Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Group Policy Setting Reference for Windows Vista RC1

This Excel sheet published by Microsoft lists all Group Policy Settings of Windows Vista RC1 with a short description. This is rendered even more useful since you can search within the file for settings. (There are about 2500 settings within this sheet.)

Group Policy Settings Reference Windows Vista

Sunday, November 26, 2006

No Shutdown Switch for Office 2007

Microsoft Corp. has no plans to add a controversial Windows Vista antipiracy feature directly to its Office 2007 suite, but will consider offering it as an add-on system, the company said Tuesday. In an e-mail through its public relations firm, Microsoft said although it has not built its Software Protection Platform (SPP) into Office 2007, it is considering adding it to its Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) Program.

OGA is meant to be a validation system that checks if a user has a legitimate copy of the software.

Windows Vista's SPP feature requires users to activate the software with a valid activation key within 30 days of purchasing the OS. If that does not happen, the OS goes into reduced functionality mode, which lets users browse the Web for an hour before the system logs them out. To browse more, users must log in again, but they will only have another hour before the process repeats itself.

Microsoft Office 2007 does have a product-activation feature that acts similar to SPP, but it is not based on validating the legitimacy of the software and it is not new to the application, Microsoft said. Office has had a product-activation feature since Microsoft Office 2000 SR1. Product activation requires the system to be activated with a product key after being started 25 times. If it is not, the application will go into reduce functionality mode.

Microsoft is going to make validation checks for Office 2007 mandatory for users of Office Update through its OGA program. Starting in January, users of Office Update will have to validate that their Office software is legitimate before they can use the service.

OGA is a sister program to Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), launched in July 2005 as a program that automatically checks a user's version of Windows to ensure it is not counterfeit or pirated. WGA evolved into SPP becoming an inherent part of Vista.

Microsoft's antipiracy checking systems have been unpopular from the start, meeting with some resistance from users. WGA was especially unpopular at first when early bugs in its checks were tagging legitimate software as counterfeit or pirated.

Microsoft also was forced to turn off a notification feature in the WGA that sent information to Microsoft from users' PCs when some complained that the feature was acting like spyware.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Sony PlayStation 3 Dissected

What do you do if you have one of the first few thousand PlayStation 3s in the US?
A little more than a year ago I was one of the lucky few outside of Microsoft to see the inner workings of an Xbox 360. This weekend I had the chance to once again delve into the inner workings of a truly next-generation console.

Like the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 console comes in two flavors identified mainly by the hard drive capacity: the low end model contains a 20GB hard drive and the high end model contains a 60GB hard drive. Additionally, the 60GB version also contains an 802.11b/g adaptor for wireless internet connectivity, a flash memory reader and chrome finishes. Today we will mostly focus on the 60GB version. There are other contractors working on supplying the PlayStation 3 components, but virtually the entire console is assembled by Asustek - the same guys who make several of the Apple MacBooks.

Read the full The Sony PlayStation 3 Dissected article.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Microsoft’s Vista and Office 2007: bad news for pirates

Can Microsoft’s latest anti-piracy protections really stop the Vista and Office 2007 pirates, or will pirates finally have to walk the plank?

Efforts to stamp out piracy have been with computers since it became possible to make a copy of a program and run it on another computer successfully. Anti-piracy software, code wheels, license keys, hardware dongles and more all failed in some way, either through the use of a master key code, a crack that turned trial software into the full version, removed the check for dongles, or somehow picked the lock of anti-protections.

But now that almost all computers and an increasing array of electronic devices are almost permanently connected to the Internet, or can be wirelessly Net connected in just a few seconds, anti-piracy features that are delivered and updated over the Internet are starting to change this forever.

Copies of Vista and Office 2007 installed from a friend’s CD or DVD will need a valid license key within 30 days or will enter into a ‘reduced functionality mode’, severely limited the ability to use the software. This is actually nothing new, with XP and Office 2003 already having these features for years.

But with the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) and the nearly 18 month old Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) program in full swing, even if pirates are able to ‘crack’ copies of Vista and Office 2007 to work without activation, if you want to get Vista and Office updates, you’ll be subjected to a Genuine Advantage check. If you don’t pass, you don’t get updates.

