Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

Towards a “Microsoft-free world”

August 8, 2008

[Update August 8: I note, via Groklaw’s News Picks that Two security researchers have developed a new technique that essentially bypasses all of the memory protection safeguards in the Windows Vista operating system […] By taking advantage of the way that browsers, specifically Internet Explorer, handle active scripting and .NET objects, the pair have been able to load essentially whatever content they want into a location of their choice on a user’s machine.  Researchers who have read the paper that Dowd and Sotirov wrote on the techniques say their work is a major breakthrough and there is little that Microsoft can do to address the problems. The attacks themselves are not based on any new vulnerabilities in IE or Vista, but instead take advantage of Vista’s fundamental architecture and the ways in which Microsoft chose to protect it. “The genius of this is that it’s completely reusable,” said Dino Dai Zovi, a well-known security researcher and author. “They have attacks that let them load chosen content to a chosen location with chosen permissions. That’s completely game over. “What this means is that almost any vulnerability in the browser is trivially exploitable,” Dai Zovi added. “A lot of exploit defenses are rendered useless by browsers. ASLR and hardware DEP are completely useless against these attacks.” […] “This stuff just takes a knife to a large part of the security mesh Microsoft built into Vista,” Dai Zovi said. “If you think about the fact that .NET loads DLLs into the browser itself and then Microsoft assumes they’re safe because they’re .NET objects, you see that Microsoft didn’t think about the idea that these could be used as stepping stones for other attacks.” So much for “the most secure” OS.]

John C. Dvorak has a column up, comparing Microsoft to a ‘Spandex Granny‘:

Vista is essentially the old hooker with a bad facelift and too much makeup. She also can’t remember her customers. Microsoft cannot seem to arrive at this self-realization, and, instead, hopes to be the debutante forever. The situation is beginning to take on the feeling of a Tales from the Crypt story—both sad and creepy. […] Microsoft has seen better days, like an athlete at the end of a career. Some endings are good, some are bad. I hope Microsoft will find one of the good ways. Pretending to be a small, agile company after 20 years isn’t working.

And so with that lovely introduction, let’s segue to what Linux is up to:

“For the first time, IBM and leading Linux distributors Canonical/Ubuntu, Novell and Red Hat will join forces globally with their hardware partners to deliver Microsoft-free personal computing choices with Lotus Notes and Lotus Symphony in the one billion-unit desktop market worldwide by 2009. Citing shifting market forces and the growing demand for economical alternatives to costly Windows and Office-based computers, the four leaders sense an ideal set of circumstances allowing Linux-based desktops to proliferate in the coming year. Linux is far more profitable for a PC vendor and the operating system is better equipped to work with lower cost hardware than new Microsoft technology. “The slow adoption of Vista among businesses and budget-conscious CIOs, coupled with the proven success of a new type of Microsoft-free PC in every region, provides an extraordinary window of opportunity for Linux,” said Kevin Cavanaugh, vice president for IBM Lotus Software. “We’ll work to unlock the desktop to save our customers money and give freedom of choice by offering this industry-leading solution.”

Zimbra, the open-source e-mail software that Yahoo acquired for $350 million last year, is officially coming to Ubuntu Linux. Coinciding with this week’s LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco, Zimbra has announced a partnership with Ubuntu parent company Canonical. Ubuntu users have been able to access Zimbra for the past year. But now, the e-mail software will be in the Ubuntu Partner Repository [the package name is zdesktop, just FYI], providing easy access to both offline and online Yahoo Mail, Gmail, AOL Mail, and any IMAP or POP e-mail accounts. Zimbra also offers document and spreadsheet functions, as well as mashup features with services like Flickr, Amazon.com, and Yahoo Maps.”

