Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Microsoft, Nokia plan mobile Office deal

Posted by Ina Fried on 11 Aug 2009

Microsoft is expected on Wednesday to announce a partnership with European mobile giant Nokia to help get its Office software onto that company's mobile phones, CNET News has learned.

With the next version of Office, Microsoft is trying to expand its desktop hold on the productivity market into one that spans the PC, Web, and phone, and this deal is seen as a significant move in that last category.

The software maker has already said that, with the next version of Office, it plans to offer browser-based versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote. Those programs will be able to run inside Safari and Firefox in addition to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. That means that Office, for the first time, will run on Linux-based machines.

On the phone side, Microsoft has shown the ability for Office 2010 documents to be displayed on a variety of mobile phones. So far, the only phones that have their own native versions of Office have been those running Microsoft's Windows Mobile software.

Microsoft is looking for ways to strengthen its Office franchise into one that maintains its relevance and market share even as the PC becomes just one of many devices people use to access their information. Office is also vital to Microsoft's fiscal health, with much of the company's profits still coming from Windows and Office.

Microsoft released a technology preview of the PC-based Office 2010 applications in July, although it has yet to start publicly testing the browser-based versions. The final version of Office 2010 is due next year.

Although Nokia and Microsoft have long been rivals in the phone business, the two have also struck deals at times. Nokia already has a license that allows its phones to connect to Exchange Servers using Microsoft's ActiveSync protocol. In 2007, Microsoft also struck a deal with Nokia to have Windows Live services run on the Finnish company's phones.

The deal comes even as Microsoft is trying to figure out how to keep its Windows Mobile operating system in the game amid stiff competition from Nokia in Europe as well as Apple's iPhone, RIM's BlackBerry, and an emerging threat from devices running Google's Android operating system.

Expanding Office to other mobile devices may help that business, but at the same time takes away one of the areas where Windows Mobile had a leg up on rivals--its direct compatibility with Office.

Update: The two sides aren't talking details, but they have confirmed a press conference on Wednesday to discuss an alliance. It will start at 8 a.m. PT and CNET will have live coverage.

Also, as TechFlash's Todd Bishop points out, Microsoft's Mac Business Unit has scheduled an announcement for Thursday. Do you think we'll see Office for the iPhone this week?


Monday, August 10, 2009

You Must Obey: The Unwritten Laws of Technology

"Fix a computer for a friend or family member, and you'll be tech support for life." This is but one of 35 immutable laws of technology that we've identified and recorded for posterity. There will be a test."

PC World Staff, with assistance from our Facebook friends and others..

Tech Law Frustration Gordon Moore has one law but we've got him beat. Here at the (unofficial) Tech Law Brain Trust, we maintain a definitive, ever-expanding archive of the laws that govern your technology experiences--whether you know it or not. Please scan these lists to ensure that you are in compliance.

Basic PC Laws

Let's start with Nerve Central--the computer.

Law 1: For every fix that a Windows Update patches, the update will break two more things on your PC. --Darren Gladstone, PC World

Windows Update HellLaw 2: The likelihood that Windows will automatically install time-sucking critical updates is directly proportional to your need to get your PC started. --Steve Fox, PC World

Law 3: The hard drive always fails just before you were going to back it up. --Denise Paolucci, Dreamwidth Studios via Help A Reporter Out (HARO)

Law 4: Your data will get corrupted just before you plug in your new backup external drive. --Darren Gladstone, PC World

Law 5: Your backup plan is only as good as your last successful restore. --Michael Fisher, via HARO

Law 6: The number of USB ports on your Mac will always be one less than you need at any given time. --Blair Hanley Frank, Macworld

Law 7: Feeling time pressure to make a computer fix quickly will cause you to take longer. --David Marshak, via PC World Facebook page

Law 8: If you close the PC case with screws before testing, it won't work; If you test before closing, it will. --Harry Liebman via HARO

Tech Support Rules

Now that you've mastered the basics, you're ready to move on to Tech Support.