With Vista, it might get more serious that than. The Software Protection Program (SPP) may kick in and give you nothing but a browser screen and Internet access (if it’s already automatically on), and logging you out after an hour. You can keep logging in every hour, but with only access to one browser window, you’ll need to make your software legitimate, either by buying a license key online there and then with a credit card, or loading a licensed copy of Vista from DVD.

That’s what already happens after 30 days with Vista if you haven’t activated your copy, but if Microsoft could detect that your copy was pirated with some kind of crack, they could easily get this to activate immediately or with very little warning.

If that happens to pirates, they won’t be very happy, and what will ensue is a tit-for-tat war between pirates and Microsoft, with the pirates breaking the protections and then Microsoft identifying the pirate copy and the cycle starting again, virtually ad infinitum like a guerrilla war.

It’s Microsoft against not only the software pirate ‘rebel’ insurgents, but all those other companies offering free, cheaper or just different alternate versions, like Mac OS X against XP and Vista, Corel’s Wordperfect Suite against Office or Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets against office.

And as Microsoft is planning to license the SPP system to other companies, some of whom are building their own version of the same thing, it’s going to get a lot harder for the pirates to use their pirated software in peace. There’s also always the chance that the WGA or OGA systems are malfunctioning or hacked, and your legitimate copies are flagged as pirate copies, with this already happening earlier on during the WGA program.

But if this happened on any scale again, Microsoft would theoretically scramble to fix it as quickly as possible, especially if it was widespread, as news would leak and people would report problems to journalists if they didn’t get any positive action to fix the problem.

With much of the world’s software empires having some form of pirate user base, with Windows and Office being two big examples of software that has always been highly pirated, people used to using Microsoft software free of charge to save a few bucks will either have to put up with older versions, actually pay for a licensed copy, try a free or a cheaper alternative, or play the piracy game with Microsoft and the software coders that try to get around the protections.

The goal of a PC on every desk, while not globally fulfilled with billions yet to use a PC, has been nevertheless so successful that it has still given Microsoft billions of dollars in revenues and profits, while giving users all kinds of new capabilities even if they were intertwined with the occasional Blue Screen of Death.

One school of thought says that Microsoft would sell hundreds of millions more copies if only the software was cheaper – imagine if Windows Ultimate was only US $99. Why wouldn’t you buy it? At US $399, and $759 in Australia, it’s not hard to imagine why pirates might want to avoid paying. But in a free market, a company is free to charge what it chooses, with competition providing the incentive to keep prices low.

But even with free operating systems and alternate office suites, browsers and plenty of other free or inexpensive software out there, Microsoft is still the people’s choice with a 90%+ installed user base.

Yes, part of the user base was made up of pirate copies, but that helped, over the years, to turn Microsoft software into the most widely used standard. Of course, hundreds of millions of legitimate sales did that too, with Microsoft reaping rich rewards and becoming the world’s No.1 software company.

Now that most users are connected to the Internet, Microsoft can enforce the licensed use of their software much more easily than ever before. If you’ve pirated in the past and want to keep on using Microsoft’s latest software, well... this time around, you might just find yourself paying, whether by buying retail copies, or getting Vista and Office pre-installed (at much cheaper rates than boxed retail copies when subtracted from the cost of the hardware) on a brand new desktop or laptop PC.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Adobe threatens Microsoft over Office 2007 PDF feature

Adobe's chief executive officer Bruce Chizen told the German magazine Euro that his company is providing the EU commission information about Microsoft's plans to offer the capability to export documents to PDF files in its upcoming Office 2007 package. However, the executive did not rule out the possibility that Adobe will sue Microsoft over the feature.

Chizen was careful in phrasing explicit threats against Microsoft, but mentioned that Adobe is considering its options. Illegal behavior of Microsoft could be answered with a direct lawsuit or collaboration regulators, which Chizen said Adobe is pursuing at this time. He mentioned that Adobe will leave the decision about further action to the EU Commission "for now." He did not deny the possibility of a future suit against Microsoft in the interview.