“Bob Sutor, VP of open source and standards at IBM, told attendees of the LinuxWorld Conference in San Francisco, that what the open source community needs to make Linux popular as a desktop OS used by consumers and businesses are “some really good graphic designers.” “Stop copying 2001 Windows. That’s not where the usability action is,” Sutor said during his afternoon keynote. […] Sutor said he believed the many open source licenses, as well as the many software standards bodies, that exist today, would eventually dwindle to only a few. As it is now, five or six open source licenses cover more than 90% of the available software today. […] Going forward, however, the Linux community had to be conscious of the “enemies of open source” and couldn’t rest. Although Sutor didn’t say who these enemies are, Microsoft has certainly been a major detractor.”

“For customers in the United States […] the Dell XPS M1530n and Studio 15n notebooks are now available with Ubuntu 8.04 factory installed.”

The march to 2010

July 25, 2008

Today I read an article that reiterated a point I made in my original 2010 post. Quoting “Redmond Channel Partner Online” then:

“[Microsoft people] just believe that their products are far superior to everything else in the market. That culture has permeated every employee in the company”

And now, from Ballmer himself:

“we are the best in the world at doing software and nobody should be confused about this. It doesn’t mean that we can’t improve, but nobody is better than we are.”

The hubris and downright vanity Ballmer shows in that statement, especially given what we actually KNOW about Microsoft, reveals a leader enthusiastically marching his troops towards the edge of a cliff.

Meanwhile, the realities on the ground are that Apple has pretty much captured the high-end market and today I read that Ubuntu has won a battle for the low-end market in the ‘race to the bottom':

Essentially, all major computer retail stores will carry computers with Ubuntu pre-installed by the end of 2008 or early 2009, predicted a Canonical manager who met with The VAR Guy at OSCON. But this isn’t another Linux desktop PC story. In this case, the computers are Netbooks (also known as sub-notebooks). Here’s the scoop. At least two “multinational corporations” (translation: Big PC or consumer electronics companies) have agreed to preinstall Ubuntu Netbook Remix edition on forthcoming sub-notebook devices, according to Gerry Carr, a Canonical marketing manager. In a bold prediction, Carr said Netbooks running Ubuntu would be available in all major U.S. computer retail stores by late 2008 or early 2009. He called the Netbook’s arrival a “rare opportunity for Linux” to succeed as a pre-installed operating system on retail hardware.

I can pretty much guarantee that one of the two is Dell and that theirs will look like this:

(I know what I want for my birthday :)

Update August 6: One wonders if the second ‘multinational corporation’ is Acer.  They were quite disappointed with Vista and have said that as a result they had “shifted towards Linux”; today when I read the Staples flyer (aside: I note that Staples seems downright embarassed to mention “Vista” when advertising its computers; the only mention on a computer in this flyer is on one system: “Includes Windows Vista Business and Windows XP downgrade disk”.  Ouch.) that came in the mail, it fairly prominently features the Acer Aspire One for $350.  It runs “Linpus Lite” Linux, but I would not be overly surprised if they switched to Ubuntu for future models…

Update August 25, 2008: The NY Times has an article up talking about the falling price of netbooks, predicting “In the near future, netbooks could sell regularly for $299, and might well drop by the holidays to $249.” :-)  Also, I note some supposed Dell 910 specs and screenshots.

Breaking the Camel’s Back

July 9, 2008

Most people have heard the phrase “the last straw“.  When it comes to Microsoft, people will moan and groan that they wish their Vista computers didn’t suck so bad.  Yet they still bought them, many even knowing Vista’s reputation.  Most knowing, first hand, Microsoft’s reputation.  Why?  Because that’s what they came with.

After reading my 2010 post, “John” added a comment to to Ubuntu’s Bug #1: “all we need to do in order to get rid of Microsoft once and for all is cutting their connections with hardware vendors […] bundling Windows with the majority of new computers (most notably laptops) and therefore denying ICT users’ the right to freely choose their OS is probably the the fundamental cause of all this mess. […] i suggest we should do our best to make bundling illegal

