integrated into the Google ecosystem to get the full advantage of the Android tablet.
Play Movies looks fantastic on the Nexus 7 and you will notice that Google gives you Transformers: Dark of the Moon for free when you buy the Nexus 7. It is not preloaded so you have to download it. I rented and watched Dune to test out Play Movies and enjoyed the experience. If you plan to download movies or TV shows on a regular basis then make sure to pick up a 16GB unit. My 16GB unit shows 13.24GB available out of the box and with a couple movies, several apps and a couple of podcasts I already have consumed nearly 6GB.
The icons in the Play Store are quite large and I find that many apps I load up are simply blown up phone apps with very few appearing to be really optimized for tablets. I did find that Pocket is optimized, but Facebook, Twitter, and many others are just the phone apps. My banking app won't even install on the Nexus 7 as I get a warning that it is not compatible with the device. Hopefully now that Google has their own tablet they will work to get more 3rd party applications optimized for larger displays.

Final first thoughts

In most all respects, the Nexus 7 is a better small tablet than my HTC Flyer. Unfortunately, I am experiencing a quality issue and need to get mine replaced. I look forward to having a small portable tablet that gets the latest and greatest Android updates. It's funny to see so many people getting excited about 7 inch tablets as if there has never been a small tablet before. I've been a fan of the 7 inch form factor for a while since you can put the tablet in your jacket pocket, or even your pants pocket, and carry it wherever you go while large tablets like the iPad remain at home or in a gear bag.
If you are considering a Nexus 7, then I highly recommend you pay the extra $50 for the 16GB model. Remember you get $25 in Play Store credit, the newest Transformers movie, and $10 in Google Wallet credit with the Nexus 7 purchase so the value is excellent.
See also: Jason's Perlow's How to make your Nexus 7 not suck
UPDATE: I spent about 30 minutes on hold waiting for Google Play support, but after they came online they were very helpful and speedy at processing my replacement. They said they have been getting other calls on the screen separation issue and that early devices apparently had some issues, but replacement devices have better quality (this is just a customer reps words, not official Google statements). Anyway, the customer rep was extremely friendly and helpful and I was told I would be getting a call back to confirm my address so they can ship out my replacement. I really do like the Nexus 7 and look forward to having one without a display problem.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Google Shopping Incites 2nd Amendment Row by Removing Guns from Search