Microsoft and Adobe have been arguing over the PDF export for some time. Back in June, Microsoft said that it would pull support for saving documents in PDF and XPS (XML Paper Specification) formats from Office 2007. A plug-in to export files to PDF and XPS, however appeared on Microsoft's website in early September and was updated on November 8. According to Microsoft, the software can export the formats from all Office 2007 applications, including Access 2007, Excel 2007, InfoPath 2007, OneNote 2007, PowerPoint 2007, Publisher 2007, Visio 2007 and Word 2007.

Office 2007 is scheduled to become available for business customers on November 30.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Microsoft introduces newest software at Kingston launch

TECHNOLOGY giant Microsoft Corporation yesterday launched the 2007 versions of its flagship software products Windows, Microsoft Office and Exchange Server at the Jamaica Pegasus in Kingston, two weeks ahead of the United States.

The new products, Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 were released in trial packs as part of the company's business productivity platform and promise to "deliver better results faster". Similar launches are to take place throughout the Caribbean and Central American region as well as other areas around the world and on November 30, the product will be made available to Microsoft's business customers worldwide.

Retail consumers will not be able to access the software until January 2007.
In a demonstration seminar at the Kingston launch, the new software - much-improved beta versions of Windows XP, Microsoft office suite 2003 and Exchange - were described as "intelligent", "results-oriented" and "sophisticated". All three packages offer new features to help organisations simplify the way people work with each other, to find information quickly and easily, to protect and manage content, and to ultimately reduce IT costs, Microsoft said.

Windows Vista features an easy-to-use interface which makes finding information a breeze. Tool bars have been replaced by 'ribbons' and icons on these 'ribbons' give previews of documents, again rendering tasks super easy. Another unprecedented feature of the new beta software is searching for a programme or document using the desktop search tool as opposed to searching through an entire directory.

With Office 2007, the emphasis is on visual appeal and on increasing efficiency. Information runs within different applications and open programmes are presented in a trendy 3-D format. Minimised programmes running in the task bar can also be previewed with a touch of the mouse, thereby eliminating the need to open each one in a search situation.

Exchange Server 2007 includes such security and cost-saving enhancements as a built-in protection to improve the reliability of e-mail, tools to help reduce the cost of running messaging environments and a data protection component which prevents hackers from getting into systems hosted by the Exchange Server.

Even Microsoft Outlook benefited from a make-over. The new version features the user's mailbox folders, a selected message, calendar and 'to do' list, among others, all in one single view.

Microsoft's representatives are pleased with the new products and in a release issued by the office in the Caribbean and Central America, are quoted as saying: "We are meeting our innovation goals with the introduction of our flagship products - Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007. "..These three products are easy to use as well as easier to distribute, adapt and manage. (They) connect and integrate with the software, technologies, devices and services that organisations and their partners use or might deploy in the future".

Speaking with the Observer after the launch, Microsoft's territory manager for the western Caribbean and Jamaica, Joe McKinson, said there were great benefits to be had from the new software.

"What it will do is to reinforce and enhance our (Microsoft's) position in the IT industry," he said.

"The new products will make the organisations more efficient from a productivity standpoint. There will be ease of communication, there will be less things to do to get a task done and organisations can now position themselves to be more productive, more efficient and better able to position themselves in the world of work where there is a focus embracing technology," McKinson said, in addressing the benefits to businesses.

He said the corporation's decision to host a launch in Jamaica was testimony to the fact that the technology available here is on par with that of first-world countries, including the United States.

Minister of state in the Ministry of Industry, Technology, Energy and Commerce, Kern Spencer, in addressing the launch, reiterated Jamaica's technological readiness when compared to other countries.

"Today Jamaica is ranked 54th in terms of network readiness in the World Economic Forum's Global Information Technology Report which covered some 115 economies worldwide. In that regard, we are number one in the Caribbean region," Spencer told the group of business and IT bosses.

"Our goal in the ministry is to always be on the cutting edge of technology in keeping with our vision for Jamaica to be the centre of ICT activities in the region. Although the pace is not as fast as we would like, there is no doubt that we have come a far way in a relatively short space of time," said the junior minister.

A Better Search: Google, Yahoo And Microsoft To Use The Same Index Tool

If the Internet is a treasure chest of information, search tools are the skeleton key you need to open the lid. And the number of search tools you have at your disposal will have a direct bearing on exactly how much information you can unearth. The fact is that the commonly-used search tools such as Google, Yahoo, and Live Search are limited by the very fact that they attempt to catalogue and index so much.

