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Chrome gets sharp after dumping 30-year-old Windows technology

IDG News Service

Google last week said that it was finally ditching a 30-year-old technology to display fonts on Web pages in its Chrome browser for Windows.

In an announcement Thursday about some of the notable changes in Chrome for version 37, which reached Google’s Beta build channel earlier that day, a software engineer said the preview relied on Microsoft’s DirectWrite technology.

“Chrome 37 adds support for DirectWrite, an API on Windows for clear, high-quality text rendering even on high-DPI displays,” said Emil Eklund in a July 17 blog post.

Microsoft introduced the DirectWrite API with Windows 7, which shipped in the fall of 2009, and back-ported the technology to Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2) at the same time with what it called a Platform Update. Windows XP, the now-retired operating system — but one that still powers one-in-four personal computers worldwide — does not support DirectWrite.

Prior to the switch to DisplayWrite, Chrome used Microsoft’s Graphics Device Interface (GDI), which was a core component of Windows since the graphical user interface’s (GUI) debut in late 1985. Microsoft had been working on GDI for at least two years before that.

Chrome 36, the current version out of Google’s Stable build channel, continues to use GDI to render text on Windows.

Eklund said that DirectWrite had been a top user request for years: An entry in Chromium’s bug tracker — Chromium is the open-source project that feeds code to Chrome proper — about adding DirectWrite support to the browser was penned Oct. 22, 2009, the same day Windows 7 launched.

As far as a reason for the long stretch between that entry and DirectWrite support making it into Chrome, Eklund said, “The switch to DirectWrite … required extensive re-architecting and streamlining of Chrome’s font rendering engine.”

Much of that difficulty stemmed from the sandboxing — an anti-exploit and anti-crash technology — of Chrome’s rendering engine; it wasn’t until February of this year that developers reported on the bug tracker that they’d managed to get DirectWrite to work inside the sandbox.

Other browsers have long since adopted DirectWrite. Mozilla’s Firefox, for example, switched from GDI to DirectWrite with version 4, which debuted in March 2011. Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer (IE9) began using DirectWrite with IE9, which also shipped in March 2011.

DirectWrite was one of the reasons why Microsoft declined to add the then-powerhouse Windows XP to the list of supported editions for IE9, a move that made the company the first major browser developer to drop support for XP.

If all goes according to plan, DirectWrite support will reach the Stable edition of Chrome with version 37. Google does not hew to a set timetable to browser upgrades, as does Mozilla, but it typically rolls out a new version every six to eight weeks.

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Surface survives Microsoft cuts, but tablet strategy remains muddled

IDG News Service

As Microsoft announced its largest layoffs in its 39-year history — while saying it would press forward with its in-house Surface — analysts contended that the firm still hasn’t clearly stated its tablet strategy.

Earlier today, Microsoft said it would cut up to 18,000 jobs, or 14% of its work force, with the bulk of those layoffs coming from streamlining efforts after acquiring much of phone-maker Nokia.

The layoffs begin immediately, but as many as 5,000 will be left on tenterhooks for up to a year before knowing whether their jobs are safe.

Along with the layoffs, Microsoft also signaled an end to its experiment with Android, which powered the Nokia X series of smartphones. Nokia had kicked off the line prior to the deal’s completion.

“We plan to shift select Nokia X product designs to become Lumia products running Windows,” CEO Satya Nadella said in a message to employees.

Surface, the tablet-one-moment-notebook-the-next hardware that Microsoft debuted two years ago, will survive, the company made clear.

“With a set of changes already implemented earlier this year in these teams, this means there will be limited change for the Surface, Xbox hardware, PPI/meetings or next generation teams,” wrote Stephen Elop, the head of Microsoft’s device division, in a separate, much longer email to workers.

Nor, apparently, has Microsoft’s Surface strategy changed.

“More broadly across the Devices team, we will continue our efforts to bring iconic tablets to market in ways that complement our OEM partners, power the next generation of meetings [and] devices, and thoughtfully expand Windows with new interaction models,” Elop said.