You ARE the Tech Support!Law 1: Fix a computer for a friend or family member, and you'll be tech support for life. --Danny Allen, PC World

Law 2: Build a computer for someone, and he/she owns you! --Louis Farbstein, via PC World's Facebook page

Law 3: Recommend a product that you've used with no problems, and the friend/family member who buys it will immediately descend into RMA [product return] hell. --Scott Keck, via PC World's Facebook page

Law 4: Show any handy IT skills at work, and your company's IT department will start referring difficult coworkers to you. --Lars Jacobsen, via PC World's Facebook page

Law 5: If it's broken and you call tech support, it will fix itself while you're on hold. --Brenda Christensen, Public Relations, via HARO

Internet Ordinances

You can find a world of trouble online. For instance...

Keep your friends close...

Law 1: Within a month of agreeing to be "friends" with your boss on Facebook you will regret it, big time. --Tom Spring, PC World

Law 2: The crappier the Web site, the sleazier (and sketchier) the ads. --Tom Spring, PC World

Captcha drives us nuts!Law 3: When entering "Captcha" verification codes on a Web site, you'll always type in the numeral 1 when the site wants a lowercase L, and a capital O when the site wants the number 0. --Steve Fox, PC World

Law 4: Just before taking out the boss in a WoW raid, your Internet connection will die. --Nick Mediati, PC World

Law 5: The difficulty involved in redeeming a rebate is directly proportional to the dollar value of the rebate. --Tom Spring, PC World

The kitten did it.

Law 6: A nasty draft e-mail will always find its way to the (unintended) recipient. --Brian X. Chen

Precepts of Mobile Tech

Desktop technology isn't the only source of inevitable woe in your life. All those shiny mobile devices can cause pain, too, since the freedom of untethered technology doesn't extend to immunity from rank on rank of frustrating unalterable laws. We report 10 master Mobile Laws here.

Law 1: The charger for your current cell phone will not work with the next cell phone you buy. --Kimberly Brinson, PC World

Law 2: Your laptop's charger weighs half of what your laptop weighs. --Darren Gladstone, PC World

Battery life ebbing.

Law 3: A laptop battery will drain at twice its normal rate whenever you leave home without your power cord. --Kimberly Brinson, PC World

Corollary: Your laptop's battery life is inversely proportional to the amount of work you need to get done on a single charge. --Blair Hanley Frank, Macworld

Law 4: Your iPod or iPhone will be on its last burst of power just as the plane door shuts. --Anne B. McDonald, PC World

Law 5: A replacement battery charger will cost 70 percent of the original purchase price of the device. For phones, the figure is 140 percent! --Robert Strohmeyer, PC World

Law 6: Your cell phone will inevitably break before your two-year contract is up, forcing you to overpay for a new, less-cool model. --Lauren Barnard, PC World

Law 7: The proprietary charging plug (cost to produce: 50 cents) for your device will disappear within two weeks and will cost you $40 to replace. --Darren Gladstone, PC World

Law 8: On any vacation, the memory card for your digital camera will be safely lodged in the card reader on your desk at home. (And the camera's proprietary battery will be dead, with the charger sitting next to the card reader.) --Anne B. McDonald, PC World

Soft drinks are also bad for PCs.

Soft drinks are also bad for PCs.

Law 9: A cup of coffee on your desk is guaranteed to render your laptop utterly useless. --Nick Mediati, PC World

Law 10: Your MagSafe adapter will always come unplugged precisely when you need to charge your Mac laptop's battery. --Nick Mediati, PC World

Software Statutes

Finally, if entanglements with hardware principles don't leave you bound and gagged, there are always software standards to render you helpless.

Law 1: Your software provider's online support pages contain explicit instructions for troubleshooting every conceivable problem--except yours. --Mark Sullivan, PC World

Law 2: Nine times out of ten, tinkering with your Registry to fix a system issue will create a new problem that's more severe than the original. --Travis Van, ITDatabase via HARO

Law 3: Ten times out of ten, downloading a spyware product will create hidden processes/services more insidious than the original malware/adware encroachment you set out to stop. --Travis Van, ITDatabase via HARO

Do Not Enter!