But this situation may change after in their effort to better index the web sites Google, Yahoo and Microsoft decided to team up and use the same tool, called Sitemaps. The tool, initially developed by Google, is a easy way for webmasters to inform search engines about pages on their sites that are available for crawling. In its simplest form, a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site. Sitemaps are especially important if a site uses Macromedia Flash or JavaScript menus that do not include HTML links.

Also any company that manages dynamic content and a lot of web pages can benefit from Sitemaps. For example, if a company that utilizes a content management system (CMS) to deliver custom web content – (i.e., pricing, availability and promotional offers) – to thousands of URLs places a Sitemap file on its web servers, search engine crawlers will be able discover what pages are present and which have recently changed and to crawl them accordingly. By using Sitemaps, new links can reach search engine users more rapidly by informing search engine "spiders" and helping them to crawl more pages and discover new content faster. This can also drive online traffic and make search engine marketing more effective by delivering better results to users.

The three companies have launched a site that explains the Sitemap protocol and how to generate the Sitemap XML files.

The first version of Sitemaps, Sitemaps 0.84, was introduced by Google in June 2005. Yahoo and Microsoft will use an updated version Sitemaps 0.90.

In August this year, Google has launched called Webmaster Central, for better communication with site owners and Google Sitemaps has been renamed as Google Webmaster Tools.

"Now, website owners will be able to go to one place for alerting the search engines to their web pages, something they have been requesting for some time", said Tim Mayer, director of product management at Yahoo Search.

"Windows Live Search is happy to be working with Google and Yahoo on Sitemaps to not only help webmasters, but also help consumers by delivering more relevant search results so they can find what they're looking for faster," said Ken Moss, general manager of Windows Live Search at Microsoft. "I am sure this will be the first of many industry initiatives you will see us working and collaborating on."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

AMD Discontinues Low-Cost PC

Chip-maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc. has quietly discontinued a money-losing line of low-cost PCs aimed at helping customers in developing countries get access to the Internet, according to a regulatory filing.

The Sunnyvale-based company rolled out the Personal Internet Communicator - a machine designed by AMD and that used AMD processors but was built by an outside contractor - in 2004 as part of a campaign by Chief Executive Officer Hector Ruiz to get more of the world's population online.

The device, which cost $249 for the computer and a 15-inch monitor, initially was sold in India, Russia, China, Mexico and Brazil. Despite the low price, AMD said it intended to make a profit on the item.

But the company said in a filing last week with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it stopped making the machine after it failed to generate significant sales and many of the units were returned.

AMD blamed nearly $16 million in operating losses for the first nine months of 2006 on write-offs related to PIC products, according to the filing.

In a statement late Monday, AMD noted continuing partnerships with the One Laptop Per Child nonprofit group, which is researching ways to build $100 laptops for the world's poorest children, and Microsoft Corp., which is working on pay-as-you-go computing.

"(W)e are expanding what we started with the PIC, developing new business models and new technologies that will be introduced in emerging markets," the company said.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

November Patch Tuesday To Come with 6 Fixes

Microsoft's most recent Security Bulletin Advance Notification indicates that the company will release six patches during its regular Patch Tuesday cycle, which happens Nov. 14. All of the patches have been tagged as "critical," with one affecting Microsoft XML Core Services and the others affecting Windows.

It's unknown whether the XML patch will fix a flaw for a zero-day exploit that was reported by security firm Secunia, Inc. in a bulletin issued Nov. 2. That vulnerability specifically targets the XMLHTTP 4.0 ActiveX Control. According to a security advisory, Microsoft is aware of hackers already carrying out exploits; the company doesn't say whether a fix will be part of the Patch Tuesday fixes or an out-of-cycle patch.

Microsoft also updated an advisory, originally issued on Oct. 31, regarding a WMI Object Broker control flaw that affects developers building projects with Visual Studio 2005. There's no indication on the Advanced Notification whether a fix for this will be included in the forthcoming patches.