While some on Wall Street have urged Microsoft to dump the Surface — and the Xbox for that matter — to focus on more profitable services and software, industry analysts contacted by Computerworld today weren’t surprised that the tablet/notebook survived the cuts.

“I’m not surprised that Microsoft is keeping Surface,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in an email today. “While it doesn’t fit 100% with ‘mobility and cloud,’ it’s close enough to keep it as it supports them driving their expanded definition of productivity by tying hardware, software and services.”

Others agreed.

“No, I didn’t think that they’d dump it,” echoed Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash. research firm that focuses on the moves of nearby Microsoft. “Some people thought Microsoft would use this opportunity to ax the Surface, but it’s a big long-term bet for them. And the Surface Pro 3 sure seems to be a lot more popular than the earlier models.”

Microsoft started selling the third-generation Surface Pro 3 – an Intel processor-powered device that runs Windows 8.1 — last month, and will finish rolling out the line in two weeks. The Surface Pro 3 starts at $799, but costs $929 with a keyboard, a necessary add-on to fit the notebook replacement role that Microsoft markets.

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The Rise of Cloud in the Channel

IDC PMS4colorversion 1 300x99 The Rise of Cloud in the Channel

Cloud services represent a growing opportunity for partners of all types in a wide array of activities across resale, services, and development. However, it’s of key importance that partners have an understanding of the what, where, how, and why of cloud services prior to embarking on wholesale business strategy change.

This IDC study, commissioned by Microsoft, examines the implications of becoming a successful cloud partner in 2013. Developed with insight garnered through in-depth conversations with leading Microsoft cloud partners and backed by supportive survey data (see methodology for further details), it provides a profile of the potential upside of integrating cloud to a partner’s mix of solution offerings.Finally, it concludes with guidance as a partner begins, or continues, their journey into the cloud.

the rise of the cloud in the channel The Rise of Cloud in the Channel

Nadella’s Microsoft is obsessed with data-driven growth hacking

CITEworld

Satya Nadella’s message to the Microsoft troops yesterday underlines the way consumerization has changed computing already: To Microsoft, everyone is now a “dual user” who uses technology for work and play. That’s two chances to lose a customer if Microsoft products don’t delight them.

To make sure that those products do delight, and do what people need, Nadella is turning to some of the tenets of Silicon Valley startups like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB, and Netflix: Data science and growth hacking.

Change agents and growth hacking

If you talk to people who work at Microsoft, you’ll have heard them use some new language this year, with phrases like “change agent” and “growth hacking.”

Getting comfortable with change and being involved in changing things is what Nadella pointed out that everyone at Microsoft is going to have to do; “Culture change means we will do things differently. Often people think that means everyone other than them. In reality, it means all of us taking a new approach and working together to make Microsoft better.” One Microsoft, as you might say.

And growth hacking is a Silicon Valley startup term that’s a lot more than just viral marketing, SEO, and A/B testing. It’s about turning product development and marketing into a virtuous, data-driven cycle where you get more users by figuring out what users do and don’t want; how they find your product and how they use it.

Josh Elman, now a VC at Greylock, tells a story about growth hacking in the early days of Twitter, when lots of people were signing up but few of them carried on using the service. Instead of emailing those users or trying to show ads to people who might be more likely to stick around, they focused on understanding what was going on.

“We dug in and tried to learn what the ‘aha’ moment was for a new user and then rebuilt our entire new user experience to engineer that more quickly.”

The key was getting people to follow other Twitter users, so they were seeing tweets they would be interested in. “As we kept tweaking the features to focus on helping users achieve these things, our retention dramatically rose,” says Elman.

His advice for growth hacking is very like Adam Pisoni’s principles for turning a company into a responsive organization (something he’s been doing at Microsoft as well as for Yammer customers). Find your heavy users who already love your product and find the features and the pattern of usage that made them into active users. Build things that attract new users — whether that’s your marketing or sharing from existing users — and make sure there’s a way for new users to get started that turns them into active users quickly. Then build more features that your old and new customers will love, and keep on going.

