Microsoft teaches you how to inspire confidence in the cloud

Subject: General Tech | October 31, 2013 - 12:53 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, azure, office 365, fail

For the better part of yesterday a good portion of Microsoft's Azure was down across the globe, with no geographic location left unaffected.  Azure is not only Microsoft's cloud storage service but also handles authentication for Office 365 and hosts the Exchange servers used by the new office suite.  Thankfully it was not a complete outage but the scope of the problem is quite worrisome, Microsoft has always claimed that Azure is partitioned geographically to prevent these types of global outages; their FTP service also failed during this outage adding credence to the lack of partitioning and possibility of cascading failures.  A failure of this magnitude on a business critical service is quite worrying but allowed The Register to give us a new term, "Blue Sky of Death".

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"Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud was hit by a worldwide partial compute outage today, calling into question how effectively Redmond has partitioned its service.

The problems emerged at 2.35AM UTC, and were still ongoing as of 10.20PM UTC the same day, according to the company's service dashboard."

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Source: The Register

Time to give up on programming applications for Skype?

Subject: General Tech | October 25, 2013 - 01:19 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, skype, API

If you have used third party software to bring extra functionality to Skype like call recording or integrating the ability to integrate in a non-standard way then you better enjoy it now as you only have until December before you are cut off.  At that time Microsoft will be blocking access of all third party apps to Skype which will break not only your own applications but will reduce Skype's compatibility with some headsets.  You can follow the link to the Change.org petition that is in The Inquirer's coverage of this decision.

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"ANGRY DEVELOPERS, a breed not unlike Angry Birds but without the desire to fling themselves at naughty pigs, have started a petition asking Microsoft to withdraw its plan to switch off the desktop API for Skype."

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Source: The Inquirer

Things that make you go hmmmm, NVIDIA edition

Subject: General Tech | October 7, 2013 - 01:46 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, linux, microsoft, open source

If you haven't heard the accusations flying over the possible scenarios that lead up to Origin PC dropping AMD cards from all their machines you can catch up at The Tech Report.  They keep any speculation to a minimum unlike other sites but the key point is the claims of overheating and stability issues, something that apparently only Origin has encountered.  If they had stuck with mentioning the frame pacing in Crossfire and 4K/mulitmonitor issue it would be understandable that they not sell AMD cards in systems designed for that usage but dropping them altogether is enough to start rumours and conspiracy theories across the interwebs.  Winning a place in the Steam Machine was great for NVIDIA but at no time did they imply that AMD was unworthy, they merely didn't win the contract.

Today some oil was tossed on the fire with the revelation that NVIDIA is specifically limiting the functionality of its hardware on Linux.  Just after we praised their release of documentation for Nouveau, their open sourced driver, we find out from a post at The Inquirer that NVIDIA limits the number of monitors used in Linux to three so as not to outdo their functionality in Windows.  For a brief moment it seemed that NVIDIA was willing to cooperate with the open source and Linux communities but apparently that moment is all we will have and once again NVIDIA proves that it is willing bow to pressure from Microsoft.

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"According to a forum poster at the Nvidia Developer Zone, the v310 version of the drivers for Basemosaic has reduced the number of monitors a user can connect simultaneously to three."

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Source: The Inquirer

Microsoft's Azure cloud qualifies as secure

Subject: General Tech | October 1, 2013 - 01:14 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, azure, cloud, DoD, secure

Microsoft just picked up a big win in their battle against IBM and Amazon for a share of the Cloud now that the US Government has certified them as being secure.  This is their first such certification which opens up a very large market for them and will make them more attractive to private firms as well.  While most salespeople will tell you that the only thing that matters about the cloud is high availability, IT departments are far more concerned about security.  High availability is assumed, if that is the only sales pitch a cloud provider gives you then you should probably stay away from them, your clients will be much happier knowing their proprietary data is secure and available as opposed to just available.  Slashdot commenters await you.

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"Microsoft's cloud storage platform Azure received their first government certification yesterday, less than 24 hours before the official shutdown. The certification, which grants Azure 'Provisional Authority to Operate,' should make it easier for Microsoft to compete with rivals like IBM and Amazon Web Services for government contracts. The certification signifies that the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and US General Services Administration have all deemed Azure safe from external hackers. Government cloud contracts are a lucrative market, as seen by Amazon's recent tussle with IBM over a $600M contract for a private CIA cloud."

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Source: Slashdot
Manufacturer: Microsoft

If Microsoft was left to their own devices...

Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting 2013 set the stage, literally, for Steve Ballmer's last annual keynote to investors. The speech promoted Microsoft, its potential, and its unique position in the industry. He proclaims, firmly, their desire to be a devices and services company.

The explanation, however, does not befit either industry.

