Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

December 11, 2013

Microsoft have their very own social network. Who knew? It’s called Socl and seems to be structured more around the sharing of photos, videos and collages of interesting snit-bits, rather than plain old status updates. It has just been released for IOS and Windows 8 phone; Engadget have a review.


Microsoft opens up for the next ten years

January 5, 2010

For many Microsoft watchers 2009 was the year of Windows 7 – the latest version of their market-dominating operating system – and Bing, the company’s latest salvo in the continued battle with Google over Web search. But in the background, and little noticed by the media, the company has also been re-thinking how it makes software and these changes are likely to have a more long-term impact on the computer world over the next decade.

Bill Gates has moved on. Ray Ozzie is the new Software Architect and he has brought new ideas about cloud computing, software as a service and, whisper it quietly, open source software. It is the latter that has caused most surprise and in the process has split the free and open source development community. A number of moves made by the company in the last six months have left some in that community talking about a ‘sea change’ and others accusing it of simply using small forays into open source as another form of PR. With this in mind, Oxford University’s OSSWatch service commissioned me to research and write an in-depth article and this has just been published on their website. If you’ve got half an hour to spare before things get too hectic again why not have a look.

Microsoft tacks the winds of change

November 2, 2009

Microsoft have done two important things this year. The first, Windows 7, you will no doubt have heard all about. Indeed, judging by the number of TV adverts for the launch last week you may be starting to get heartily sick of hearing about it. The second, though, is less well known but much more controversial: they’ve recently committed some of their hand-crafted-in-Redmond code to GNU/Linux. I’ve been writing about different aspects of this for a few people, but the first to publish is Prospect magazine. It’s quite a short piece in terms of the complexity of the issues, but will give you a taster of what’s to come.

Microsoft runs with Apache

July 29, 2008

Last Friday, Microsoft announced that it was becoming a platinum level sponsor of the Apache Software Foundation, equivalent to 100,000 USD per year. Apache is a community of open source developers and users, famous for bringing together the team that built the first serious Web server (which is still used to deliver at least 50% of the world’s webpages).

So why does this matter? Outside the open source community, few people will have heard of Apache or even care too much about which software is delivering their webpages. What is of wider relevance is what this says about Microsoft’s attitude to open source code more generally.

For many open source types, Microsoft sits at the pinnacle of the proprietary software industry and are little more than the devil incarnate. In recent months though there have been big personnel changes at Microsoft, not least with the retirement of Bill Gates and the appointment of Ray Ozzie as Chief Software Architect. This has coincided with an increasing interest in open source software development, with staff participating in open projects and the launching of initiatives such as the Port25 blog, which is a conduit for the views of open source developers within the company.

On the face of it the sponsorship of Apache is a big step down the open source route, since it involves putting up cash. It is also interesting as Microsoft make IIS, Apache Web Server’s leading competitor. I’ll have a lot more to say about this once I’ve done the research for a new article I’ve just been commissioned to write, which is due this winter. In the meantime though, one thought strikes me. If you read Sam Ramji’s posting on Port 25 you’ll notice that he says: “[the sponsorship] is a strong endorsement of The Apache Way”. The Apache Way is the project management and governance process that Apache’s community of developers have built up over the years. I really do have an open mind on all this, but could it be that what Microsoft is really interested in is learning about how open development can be more efficient that traditional coding methods?

Microsoft’s future

July 2, 2008

Last week the BBC sent that well-known techno-geek, Fiona Bruce, to interview Bill Gates for the Money Program. The result was a fairly pedestrian plod through the history of the company, although it was interesting to see the bit where they recreated the original (and now infamous) photo of the Microsoft start-up staff in full, late-1970s regalia.

What the programme didn’t say much about was the far more interesting question of what happens next. Where will Microsoft go post-Bill? Although they did touch on the emerging threat of Google and the on-going Yahoo buy-out situation, they had little to say on the way Microsoft clearly has to change to deal with the post-PC era and the emerging Web generation.

One of the issues facing the Redmond-based behemoth is the rapid rise in free and open source code, open data, and associated new innovation development methods. On Monday I had the privilege of interviewing Justin Erenkrantz, who is the President of the Apache Software Foundation, a leading open source software development community. Amongst many interesting lines of discussion we touched on the changing nature of Microsoft and Justin expressed his opinion that, based on his recent experiences, there has been a ‘sea-change’ at Microsoft.

Justin is one interesting and busy guy – juggling a software job at online TV start-up Joost, undertaking a PhD and carrying out his role with the Foundation, but he certainly has his finger on the Silicon Valley pulse. As ever I have to disappoint and say you’ll have to wait until the full interview comes out for further details.