Graphic: Diego Aguirre

Law 4: The performance increase you can expect from running a Registry cleaner can be calculated as z(n + y), where n is the number of Registry entries cleaned, y is your system CPU's clock speed in gigahertz, and z = 0. --Robert Strohmeyer, PC World

Law 5: The larger the number of people who want your iPhone app, the likelier Apple is to reject it. --Nick Mediati, PC World

Law 6: iTunes will crash. That's it. No, really. --Darren Gladstone, PC World


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Google's Schmidt resigns from Apple board

Posted by Caroline McCarthy on 3 August 2009

In a move that comes as little surprise, Apple announced Monday that Google CEO Eric Schmidt is resigning from its board of directors.

"Eric has been an excellent Board member for Apple, investing his valuable time, talent, passion and wisdom to help make Apple successful," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in the release. "Unfortunately, as Google enters more of Apple's core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS, Eric's effectiveness as an Apple Board member will be significantly diminished, since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest. Therefore, we have mutually decided that now is the right time for Eric to resign his position on Apple's Board."

Schmidt had been on Apple's board for almost exactly three years, since August 2006.

In May, Google confirmed that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was planning to hold discussions concerning potential conflicts of interest related to Schmidt's presence on both companies' boards of directors. Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, said at the time that Google did not believe there was a problem with the situation.

Schmidt has said repeatedly that he recused himself from Apple board discussions pertaining to areas in which the companies' interests overlap--the iPhone, for example, given Google's work on the Android operating system for smartphones. But the similarities grew more difficult to reconcile when Google announced the development of its Chrome operating system, which will compete directly with Apple's OS. (The companies already own competing Web browsers, Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome.)

Last month, Schmidt said that he was planning to discuss the future of his role on Apple's board given the advent of Chrome OS.

More recently, potential competitive turf became evident when Google's third-party applications for the iPhone--which comes preinstalled with Google Maps--started to get well-publicized scrutiny from Apple. Google's location-aware service Latitude, for example, has been restricted to a Web-based app rather than an installable one, and a Google Voice telephony app was outright rejected by Apple.

Last week, a report surfaced that the Federal Communications Commission had sent letters of inquiry to Apple, Google, and iPhone carrier AT&T concerning the blocked app.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Behind Microsoft-Yahoo: The Online Economics of Scale

Posted by by Steve Lohr on 30 July 2009

In their persuasion assault on Wednesday, Carol A. Bartz and Steven A. Ballmer repeatedly explained the Microsoft-Yahoo deal using a term from classical economics: “scale.”

“What this deal is really about is scale,” Ms. Bartz, the chief executive of Yahoo, said in the morning conference call with analysts and journalists, adding that advertisers, consumers and the two companies themselves would all benefit as a result.

Mr. Ballmer, the Microsoft chief, said during the conference call that in Internet search “scale drives knowledge,” which, in turn, fuels innovation. That was his shorthand description of what he said was the particularly powerful “feedback loop” in search and search advertising.

In traditional economics, scale typically refers to the efficiency gains that result from size. These observations were originally applied, and measured, in industrial markets. In high-technology markets, like software and the Internet, scale advantages can sometimes behave as if on steroids — faster and stronger. The mechanisms include the feedback loop Mr. Ballmer described and “network effects,” the concept that a technology or online marketplace becomes more valuable the more people use it.

Microsoft’s Windows operating system is the textbook case of a supercharged scale technology. The more people use it, and the more developers write software applications to run on Windows, the more valuable it is to everyone in that technology ecosystem.

Just how powerful the scale economics and network effects are in Internet search is a subject of considerable debate among economists, antitrust experts, investors and business executives. In the conference call, Mr. Ballmer seemed to be suggesting that the snowballing effects of scale in Internet search were even stronger than in operating systems.

But understatement is not Mr. Ballmer’s first instinct. So in an interview after the conference call, I asked him if that’s what he meant. “In my view, scale is more important in this business than any other technology business I know,” he replied. Which helps explain why Mr. Ballmer has long been so intent on getting hold of Yahoo’s search traffic, one way or another.