Google Shopping Incites 2nd Amendment Row by Removing Guns from Search
Google announced back in May that Google Product Search will be replaced by Google Shopping, meaning a number of changes would be on the horizon for Google’s dedicated corner for online merchants. However, Google recently sent a letter to merchants of firearms and weapons that have listings on Google Shopping telling them that the sale of weapons will not be permitted through Google. “We do not allow the promotion or sale of weapons and any related products such as ammunitions or accessory kits on Google Shopping,” the Google Shopping Team wrote. “In order to comply with our new policies, please remove any weapon-related products from your data feed and then re-submit your feed in the Merchant Center.”
Do you feel that Google is entitled to make these sorts of decisions and prohibit the sale of certain items on Google Shopping? Who should dictate what’s acceptable and unacceptable to sell on the site? Tell us what you think in the comments.
Naturally, proponents of the 2nd Amendment are up in arms (hah) about Google’s decision to limit or prohibit the sale of firearms through its Shopping site. A petition has been posted on that implores Google to “not interfere with our 2nd amendment rights…” and so far has collected over 300 signatures.
In light of Google’s announcement, searching for weapon-related terms on Google Shopping reflects this policy as you will no longer get any results from most of those searches.
For example, a search for “bullets”:
Google Shopping Bullets
Or “ammo”:
Google Shopping Ammo
While specific terms related to firearms produce exactly zero results, strangely, a generic search of “guns” gave me millions of results (and these were pretty serious guns, too):
Google Shopping Guns
Additionally, I received some more shopping results when I searched for knives, arrows, crossbows, grenades (that do simulated explosions) (which actually included grenade launchers in the results, as well!), and uzi. Even searching for the plainly generic “weapons” gave me a few gun sights and at least one gun. So it doesn’t look like Google has exactly put a wholesale ban on the sale of firearms or firearm-related accessories (or other explosive stuff) – at least for now. Who knows if these results will get cleaned up so as to not offer any sorts of weaponry as the full implementation of Google Shopping takes place this fall, or if merchants’ weapon wares will be forcibly removed by Google should the sellers not comply.
As an aside, Google’s limitation on what kind of weapons you can buy isn’t limited to things you shoot. A search for non-lethal weapons like “stun gun” returned zero results, which makes this all the more confusing. To see the full list of what weapons are prohibited from promotion and which are acceptable, take a look at Google’s Advertising Policies, which are allegedly the guidelines being used for Google Shopping now.
While gun enthusiasts will, and perhaps logically so, take umbrage to Google’s removal of all weaponry listings on Google Shopping, Google isn’t really beholden to any consumer expectations. It’s a corporate business that makes whatever decisions it wants and we the consumers are simply using it by choice. Google is no more required to allow a space for merchants of bullets or shotguns to sell their products on Google Shopping than is a flea market required to allow anybody to set up a table and sell baseball cards if those flea market owners (for whatever reason) don’t agree with the values of baseball. If the private market you’re trying to use to promote your business doesn’t like you, you have little choice but go somewhere else.
More, Google isn’t prohibiting the search listings of weapons; this only (so far as I know) applies to Google Shopping. It’s still just as easy to go to and search for “9mm ammo” and – presto – find many listings of websites that are selling this particular ammunition.
However, I anticipate that not being able to search and purchase weapons on Google Search will affect merchants more than consumers. This will relegate sellers to compete among general Google search rankings instead of being able to minimize the field of competition at Google Shopping. As Google says itself on the Google Shopping (née Product Search) page, “Product Search connects your products to the shoppers searching for them, helping you drive traffic and sales to your store.” If anything, especially if you’re an exclusively online vendor of guns or other weapons, I’d imagine that the diminished site traffic to a business’ page would be more immediately incendiary than Google Search simply no longer allowing the commercial sale of weapons. If anybody wanted to make some kind of legal case about this issue, I tend to think that a more convincing argument could be made that Google Shopping’s new policy harms small businesses than it diminishes citizens’ right to bear arms.
In the end, though, the plausibility of taking this charge to court doesn’t seem favorable because, as mentioned, this is Google’s world and we just live in it. Google was asked for comment regarding the policy change to Google Shopping and the subsequent petition of the decision but it has yet to reply as of this time.
For what it’s worth, Bing Shopping returned beaucoup results for “ammo” (and “9mm ammo”), “bullets,” and “shotgun.” Maybe Bing and Microsoft should start touting their gun-friendly search results among the NRA so as to gain a little more on Google’s lead in search?
Is this more of a free market issue or a 2nd Amendment issue? If you’re an online merchant that will be affected by Google Shopping’s policy change, do you plan to try selling your products elsewhere (like Bing or eBay)? Do you think this is a bad sign for business owners who use Google Shopping? Please share your reactions below.