So, farewell then Bill Gates

June 27, 2008

Throughout my entire career in the computer industry Bill Gates has been an omnipresence as Microsoft bent the industry around it like a giant star bends gravity. He retires today. These days that star is arguably beginning to fade as the post-PC era takes shape and so perhaps he is bowing out at the right time.

There is so much that could be said about Gates and his work, and no doubt there will be acres of coverage in the print and online media this weekend. However, in the best and slightly irreverent traditions of this blog (and because it’s Friday), here are three things you perhaps didn’t know about Bill Gates and probably won’t read this weekend:

  • His favourite subject at school was geography
  • He was once sent by his parents to see a psychiatrist because they thought he was an underachiever
  • He enjoys butter pecan ice cream

A delicate game of chess

June 20, 2008

Within the EU, a delicate game is afoot. A group of MEPs is trying to ascertain if Microsoft can be ruled out of public procurement processes because they’ve been found guilty of serious misconduct through anti-competitive behaviour in the recent past. This is a reference to Microsoft’s recent fine of 1.68 billion euros by the EU for abusing its position in the PC operating systems market place. In the latest move, Green Party MEPs have been attempting to clarify whether, under Article 93 of the EU’s financial regulations, Microsoft should be excluded from current or future public procurement procedures.

In response to the MEPs, the EU commission has equivocated over the public procurement issue and refused to rule out excluding the computer giant from future EU public procurement.

This follows hard on the heels of another move to maintain the EU’s focus on open standards. On 10th June, EU Competition Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, emphasised the importance of open standards and the need to avoid lock-in to single vendors. Without mentioning Microsoft by name, she reiterated the EU Commission’s commitment to not accepting closed standards, arguing that: “when open alternatives are available, no citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to use a particular company’s technology to access government information.”

This last statement got me thinking though. All the media coverage of these developments focuses on Microsoft and the on-going debate about their Office products and open or proprietary document data formats. But, where does Google fit into all this? How do most citizens go about trying to ‘access government information’?

Like chess this is a strategic game, full of slow deliberation and careful moves. But the world of technology is changing rapidly and there is much talk of Microsoft’s dominance coming to a natural end as technology moves away from the era of the PC. At the end of the game the EU’s opponent may not turn out to be who we all thought it was.

Learning Windows – is this really a life-skill?

June 13, 2008

A few weeks ago I mentioned the imminent release of the £99 ONE laptop which runs a version of the open source GNU/Linux operating system. The reason these computers are so cheap is largely due to the fact that the GNU/Linux operating system is essentially free, which takes out a lot of the cost. There are other cost factors, though. The ONE also requires less memory and hard-disc storage to run the system whereas Windows XP, for example, requires a whopping 15GB of storage.

The point I was making was that the low cost of the ONE laptop could pose a threat to the dominance of the Windows operating system, and indeed, it seems that Microsoft is not about to let this go unchallenged. It has reacted, in part, by getting involved in the One laptop Per Child project (OLPC), initially set up by MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte, to design and produce a sub-$100 machine for use in the developing world. A version of Windows will be available on the OLPC XO low-cost machine.

This has caused a considerable stir in the free and open source software communities who assumed that, since OLPC’s goal was to reach the poorest children of the world, very low cost operating systems would be the answer. The intention is that the XO will still be shipped with a GNU/Linux option, but what I think is interesting is the reasoning given by some commentators for also providing a Windows version.

The IEEE Distributed Systems online magazine quotes an IDC analyst, Bob O’Donnell, who argues that OLPC has had feedback from their target countries who “understood the theoretical appeal of the open source software, but they said, ‘We have to teach our kids life-skills.’ And whether anybody wants to admit it or not, learning Windows is a life-skill. It trains them for something they can use on the job.” (my italics).

This is one of the arguments used in favour of Windows and other proprietary software that Richard Stallman highlighted when he spoke to me the other day in Manchester. Stallman counter-argues that this kind of thinking is a trap which ends up with proprietary software being continually perpetuated through the system and means that deeper issues surrounding software and its effect on human freedoms are not explored. There’ll be more on this shortly when my interview with Stallman is published – I’ll keep you posted.

Microsoft hitchhikes to the stars

March 3, 2008

Last week I was at a conference of digital geographers. There was much talk of how Google Earth has changed the public’s appreciation of their subject, but now Microsoft seem have gone one better.

The company is to launch a new tool called WorldWide Telescope. This uses computer visualisation techniques to hitch together feeds from a number of different satellites and scientific telescopes to create a navigable image of the universe – stars, solar systems and galaxies. It is described in Microsoft’s pre-launch video as providing “a kind of magic carpet that lets you navigate the universe”.

It’s going to be freely available from Spring 2008. All we need now is a guide with “Don’t Panic” written on the front cover.