The Microsoft-Yahoo partnership will now have nearly 30 percent of the search market. In Microsoft’s thinking, that figure may well be significant. David Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard business school, and co-author with Michael Cusumano of M.I.T. of an insightful book on the browser wars, “Competing on Internet Time: Lessons from Netscape and Its Battle with Microsoft,” pointed out that the 30 percent threshold has been important to Microsoft’s strategy in the past.

In 1996, Microsoft’s goal in catching Netscape was to move from about 5 percent to 30 percent share of the browser market in a year. “The view inside Microsoft was that until you got to 30 percent, you weren’t credible in that market with business partners and developers,” Mr. Yoffie said.

There is another dimension of scale behind the deal, according to Murthy Nukala, chief executive of Adchemy, a Silicon Valley startup that uses statistical models, advanced data mining and machine learning to help target online advertising.

The pursuit of “data scale” in search, Mr. Nukala said, fueled the Microsoft partnership. The data-scale benefit, he added, comes from more than just generating more search traffic, though sheer volume is crucial.

A key challenge in search, he explained, is estimating the likelihood that a given user will click on a particular ad from a certain advertiser. In the search world, this problem is called “pCTR estimation,” for probability of click-through rate. The ranking algorithms for search advertising, Mr. Nukala explained, incorporate not only the price per click an advertiser is willing the pay, but also the estimated click-through rate (calculated by applying clever algorithms and machine learning to vast quantities of query data).

“It is well understood,” Mr Nukala said, “that as pCTR estimates improve, the quality of ranking is better, which leads to higher revenue per search.”

It is also important to understand, he added, that the click-through estimates do not improve merely proportionately as search traffic increases but by something more like an exponential multiplier. Presumably, that is the sort of thing Mr. Ballmer had in mind when he said “scale drives knowledge.”

Mr. Nukala concluded, “I believe that ‘data scale’ drove the strategic imperative and the structure of the deal.”


Friday, July 31, 2009

What does the Microsoft-Yahoo deal mean?

Posted by Tom Krazit on 30 July 2009

With a few strokes of a giant purple pen, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and Yahoo's Carol Bartz finally signed a deal Wednesday that will turn Microsoft into the second-largest search company in the world, and turn Yahoo into a media-driven advertising broker.

Here's a breakdown of the deal from the perspectives of the key players:


What it gets: Yahoo is paying below market rate for an outsourced search engine: Microsoft will pay Yahoo 88 percent of future search revenue, a better ongoing deal than had been expected, according to IDC.

It gets a guaranteed stream of search revenue for 18 months, and it gets to sell all the search ads on both Yahoo and Microsoft properties. And it gets to save money, one of the highest priorities for Bartz and new Yahoo CFO Tim Morse: the company estimated it will save $200 million in capital expenditures and see an overall benefit of $500 million in operating income.

What it loses: The ability to control its own destiny when it comes to search, still the most profitable sector of online advertising by a large margin. Yahoo's search revenue is now tied to the performance of Bing for 10 years, an eternity in the Internet world, and 88 percent of something is less than 100 percent of something.

What's next: Probably another reorganization, and another wave of departures as talented search engineers weigh their options among Microsoft, Google,, and start-ups.

Expect rosier earnings calls where Bartz can point to the cost savings from the deal, and the evolution of a long-term plan for the company that doesn't involve dumping businesses.


What it gets: Far more search market share in one day than it could have hoped to obtain from organic Bing growth -- no matter how much people may like it -- over several years. All of Yahoo's search technology is now available to Microsoft to pick and choose what it might want to use on Bing.

And Microsoft also avoided having to make an upfront payment to take control of Yahoo search, as had been rumored for months leading up to the deal and hinted at by Bartz herself, claiming "boatloads of money" would be needed to pry Yahoo search away from the company.

What it loses: Relationships with advertisers on search ads, although it preserves its display ad sales operation...for now. Otherwise, Microsoft seems to have emerged from this deal pretty clean.

What's next: Heated search competition with Google, which only means the two companies have even more reason to detest each other.


What it gets: Time. This deal will take months, if not years, to complete, and it will be a messy integration process. Google sales representatives likely called up all of their major clients this morning to remind those clients of the uncertainty that will accompany the integration process, and the notion that their ad dollars might be better spent with the more stable operation.