That means getting everyone involved in growth. Early on, Facebook had a growth team that included marketing, business development, product development, finance, and HR. It wasn’t just trying to get more users; it was behind projects like the system for importing email contacts, making Facebook available in multiple languages by crowdsourcing translations of the interface, and even creating the Facebook Lite experimental interface (a slimmed-down version of the site).

 One of the first times I heard “growth hacking” from someone at Microsoft was talking to Jeffery Snover about his “Just in time, just enough admin” toolkit for PowerShell at TechEd this year, when he compared fast releases and agile development to balancing on a bicycle. “You don’t get stability by going slowly,” he pointed out.

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Microsoft, Apple, and Google battle for the mobile enterprise

CITEworld

The past three months have seen a whirlwind of announcements for enterprise mobility. MicrosoftApple, and Google all had their respective developer conferences. It’s never been clearer: All three are positioning themselves to battle for dominance of the mobile business market.

Although BlackBerry also squeezed in an announcement about its new partnership with Amazon that will bring the Amazon Appstore to BlackBerry 10 devices, the company is struggling for relevance as consumers continue to eschew the platform. While BlackBerry will continue to be a player in high-security markets, it’s unlikely to recapture a dominant position in the overall enterprise space now that end users have much choice and control over what devices they want to use at work.

What’s interesting is that Microsoft, Apple, and Google are all approaching the enterprise market in different ways. Each is playing to its strengths.

The incumbent

Apple has already managed to secure much of the enterprise mobility market. There are many factors that led to Apple’s dominance, but some key ones include Apple’s early introduction of enterprise security features in iOS, an ongoing expansion of those features, having a more mature platform on the market sooner than Android and Windows Phone, a closed ecosystem that resists malware, and the premium user experience that has been the hallmark of Apple for the last decade or more.

Apple has another big advantage: It’s always retained complete control of iOS as a platform. Apple has strict control over the hardware, OS, and app ecosystem that defines iOS. Microsoft and Google have both relied on third parties to create devices that run their platforms. Although both companies are, in their own ways, taking some steps to rein in the platform fragmentation that this has created, minimizing the impact of that fragmentation isn’t going to happen overnight.

Even if Google’s efforts with Android L succeed in tamping down security-related fragmentation, Apple may still have an edge here in terms of end user support. There have been just eight iPhone models ever made (likely to become ten this fall) and just seven iPads. That makes things much easier for helpdesk and other support professionals to troubleshoot than the wide swath of Android devices that BYOD users may bring into the office.

Windows tablets and phones may fare better than Google from a support perspective because many IT departments already support and troubleshoot Windows PCs and transferring those support skills onto mobile devices may be easier and more efficient.

Being the incumbent in the race, Apple also has the advantage of inertia — organizations that have managed to standardize around iOS are likely to see an advantage in staying the course. Part of that is because the institutional knowledge and solutions to secure and integrate iOS are already present, which means generally lower overhead in mandating or preferring iOS over other platforms.

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As iPhone thefts drop, Google and Microsoft plan kill switches on smartphones

IDG News Service

Responding to more than a year of pressure, Google and Microsoft will follow Apple in adding an anti-theft “kill switch” to their smartphone operating systems, U.S. law enforcement officials will announce later Thursday.

The commitment will be disclosed alongside new data that shows a dramatic drop in theft of Apple iPhones and iPads after the September 2013 introduction of iOS 7, which included a kill-switch function that allows stolen devices to be remotely locked and deleted so they become useless.

In New York, iPhone theft was down 19 percent in the first five months of this year, which is almost double the 10 percent drop in overall robberies seen in the city. Over the same period, thefts of Samsung devices — which did not include a kill switch until one was introduced on Verizon-only models in April — rose by over 40 percent.

In San Francisco, robberies of iPhones were 38 percent lower in the six months after the iOS 7 introduction versus the six months before, while in London thefts over the same period were down by 24 percent. In both cities, robberies of Samsung devices increased.