Five other flaws affect Windows in general; no specific details were provided for them. The bulletin also specifies that the security roll-up will include updates to Microsoft Update, Windows Update and Software Update Services, Windows Server Update Services and its Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Microsoft bullish on new OS Vista

DESPITE mixed views from market watchers, Microsoft Corp remains bullish about its latest operating system, as it believes there is pent-up demand for Windows Vista's (Vista) technology and solutions.

In February, Mike Sievert, corporate vice-president for Windows Client marketing told attendees of a Merrill Lynch conference that the software giant expected 200 million new personal computers (PCs) to ship with the new operating system (OS) in the first two years.

Sievert, who was in Malaysia recently, maintains his expectations for Vista.

“Our market is so much larger now than five years ago when we introduced Windows XP (XP). We expect Windows Vista to be the fastest-adopted OS in our history,” he told StarBiz.

He acknowledged that the adoption rate of XP was slower that what the company would have liked it to be. This, he said, was because XP was introduced just one year after its predecessor Windows 2000.

“Windows 2000 was positioned as a major improvement for users of Windows NT and Windows 98 and XP came right on the heels of it. Many people perceived XP as a consumer oriented release when really, it had great benefits,” he said.

Sievert said the uptake for XP picked up after the release of Windows XP Service Pack 2.

“When we got to the fundamentals of what users was struggling with – things like security and reliability of the system – deployment of XP started to accelerate.

“This time we've had a longer gap and plenty of improvements to XP. It has been more than a decade since the Windows OS platform has undergone a revision of this magnitude,” he said.

Despite analyst comments that businesses were nervous about integrating Vista’s security features with legacy systems, Sievert assured that security was at the core of the new OS.

“Businesses are struggling with many issues, particularly safety and security of the computing environment from malware (malicious software) and protection of sensitive and confidential data,” he said.

He stressed that with Vista, security, stability and reliability had been the priority from the very beginning of the development cycle.

“For the past one and a half years we have had thousands of customers involved with us, some as beta testers and some on the technology adoption program.

“They have been able to put Vista's security features under hard trials in a variety of real world environments, different mix of business applications, network structures and hardware and this gives us a lot of confidence as we are weeks away from introducing Vista to the business community,” he said.

Another area of concern for businesses, according to Sievert, was the cost and complexity of managing networks of PCs.

He said Vista was developed to help organisations reduce the cost of deployment, management and support while offering users simplified ways of working, finding, using and sharing information.

“Deployment has traditionally been one of the biggest cost factors associated with owning and operating a network of PCs.

“We have introduced a new application compatibility toolkit much earlier in the development process to allow businesses to discover whether existing applications running on their networks were fully compatible with Vista,” he said.

In addition, Vista had been “componentised”, allowing administrators to set up components of Vista and deploy those settings to desktops throughout the network, Sievert said, adding that these features would dramatically reduce the complexity of the deployment cycle in a business environment.

Sievert said Vista contained more than 500 new group policy objects, which empowered businesses with greater control over their network set up.

“In the past, it was very hard to set group policies that provide users the flexibility they needed.

“Users have different needs – some need to install software, others attach devices. We have been able to overcome this paradox and offer users the flexibility they need with the new group policy manager in Vista,” he said.

He added that support in Vista had also been made more efficient. “One of the things we did was to enhance diagnostics throughout Vista.

“If something happens to a PC, administrators can collate the diagnostic data of the unit and find out what was happening at the time the PC started to experience problems.

“This real time information can be used to root out problems within the network and for other users before they run into it,” he said.

Last Wednesday, Microsoft declared Vista completed and set for release to manufacturing to PC and device manufacturers to finalise work on their products and applications.

Vista would be released to volume licence customers by end November, followed by worldwide availability on Jan 30, 2007.

Microsoft Malaysia will be hosting a preview of Vista, Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Exchange 2007 for business and technical professionals tomorrow.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Microsoft Confident Running Vista without Anti-Virus

Executive claims built-in security features are good enough

Despite Microsoft's operating systems being the main target for hackers to engineer exploits in security, Microsoft's Platforms and Services Division head Jim Allchin said in a conference call, listened into by bit-tech, that he has no problem allowing his son to run Vista without additional anti-virus security.