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Ballmer noted, early in the keynote, how Bing is the only notable competitor to Google Search. He wanted to make it clear, to investors, that Microsoft needs to remain in the search business to challenge Google. The implication is that Microsoft can fill the cracks where Google does not, or even cannot, and establish a business from that foothold. I agree. Proprietary products (which are not inherently bad by the way), as Google Search is, require one or more rivals to fill the overlooked or under-served niches. A legitimate business can be established from that basis.

It is the following, similar, statement which troubles me.

Ballmer later mentioned, along the same vein, how Microsoft is among the few making fundamental operating system investments. Like search, the implication is that operating systems are proprietary products which must compete against one another. This, albeit subtly, does not match their vision as a devices and services company. The point of a proprietary platform is to own the ecosystem, from end to end, and to derive your value from that control. The product is not a device; the product is not a service; the product is a platform. This makes sense to them because, from birth, they were a company which sold platforms.

A platform as a product is not a device nor is it service.

Keep reading to see what Microsoft... probably still cannot.

Office 365 might not be great for enterprise but for BYOD it is looking interesting

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2013 - 01:24 PM |
Tagged: office 365, microsoft, Android

While Enterprise admins are less than impressed with the new Office 365 model and the changes that are required to their environments to make this new product function correctly many SMBs, students and home users have a lot to be happy about.  Device sharing is going to be a big thing, with one license allowing you to use Office 365 on a variety of the devices you own.  Support on NVIDIA's Shield is still a rumour but compatibility with Android phones is much closer to reality.  There are workarounds you need to put into place in order to make most Android phones function correctly, which The Register kindly linked to in their article and you will need to hunt down the originally released Microsoft installation file which they have pulled but you will be able to use Office 365.  Hopefully you won't be trying to write long dissertations on your phone but reading and editing are quite possible.

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"Unlike the video editing or CAD workstation beasts that are still utterly reliant on Windows, Android is slowly evolving into a workable platform for basic productivity."

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Source: The Register

Windows 8.1 Coming October 18th As Downloadable ISO and Retail DVD SKUs

Subject: General Tech | September 18, 2013 - 07:53 AM |
Tagged: Windows 8.1, Windows 8 Pro, windows 8, microsoft

Microsoft has been developing Windows 8.1 over the summer, and the free update to Windows 8 is almost ready for consumers. Set for official release on October 18, Windows 8.1 will be available as a downloadable ISO and physical DVD in retail packaging. Microsoft will offer up Windows 8.1, Windows 8.1 Pro, and a Windows 8.1 Pro Pack (which upgrades an existing Windows 8.1 install to Pro).

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The new operating system will be available as full version software, which means that users will not have to upgrade from an earlier version of Windows. The asking price gets a full retail key which can be used on its own to install Windows 8.1 or Windows 8.1 Pro in a VM, a new system build with no prior OS, or in a dual boot environment. As far as installation and upgrade options, users will be able to perform upgrade or clean installs using the installation media. Microsoft recommends that Vista and XP users backup all files and perform a clean install of both the OS and applications. On the other hand, the company has encouraged Windows 7 users to go through the update process where users will be able to keep personal files. However, even Windows 7 users will have to re-install any applications that do not come bundled with Windows. Users that are already running Windows 8 can grab the free update and safely do an in-place install/update to Windows 8.1 from the Windows Store.

If users have OEM machines that come pre-installed with Windows 8.1, they will be able to add on the Pro features (including being eligible for Windows Media Center) by purchasing the Pro Pack upgrade rather than needing to purchase a full Windows 8.1 Pro download or DVD.

The various Windows 8.1 flavors will be available on October 18th. The base Windows 8.1 will cost $119.99 while Windows 8.1 Pro will cost $199.99. The Windows 8.1 Pro upgrade pack will be available later this year following sometime after Windows 8.1's launch for $99.99. Note that these are prices for users without prior licenses. Users that are already running Windows 8 can upgrade to Windows 8.1 for free.

For comparison, full versions of Windows 8.0 and Windows 8.0 Pro were $99.99 and $139.99 at launch respectively.

Will you be upgrading to Windows 8.1?

Source: Hexus.net

IFA 2013: Toshiba Launches 8-Inch Tablet Running Windows 8.1

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 9, 2013 - 03:14 AM |
Tagged: Windows 8.1, toshiba, tablet, skype, microsoft, Intel, ifa 2013, Bay Trail, atom

Toshiba has launched a new 8-inch tablet called the Encore at the IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin) consumer electronics show in Berlin, Germany. The upcoming tablet is an 8-inch device measuring 10.68mm thick and weighing 479 grams (~1.06 pounds). It runs the full version of Windows 8.1 and is coming in November.