One in five Microsoft logins are in hands of hackers

About 20 percent of Microsoft Account logins are found on lists of compromised credentials in the wake of hack attacks on other service providers, the company has said.
People re-use passwords and login details across services from different providers, Microsoft Account group manager Eric Doerr noted in a blog post on Sunday. That reuse means that if one set of logins is compromised, other accounts are at risk.
"These attacks shine a spotlight on the core issue — people reuse passwords between different websites," said Doer, speaking after the Yahoo breach last week that exposed 400,000 user details. "On average, we see successful password matches of around 20 percent of matching usernames."
Doer revealed the figure in a run-down of some Microsoft Account security practices, meant to reassure customers after the Yahoo hack. Microsoft Account is a single sign-on tool for Microsoft services such as SkyDrive, Hotmail, Xbox and Messenger.
Comparing lists
Microsoft regularly gets lists of compromised third-party login details from ISPs, law enforcement and vendors, as well as from lists published on the internet by hackers, according to Doerr. This information is checked against Microsoft login details using an automated process to check for any overlap. While 20 percent is the average, in one recent breach it was only 4.5 percent, said Doerr.
After a hack attack on another provider, Microsoft monitors its user accounts to see if they are being used to send spam. If it sees signs of criminal activity, it suspends the account, and the affected customer has to go through an account recovery process before being able to log in again.
If Microsoft suspects, but is not certain, that there has been a breach, it will ask customers to reset their passwords.
The company also uses behavioural monitoring technology similar to that used by banks to log patterns of access and location, to see if an attempted login is suspicious. The technology can block the attempt, or ask an additional identity question to decide whether to grant access.  
Tightening security
The Microsoft Account team is working on tightening up security, Doerr said. The current 16-character limit on password length is set to increase, to make brute force attacks more difficult, for example. However, Microsoft is having problems making passwords longer because of its ecosystem, he noted.
"Unfortunately, for historical reasons, the password validation logic is decentralised across different products, so it's a bigger change than it should be and takes longer to get to market," Doerr said.
Yahoo, Gmail, Hushmail, Yandex and MyOperaMail all allow passcode lengths of 30 characters, as one Microsoft account holder, MondayBlues, pointed out in a comment.
Doerr noted that people using SkyDrive device-synchronisation software and buying products on are required to use two-factor authentication. Microsoft is working on implementing this security measure in more products and services, he said, but did not specify which.

Five challenges for Yahoo's new CEO Marissa Mayer

Mayer has been serving as vice president of Local, Maps & Location Services. However, even though she has been with the Mountain View, Calif.-based enterprise since 1999 when she joined as Google's 20th employee,  The New York Times reports that she wasn't on track to be elevated to a C-level executive.
Taking that into account, it wouldn't be a surprise that Mayer was looking to move up elsewhere.
While it is a major milestone for her career (not to mention she's joining a growing list of female CEOs at Silicon Valley powerhouses), Mayer is defintiely going to hit the ground running at Yahoo. She starts Tuesday.
When Scott Thompson stepped into the CEO role at Yahoo earlier this year, ZDNet's Larry Dignan outlined five big challenges that Thompson would have to address.
Given Thompson's rather scandal-ridden departure over his resume just a few months later, the challenges at Yahoo have not changed -- with the exception that they might be worse.
Here's what has been left on the plate for Mayer to address:
  1. Relevance: Yahoo has fallen behind in search, but it keeps trying to play up the digital media company angle. One of these needs to grow in order to make Yahoo relevant to the general public again.
  2. Innovation: As an executive coming in from Google, the pressure is going to be on for Mayer to apply whatever she's learned with the Internet giant and apply it in a whole new way for Yahoo's benefit. Given Google's reputation for thinking outside the box and resolving big problems in simple ways (most of the time), let's hope she can bring some of that magic to Yahoo.
  3. Definition: This ties in with relevance, but Yahoo needs to rebrand itself. Originally a search giant itself, even a partnership with Microsoft's Bing hasn't really dented Google's market share. Based on comScore figures from June, it looks like only Bing is getting anything out of this dea. Mayer is going to need to rework how the Bing deal could benefit Yahoo -- or just move on to the digital media angle entirely.
  4. Content: Yahoo has been stepping it up with original digital media content, but perhaps the Cupertino, Calif.-based company should ramp up its entertainment partnerships to really get this moving along and feed content in more quickly.
  5. Morale: The only major tech companies where morale might be lower would be RIM and AOL. Yahoo, however, still has a lot more potential to turn itself around. However, Yahoo has gone through a handful of CEOs in the last few years, and the last three (Jerry Yang, Carol Bartz, and Thompson) have all left on uneasy terms, to say the least. Is the Yahoo CEO job cursed? Unlikely...unless you believe in that sort of thing.
Mayer commented lightly in prepared remarks about her future gig, "Yahoo!’s products will continue to enhance our partnerships with advertisers, technology and media companies, while inspiring and delighting our users. There is a lot to do and I can’t wait to get started."