Um, the rest of the world might not agree with you there, Mr. Allchin, but he points towards the extensive Parental Controls and "Address Space Layout Randomization," which modifies certain Windows components in an attempt to patch security holes that would otherwise affect all Vista users.

Still, Allcin admits the theory won't hold up until Vista's public release. "But I need to say the following: Windows Vista is something that will have issues in security, because the bar is being raised over time. But in my opinion, it is the most secure system that's available, and it's certainly the most secure system that we've shipped. So I feel very confident that customers are far better off by using Windows Vista than they are with anything that we've released before," he said.

Please don't run Vista without an anti-virus, kids. You aren't public relations people.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Take A Test Drive Of Microsoft's Virtualized Server Software

Windows Server software is available in a virtualized format for what Microsoft is calling its Test Drive Program.

Microsoft is taking a step toward the world of virtualized software products by making Windows Server 2003 Release 2 Enterprise Edition available in virtualized format for what it's calling its Test Drive Program.

Microsoft announced its VHD (virtual hard drive) Test Drive Program on Tuesday at VMworld 2006 in Los Angeles, the third annual user group meeting of virtualization vendor VMware.

SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition Service Pack 1 is also available for download off Microsoft's site as a virtualized file. And early in 2007, Windows Vista will be made available for similar, 30-day trails. The goal is to let potential customers evaluate and test the products more quickly, without requiring an on-premises server set-up, says Mike Neil, Microsoft's senior director of virtualization.

The software will be made available in Microsoft's virtual hard disk format, meaning the operating system and database have been captured in a single file along with the virtual operating system of Microsoft's Virtual Server. Customers may take the file and "load it quickly in a virtual machine instead of needing hours or days to configure a physical piece of hardware and install the software," says Neil.

Microsoft is not using the latest general release of its Virtual Server software. Instead its packaging Virtual Server Release 2, Service Pack 1, a beta version, for the downloads. Because of that, the virtualized files will be able to take advantage of the virtualization hooks, or shortcuts allowing direct access of CPU hardware instead of going through the operating system, that have been built into the latest Intel and AMD chips, Neil says. The result is higher performance for its Virtual Server virturalization engine.

Microsoft is making the same virtualized files available to independent software vendors building Windows applications. They too will be able to distribute their products in the VHD virtualized file format, ready to run in a virtual machine without further configuration. Partners expected to start distributing products in VHD format by the end of the year include BEA Systems, Check Point, Network Appliance, and Platespin.

Although just a preliminary step, the move brings Microsoft and its partners into closer accord with a practice of producing "software appliances," or single file combinations of operating system, database, and application that are configured to run together without much system administrator intervention. The "appliances" are showing growing popularity in among Linux users because of the time and cost savings associated with them. VMware technology partners, for example, produce over 300 appliances using Linux.

By putting together its own virtualized, downloadable files, Microsoft has moved much closer to the software appliance approach. It's training its partners in the practice as well. By lifting the 30-day time limit, they too would be offering appliances for quick download and adoption.

Microsoft now gives away its Virtual Server virtualization engine. Over the last 11 months, it has experienced about 500,000 downloads, Neil says.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Microsoft Office 2007 Review

Microsoft Office 2007 packs more improvements into the world’s leading application suite than any previous upgrade. For most users, the big question isn’t whether to upgrade but when. Experts, beginners, and corporate users all get major benefits from the upgrade. The only downsides I could find are minor ones that will probably disappear in the first service pack. Once you get past the few minutes needed to navigate the new Ribbon interface, you’ll wonder why Microsoft waited so long to get so many things right. The code has been released only to manufacturers. Enterprise customers should be able to download the software by November 30, and boxes should hit the shelves early next year.

Read Microsoft Office 2007 Review

Monday, November 06, 2006

Red Hat downplays Novell/Microsoft deal

In response to a recent agreement between Microsoft and Novell, Red Hat's corporate secretary Mark Webbink has predicted that Red Hat "will be the dominant player in the Linux market" a year from now, and that "by that time there won't be any other Linux players." In light of Microsoft's partnership with Novell and Oracle's ambitions of Linux support dominance, Webbink's statement doesn't seem all that realistic.