Google also gets to deflect some of the antitrust scrutiny that has been directed its way by pointing out that a combined Yahoo-Microsoft search property has a very healthy share of the market.

What it loses: The ability to play Yahoo and Microsoft search off one another: fractured competition meant it would have been much harder for either company to make serious inroads against Google on their own. It also turns Microsoft into a credible technology threat with Microsoft's right to pick and choose the best of Yahoo's search technology developments and match them with the well-received Bing.

What's next: Business as usual, for now. Google never had any intention of ceding its search lead before this deal was announced, and while there's arguably more pressure now to live up to that promise over the next several years, it's not anything that wasn't expected in Mountain View.


What they get: A credible second option for their ad spending, assuming ad spending ever becomes trendy again amidst the current economic backdrop. They're also in store for a renewed pitch on the benefits of Internet display advertising, which probably still doesn't resonate on Madison Avenue but may one day start to make sense for the Internet advertiser.

What they lose: The relationships between advertisers and the two companies will likely grow very complicated over the next several months as those used to working with certain representatives transfer their business to new faces. Those problems aren't insurmountable, but they can be annoying.

What's next: If the ad market ever comes back, renewed competition in search advertising for keywords, placement, and reach.


What they get: "Powered by Bing" search results on Yahoo pages.

What they lose: Usually, consolidation is seen as bad for consumers--take banks as an example -- because it reduces choice.

What's next: The consumer impact of this deal is not obvious, especially not at this point with so many details left to be hammered out. One could argue that if Yahoo wasn't really committed to search, consumers would see better search results over time on Bing-powered Yahoo pages. And there are indirect benefits to consumers that come along with having advertisers that aren't chained to one search engine.

But this is really about freeing up Yahoo to focus more on its other businesses, and giving Microsoft more market share to force Google into playing defense on search, which could alleviate some of the pressure Google is putting on Microsoft with things like Google Apps and Android.

It will take some time for the impact of these decisions to filter down to the consumer: assuming the government gives the deal its blessing.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Microsoft-Yahoo: A Rival for Google?

"The deal, if approved by antitrust regulators, could give the Internet search giant a viable competitor. Advertisers are optimistic"

So Microsoft (MSFT) got its wish. Thanks to a long-awaited deal with Yahoo! (YHOO), the software giant is poised to become the clear No. 2 in the most lucrative Internet market of them all: search. Under the agreement, Yahoo will use Microsoft technology to respond to searches made on Yahoo sites and to serve up the ads that appear alongside the results. If the deal is cleared by antitrust regulators, which is no sure thing, Microsoft will triple its search market share to nearly 30% and become the only meaningful alternative to Google, which holds 65% of the market.

The deal casts Microsoft in an unfamiliar role. The software maker that drew fire for years for its allegedly anticompetitive behavior now must prove itself an effective force for competition against Google (GOOG). Advertisers and online publishers want a viable alternative to the search titan. But analysts question whether Microsoft can avoid losing ground as it implements the complex Yahoo partnership, which could take two years, and afterward come up with real innovations in the business. "We can't afford a hiccup on this," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in an interview.

There is cause for optimism. Microsoft's Bing, the search engine it launched two months ago, is a hit, having begun to gain market share. And by combining Bing's search with Yahoo's, Microsoft will get more data about Web surfers' behavior to refine its technology.

A Much Larger Audience

Just as important as answering Web surfers' queries is delivering the ads that appear next to them. That, after all, is where Microsoft will make its money. Although the company's adCenter technology works reasonably well, many advertisers haven't bothered to use it, because it couldn't deliver as many eyeballs as Google could. Since all ads on Yahoo sites now will run though adCenter, advertisers using the system will be able to reach a much larger audience than in the past. "If you're an advertiser, you're going to be able to triple your reach overnight," says Robert Murray, chief executive of digital ad agency iProspect.