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The Encore has an 8-inch 1280 x 800 multi-touch HFFS display surrounded by a shiny black bezel. There is a 2MP webcam, Windows button, and Toshiba logo on the front face. The back of the tablet has rounded edges and corners. It has a silver-colored finish and houses another Toshiba logo and an 8MP main camera. In addition to the webcam, the Encore tablet has stereo speakers and two microphones (for noise cancelation). IO includes a Micro SD card slot, micro HDMI video output, and micro USB interfaces.

Toshiba has opted for Intel's latest Bay Trail Atom SoCs to power its 8-inch Windows tablet. Specifically, Toshiba has packed a quad core Bay Trail SoC, 2GB of system memory, 32GB of internal storage. Internal sensors include a gyroscope, accelerometer, and GPS. Further, the Encore features a dual band 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi radio. According to Toshiba, the tablet exhibits "exceptional battery life," but beyond that the company has not released exact numbers.

The Encore will come with Windows 8.1 pre-installed along with Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 and Xbox SmartGlass. Naturally, user-accessible internal storage will be limited due to the size of Windows 8.1. Luckily, users will be able to add additional storage via a Micro SD card. The tablet is Skype certified, as well.

The Toshiba Encore tablet will be available for purchase in November for $329.

Source: Hexus.net

Windows Server 2012 R2, now featuring a clipboard shared across VMs

Subject: General Tech | September 6, 2013 - 01:26 PM |
Tagged: servers, windows server 2012 R2, microsoft, nifty, RDMA

If you play with VM's in a Windows environment you have probably gotten quite good at using FTP as that was the easiest way to copy files or even text between two or more of your virtual machines.  No more will you need to do that as the new version of Windows Server will have a shared clipboard allowing you to copy and paste not just text but also files between your VMs.  They will still limit you to 64 virtual CPUs but they did add Remote Direct Memory Access which offers a huge boost in speed to your machines and for doing live migrations.  Check out more at The Register.

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"If you want to see a TechEd audience break into spontaneous applause – and here I am one-hundred-percent serious – give them something that they really care about. Like a shared clipboard. The people running virtual servers really did interrupt Benjamin Armstrong, Microsoft Hyper-V program manager, to applaud the simple act of being able to cut and paste text or files between VMs."

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Source: The Register

Microsoft buys Nokia, the second largest maker of cell phones

Subject: Chipsets | September 3, 2013 - 03:08 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, nokia, windows phone, purchase, billions

At a mere $7.2 billion, Microsoft just picked up all of Nokia's devices and some of their software in an attempt to streamline production and win market share from Apple and Android devices.  Nokia tends to be the manufacturer that people think of when they think of Windows phones, with HTC a close second.  The current market share of Windows phones is minuscule and for that matter so is Nokia's; what might not be clear from some of the stories you have been reading is that Nokia has a large share of the phones currently being manufactured.  As you can see from the Reuters graph below they are actually second only to Samsung in terms of manufacturing, this existing infrastructure may help Microsoft greatly as they structured as a software company ... Surface being the exception that proves the rule. 

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From Reuters

The Inquirer believes this could mean a resurgence of competing mobile OS designs, with Google owning Motorola it seems likely that Samsung and HTC are going to want to diversify their lineup of phones even though Google has suggested they will not provide preferential treatment to Motorola.  Microsoft may still provide licenses to HTC but with this major change you can expect the rumours of HTC developing a mobile OS to become verified as well as a lot more news on Tizen, Samsung's home grown OS.  Blackberry could be doomed at this point, with nothing unique to offer in the way of secure connectivity now that they have moved to ActiveSync and dated hardware they are reduced to a niche market consisting solely of those who want a physical keyboard on their phone.  This purchase is as painful to Finland as the death of BlackBerry will be for Canada.

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The other interesting part to this story is the return of Stephen Elop to Microsoft as he only left them in 2010, previously he headed their business software division.  You can follow the odds on his likelihood of taking the reins from Ballmer by following the link from this article; Stephen has tossed hardware across a room so he is certainly qualified.  If he did take over Microsoft it would signal a 'mobile first' mentality which might help sales of Win8 on mobile devices but would not bode well for the desktop users.  If he is not placed in charge of the entire company it would likely mean that we will see him head a mobile division while someone else handles a desktop OS.  That has not worked well for Microsoft historically, we shall see in the coming months which direction the company chooses.  Hopefully they will remember they sell a server OS.

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"MICROSOFT SURPRISED NO ONE on Tuesday when it announced that it picked up Nokia's devices unit and licensed some of its software for a cool £4.6bn in cash. While many see the deal as two struggling companies merging for a final shot at success, we think the deal should have Apple and Google worried."

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Source: The Inquirer