In a recent interview with Search Open Source, Webbink downplayed the new relationship between Microsoft and Novell, claiming that the two companies have "gone off the road a bit" and arguing that Red Hat's approach to Linux support and stronger ideological ties to open source will ensure eventual triumph. He points out that the agreement between Novell and Microsoft involves intellectual property licensing, which he says represents a contradiction for Novell and a deviation from the conventional values of the open source community. Webbink thinks that "Novell has fallen into the trap of allowing Microsoft to do exactly what it wants to do, which is to trumpet IP (intellectual property) solutions and promises." According to Webbink, a company "can be either for freedom and collaboration," or "a different approach," but Microsoft and Novell "are trying to do both." The interview asks some good questions, and it is definitely worth a read for those interested in Novell's agreement with Microsoft. Let's examine some of Webbink's arguments and see how they hold up to scrutiny.

Some of Webbink's arguments sound hyperbolic, but he makes some worthwhile points. Although many will dismiss his argument about freedom as mere rhetoric, it is worth noting that, in many cases, enterprise Linux adoption is heavily motivated by a desire for flexibility and freedom from vendor lock-in. Webbink is implying that Novell risks alienating customers if the company's intellectual property agreements with Microsoft lead to limited choice for end-users and decreased involvement of the open source community in Novell's projects. The argument is valid, but is it sound? There is no evidence yet that the intellectual property agreements will have any tangible detrimental effect. The arrangement has certainly created some controversy and uncertainty about Novell's intentions, but it is unclear at this point what sort of impact it will have on Novell's products.

Some are concerned that Novell has entered into this agreement in order to validate inclusion of Microsoft's intellectual property in Mono, the open source .NET interpreter. Webbink points out that community concerns have led the Free Software Foundation's legal advisor to question "whether or not [Novell and Microsoft's] partnership was in violation of the GNU Public License." Mono developer Miguel de Icaza has responded to community concerns by pointing out that the open source .NET implementation does not infringe on any of Microsoft's patents, that the product can still be safely included in other Linux distributions besides SUSE, and that Mono developers will continue to ensure that Mono never includes or infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property.

Citing Microsoft's attempts to fund SCO's legal assault on the open source operating system, many Linux enthusiasts are convinced that the proprietary software company's agenda is predatory and that its agreement with Novell reflects a divide-and-conquer strategy. While this may be true, I think it's more likely that Microsoft is responding to customer demand for Linux virtualization in a Windows environment. For Microsoft, Novell is the obvious choice for this sort of alliance because the company actively promotes broader adoption of .NET technology by financially supporting development of Mono. I think it would be naive to believe that Microsoft is interested in anything other than competition, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the company is still determined to destroy Linux. We have seen numerous changes at Microsoft in the past few years, and it is obvious that the company is at least starting to move towards open standards and interoperability.

How will Microsoft's agreement with Novell impact other Linux vendors? I think that it could give SUSE an edge in the virtualization arena, particularly in enterprise environments where users need to run virtual Linux instances on a Windows host. The partnership could also potentially make SUSE look like a safer choice for some companies that are concerned about intellectual property issues. Red Hat is combating that particular advantage by offering stronger indemnification. Ultimately, I think that Red Hat can adequately compete with Novell if the company can convince customers that its stronger commitment to open source ideals and distance from the patent minefield will provide users with more choice and greater flexibility. Will Red Hat be the only Linux distributor left in one year? Don't hold your breath—an alien invasion is probably more likely.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pressure forces Microsoft to change Vista licensing

Customer concerns over changes to Windows Vista licensing that limited a transfer of the license to only one machine have inspired Microsoft Corp. to revise the licensing policy for the upcoming OS.

Microsoft has changed the retail license terms for Vista so that customers now may uninstall the OS from one machine and install it on another as many times as they want, the company said Thursday. The new terms do away with limitations on how many new devices to which the license can be transferred.

However, to continue to discourage piracy, Microsoft has worded the license so that it is clear that users cannot "share this license between devices."

When the new licensing was disclosed several weeks ago, power users who rebuild their computers with new components several times a year or who plan to upgrade their computers more than once in the lifetime of the OS raised a fuss. They demanded clarification from the vendor about how scenarios like these would play out under the new licensing.