“These statistics validate what we always knew to be true, that a technological solution has the potential to end the victimization of wireless consumers everywhere,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon told IDG News Service.

Gascon and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have been leading a push to get smartphone vendors and telecom carriers to include kill switches in their products as a way to curb phone theft.

The joint work had early success with Apple but other carriers and phone makers dragged their feet. However, resistance to the idea appears to be dropping as several bills that mandate kill switches make their way through state legislatures and the U.S. Congress.

The bills demand a function that would enable a phone owner to remotely delete and disable a phone if stolen. The function could be disabled by consumers before a theft takes place if desired, but crucially new handsets would be supplied with it switched on by default.

Gascon and Schneiderman believe that if most phones had a kill switch, thefts would drop because the probability of a stolen phone remaining useful and thus having value would greatly diminish.

The two said the data being released on Thursday appears to “validate the kill switch as an effective part of a multi-layered approach to combatting smartphone crimes.” Although it’s worth remembering that crime is a complex subject and other factors could have contributed to the fall in Apple-related thefts or the rise in those of Samsung phones.

“We must ensure these solutions are deployed in a more effective manner that does not rely on consumers to seek them out an turn them on, but the fact that virtually the entire industry has responded to our call to actionA is anA indication that we are well on our way toA ending this public safety crisis,” Gascon said.

Microsoft goof confirms Surface Mini

IDG News Service

Microsoft has inadvertently confirmed that it had a smaller Surface tablet ready to release when it unveiled the larger Surface Pro 3 last month.

Eagle-eyed observers today pointed out that the Surface Mini, a long-rumored small tablet, was referenced several times in the Surface Pro 3 User Guide, which is available online.

Microsoft started selling some models of the Surface Pro 3 in retail today, and began delivering devices that customers had pre-ordered since the May 20 introduction.

The Surface Mini was featured most predominantly in the user guide’s discussion of the Surface Pen, a writing and sketching tool that comes with the Surface Pro 3, and apparently would have accompanied the smaller tablet, too. Mentions of OneNote, Microsoft’s note-taking app, were scattered throughout the guide, including the sections where the Surface Mini was mentioned.

“Click the top button [of the Surface Pen] to open OneNote, even if your Surface is locked,” the guide stated. “Bluetooth technology links your Surface Pen to your Surface Mini or Surface Pro 3, so when you click the button, your Surface responds instantly [emphasis added].”

That matches what some reported prior to Microsoft’s May 20 event: The Surface Mini, those reports claimed, would be pitched as a note-taking device, and released in time for the back-to-school sales season.

The Surface Mini was assumed to be a 7-in. or 8-in. tablet akin to the Surface 2, the second-generation of the Surface RT, a tablet powered by Windows RT, the tablet-only operating system that features colorful tiles and boasts a new ecosystem of apps.

The day before the Surface event, Computerworld reported that Microsoft would not unveil the Surface Mini. Later accounts elsewhere claimed that the device was pulled from the presentation — and thus release — at the last minute as executives feared that the Mini wasn’t sufficiently different from lower-priced rivals to do well in the market.

Microsoft’s skittishness may have stemmed from memories of the $900 million write-off it took in mid-2013 to account for lackluster sales and overstocked inventories of the original Surface RT tablet.

It’s possible that Microsoft will eventually launch a smaller Surface, perhaps even the built-but-not-sold Surface Mini, but the company has not publicly confirmed the tablet’s existence, much less a timeline for its release.

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Microsoft’s updated privacy policy makes it clear it’s not selling ads against your words

IDG News Service

Microsoft said Wednesday that by the end of July it will implement an updated, simplified privacy and services policy that makes clear the company will not snoop on your email or Skype calls to sell you advertising.

The updated privacy policy is already available to examine on Microsoft’s site, where the company breaks down what information it does collect from users, and for what purpose. Microsoft said that it had worked to simplify the agreement, while trying to call out the important details that Microsoft’s users care about. The related Microsoft Services Agreement applies to all of Microsoft’s services, from Outlook.com to Office to OneDrive.