Advertisers are willing to give Microsoft a chance. Some complain Google's dominance has led to a lack of innovation and excessive costs for advertisers. "We think a formidable competitor is going to put some pressure on Google's model," says Chris Paradysz, CEO of ad agency PM Digital.

Ballmer negotiated tough terms with Yahoo. While analysts had expected he would have to spend $1�billion or more to get Yahoo to throw in the towel on search, Ballmer won't pay anything up front and will only have to cover the expenses of taking over Yahoo's search operations, an amount he says is "a few hundred million." That's a bargain, especially since Microsoft once offered $48 billion for all of Yahoo.

Microsoft has long struggled against Google. Now Ballmer is gaining substantial ground in his pursuit. "Microsoft doesn't necessarily get it right the first time," says Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. "But by God, you can't beat 'em on persistence."


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Microsoft Forges 3 New Security Tools

Posted by Richard Adhikari on 28 July 2009

"Organized crime, disorganized crime, petty theft, fraud -- the Web has it all, and combating it requires and ever-evolving set of tools. Microsoft offered some details on three new security projects at the Black Hat security conference. It also unveiled the progress it's made with some of the projects it announced at last year's event."

Despite the best efforts of the computer security industry, hackers are launching more attacks than ever. In turn, members of the industry are working together to combat the threat. In line with this, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) on Monday unveiled some new tools at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, Nev.

These include Microsoft Security Update Guide, Project Quant, and Microsoft Office Visualization Tool.

All are available for free download.

Microsoft also issued a report on how several programs to combat hackers, announced at Black Hat last year, are shaping up.

The Growing Threat

Spam is surging to unprecedented levels, and only last week hackers launched a massive campaign to co-opt free online storage and services to their ends.

This campaign was tracked by security vendor AppRiver. Spammers were creating accounts on Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) , LiverJournal and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Groups through an automated process that broke these sites' CAPTCHA defense, according to AppRiver security analyst Troy Gill.

CAPTCHA is a test which requires anyone trying to create an account to key letters and numbers shown in a box on the page into a capture field. Up until recently, this would screen out software that automatically created accounts on public sites, because the software could not read and key in the letters and numbers, but that barrier seems to have been overcome.

Spammers want to automate the creation of accounts on public Web sites, as that speeds things up and lets them hit more people in less time.

"We're in a dire situation where 15 to 20 percent of all packets on the Internet are bad stuff," David Perry, global director of education at security firm Trend Micro, told TechNewsWorld.

"We don't just have organized cybercrime, we have every kind of crime, panoply of crime."

Microsoft's New Tools

To fight that crime, newer and more sophisticated tools are needed. One of these is Microsoft Security Update Guide, one of the three tools Microsoft released today. It outlines Microsoft's resources, processes and practices surrounding its security release process.

The second one is Project Quant. This is an open community project that lets IT develop a cost baseline for updates.

The third is Microsoft Office Visualization Tool, which helps customers better understand and deconstruct Microsoft Office-based attacks.

All three are necessary, according to Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group. "Most of the market is being managed almost part-time, and the Security Update Guide would be very helpful," he said.

Qant lets users figure out what it costs to deal with a security threat and the cost of the alternatives, which may include upgrading to a newer technology. While it could lead them to select a non-Microsoft alternative, that's the risk Microsoft has to take, Enderle said.

Coping With the Problem

A paper titled "Building a Safer, More Trusted Internet Through Information Sharing," released at Black Hat, outlined Microsoft's views on security.

"Cybercrime continues to grow ... but a safer online experience can only be realized when customers, the industry and the security and privacy community work together," the paper stated.

Microsoft's Active Protections Program supplies Microsoft vulnerability information to security software customers, and a total of 45 companies around the world have joined up so far.

Microsoft Vulnerability Research, another program, shares security expertise with third-party software vendors.

However, these efforts represent only bandages, and more needs to be done, Trend Micro's (Nasdaq: TMIC) Perry said.

"Eventually, we'll have to jack up the Internet and replace it or build something over it or under it," he explained. "Every time we knock out the supports from under a structure that supports the majority of criminals, we force them to evolve. We call that civilization. My hope is that the bad guys become so civilized that they can't be the bad guys any more and become the good guys."