According to Shanen Boettcher, a Windows general manager at Microsoft, the company thinks it's come up with an answer to placate those users without encouraging software piracy, which the original change was designed to thwart.

"We think this clarification strikes the right balance," he said. Boettcher said the piracy problem has nothing to do with "the enthusiast community that was sending me e-mails," but with people who install one licensed copy of Windows on many machines and sell those to other users.

"This is a definite improvement over the original licensing terms and I'm glad Microsoft has relented," said Don Smutny, a Windows user and software developer for a large IT company in the Midwestern U.S. However, he still is not convinced there aren't other hidden complications within Vista's license that will have to be addressed later.

The change in policy will not affect consumers who purchase their Windows license preinstalled on a PC from a hardware manufacturer. No license transfers are allowed in those cases.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What is Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 is a term originally coined by Dale Dougherty and Tim O'Reilly at O'Reilly Media, Inc. to describe key characteristics of Internet companies that were increasingly thriving after the dot-com bubble burst. These characteristics have come to epitomize the current state of Web innovation.

Web 2.0 services and software emphasize the collective intelligence of the masses over the intelligence of a single expert authority and derive value through multi-user interaction rather than one-way "package and distribute" publishing. They rely on an empowered user base to facilitate rich and meaningful interaction that can be used to establish deep and viral relationships, and they provide a powerful feedback channel that allows for constant user-driven improvement.

How is Web 2.0 changing media?
Powered by the principles of Web 2.0, online communities and social networks are causing a shift in media consumption patterns away from editorially generated content to content generated by communities. This shift is happening in both the consumer space and the professional trade publishing business. These new Web 2.0 models are connecting peers, allowing them to exchange knowledge and produce information in the act of doing their jobs.

What are some examples of Web 2.0 services?
  • Professional and social networking: These services give users the tools to connect with each other and communicate. In the case of professional networking, the communication is productive and focused on achieving a specific goal in the workplace or sharing professionalknowledge.
  • Community Blogs: Short for "weblogs," blogs are online journals that readers can follow and comment on. Blogs have been characterized as a disruption to traditional media: Blogs are community-driven journals, written by members of an empowered community rather thanemployees of a publishing firm. In the professional arena, community blogs provide insights andadvice from actual experts on the front line that help other community members do their jobs more efficiently.
  • Discussion groups: These online communities allow users to communicate in threaded
  • conversations that are started when any member of the community asks a question and thenprogress towards a resolution as other members of the community respond. Professionaldiscussion groups allow users to have structured conversations that are fact-finding in nature and targeted towards specific goals such as decision making and problem solving.
  • Wikis: Wikis are Web sites comprised of interconnected pages that can be easily created and edited by any member of a community. They allow for collaborative creation, storage, and organization of information. A common use of wikis within professional communities is to serve as reference guides that reflect the collective knowledge of the community.
What are the opportunities for marketers?
Web 2.0 is giving marketers greater opportunity with consumers. Marketers can now "listen" to their customers, become part of the conversation, and communicate in ways that offer real value and workable solutions to achieve optimum ROI on their campaigns

How can marketers adapt?
Strategies and tools are emerging to help marketers become part of the community and capitalize on the shift in media consumption being driven by Web 2.0 concepts.

Online communities offer the ability to integrate advertising into the experience in a way that users respond to and interact with. An example of an innovative campaign within a community is Oracle's recent sponsorship of a blogcast at ITtoolbox. This sponsorship opportunity featured a respected blog author from the ITtoolbox Blogs program who served as a subject matter expert on a topic of interest to Oracle. In order to listen to the blogcast, interested users were required to provide detailed demographic information, which was qualified and provided to the sponsor. In addition to the tangible benefits of lead generation, Oracle was also able to integrate their brand into the valuable content being generated and consumed by the community.

In addition, the ability to hyper-target the highly specific content created by online communities helps marketers reach their target audience more efficiently. Because a community generates a high volume of content, targeting opportunities like contextual matching and demographic targeting help marketers reach an audience based on the detailed information available.

Advertisers are given the opportunity to enter the community conversation with a relevant offer based on the topic being discussed or the profile of the audience.