The new policy will take effect on July 31. At that time, use of Microsoft’s services will constitute opting into the agreement, Microsoft said. If you want to opt out, you’ll need to stop using the services or close your account.

Microsoft made it clear that, at least for advertising purposes, it does not listen in on your private communications. “As part of our ongoing commitment to respecting your privacy, we have updated the Microsoft Services Agreement to state that we do not use what you say in email, chat, video calls, or voice mail to target advertising to you,” the company said. “Nor do we use your documents, photos, or other personal files to target advertising to you.”

Microsoft did not explicitly refer to Google or any other competitor, but the message was clear: While rivals like Google may sell ads against your content, Microsoft will not. In 2012, Google consolidated its privacy policy as well, sharing information to provide a more cohesive profile of its users. U.S. lawmakers and Europeans went ballistic, charging that the information was being collected without consent, and without enough provisions to opt out.

Oh, Microsoft’s snooping, all right

But that doesn’t mean that Microsoft isn’t collecting your data at all—quite the opposite, in fact. The policy makes clear that Microsoft may ask for personal information when you sign up for a service, including your name and location.

Users also implicitly consent to Microsoft’s recording their voices and other content to improve its services. “And you may provide content – your communications and your files – while using our sites and services,” the updated privacy policy states. “Content includes the words in an email in Outlook.com or the photos and documents stored on OneDrive.”

And if Microsoft doesn’t get the information it wants, it can always buy what it needs from a third-party company, it warns.

Microsoft already uses your information to improve its services. (Its digital assistant, Cortana, is governed by the privacy policy of Windows Phone.) It also uses that information to provide targeted ads—the more information an advertiser knows about you, the more interesting the ad. (A Microsoft page allows you to opt out of targeted ads.)

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World Tech Update- June 12, 2014

IDG News Service

Coming up on WTU this week Samsung debuts a new tablet, Sony and Microsoft battle for console supremacy and Pepper the robot helps out shoppers.

 

Toaster, refrigerator, meet tablet, notebook: Apple and Microsoft trade takes on 2-in-1s

Computerworld

“You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said two years ago.

Cook did not know it at the time, but he was talking about Microsoft’s hardware design strategy, specifically of its Surface line, when he took that swing after being asked his take in April 2012 on blending tablets with personal computer notebooks.

“Anything can be forced to converge. But the problem is that products are about trade-offs, and you begin to make trade-offs to the point where what you have left at the end of the day doesn’t please anyone,” Cook continued.

Yesterday, Microsoft’s newly-minted CEO, who wasn’t in charge when Cook let loose his toaster broadside, and so perhaps had to wait until now to respond, countered.

“The question that must be asked and answered is, ‘Why hardware?’ We clearly are not interested in building refrigerators or toasters,” CEO Satya Nadella said at the front end of an hour-long event that unveiled the new Surface Pro 3, the company’s latest revamp of the design mashup that Cook knocked.

Toasters and refrigerators. Meet tablets and notebooks.

Who is right, Cook or Nadella?

Nadella on Tuesday was certain Microsoft’s vision was correct.

“Can we design and build a device that takes the best of the tablet and the laptop, and enables any individual to be able to read, and to be able to create and write, allows you to watch a movie and make a movie, enjoy art and create art? That’s the device we want to create,” said Nadella.

Strong stuff, lyrical even. But enough to change Cook’s mind?

“When has Apple ever reacted?” asked Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, answering the question: “What’s Apple’s move?”

True enough. Punditry’s battleground is littered with the bones of those who have said Apple had to do this, must do that to counter rivals’ moves … to thrive, even survive.

Still. What if Microsoft’s right? What if Transformer-like tablets that pivot and fold, if not spindle and mutilate, are spot on, if not today, then a whirlwind of calendar pages later?

“This doesn’t require any change by Apple. They’re making the majority of profit in smartphones and tablets, so this won’t force them to make a defensive move,” asserted Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy.

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