Imagine for a moment what only allowing blank computers to be sold would do for Linux adoption.  Yet its a harsh remedy; OEMs wouldn’t be able to sell functional products and average users would be forced to do something they just do not do right now because it seems scary: install their own OS.  What is really needed is some way of making that final purchase step for the consumer just ever so slightly too painful to bear: add up all the grief you’ve ever had with Windows, all the terrible things you’ve ever heard about Vista, [update July 28: for real, here and here] and just make one last annoyance visible for the consumer to reflect upon before finalizing their purchase: the ‘Microsoft tax‘…  Here’s what I replied for Bug #1:

I’ve been thinking about this thread on-and-off all day and just a few minutes ago a possible solution struck me:

What if OEMs were required to sell the software separately from the hardware, BUT still be allowed to preinstall?  Specifically, think of this scenario:

Major OEM makes notebooks and preloads them with Windows, but does NOT activate them.  The notebook has one price and a sealed envelope with the OEM Windows Key Sticker, backup CDs, etc. has a different price.

If the user wants to buy Windows for the notebook, they just pay the extra $ for the envelope too and when they first bootup the machine they enter the code and affix the sticker as per the EULA.

Oh wait, what’s that other stack of disks next to the Windows envelopes?  Ubuntu Linux disks?  What’s that you say; they’re FREE?   And Ubuntu can do pretty much everything Windows can and a few things it can’t?  And if I don’t like it I can come back next week and still buy the OEM Windows disks?  Hmm…

In this sort of environment, how long do you think Microsoft would last? O:)  How long would it take for the OEMs to just start preloading Ubuntu to save the hassle?  Is anyone, perhaps starting in Europe, up for a little legislation? >:)

Update: Speaking of Vista’s reputation, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I note today that MS is planning on spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” to “overcome the common view that Windows Vista is a failure”.  Wouldn’t this be like spending lots of money to counter the ‘common view’ that Ishtar, Waterworld or any of these weren’t that good?  Perhaps instead of using that money to pretend that a sucky product isn’t, they should partially reimburse past buyers, or discount future sales, or maybe just invest in making the current or next product better.

Also, I note that there’s an article up mentioning that businesses that want to switch away from XP can save one to two thousand dollars per seat in hardware and software costs by switching to Linux and reusing old boxes instead of Vista on new machines.  But if you do that, how will Microsoft pay for the ads that tell you what a great deal you got running Vista? ;)

Has ODF just won the format wars?

May 22, 2008

Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 in 2009 will support ODF (1.1) natively and users will (probably) get to set that as the default ‘Save As’ format.

Oh my :-)

The Microsoft Empire

May 6, 2008

A follow-up to my Microsoft Meltdown II post wherein I quoted a visitor to Redmond:

“[Microsoft] has degenerated into a series of disconnected fiefdoms that aren’t all moving in the same direction.”

Regarding user interface inconsistency in Windows:


The reason must be that no one in Microsoft actually gives a damn. Each group develops their own UI widgets in their own style and they simply don’t care that it’s a total mess. They don’t care that I have to learn new ways of doing the same task just because they couldn’t be bothered to do things the same way as other applications. I’m not saying, for example, that they shouldn’t have introduced the ribbon concept in Office 2007, because it seems to work pretty well, and I can believe that it really is a better UI model. But they should have taken stock of what they were doing and made it a system-wide UI device. New widgets and UI models do crop up from time to time, but they should be rare, and when they do appear, Microsoft should make them general so that everyone can use them.

Microsoft’s continuous and repetitive reinvention of the wheel again just makes the task for third-party developers that much more unpleasant. Because even when a developer does want to make something that “fits in,” and even when that developer has picked a specific application to fit in with, MS still offers inconsistent choices. Take the Office 2007 ribbon as an example. The ribbon is pretty cool, and it’s obvious that third parties will want to use the ribbon themselves (even if it might not be the best fit for their application, but sadly there’s not much that can be done about that). Unfortunately, the Office 2007 ribbon is part of Office 2007. It’s not a part of Windows, it’s instead built in to Office, and not usable for other software.

Recognizing the gap in functionality here, a third-party developer produced its own ribbon-like object that developers could embed into their programs to gain a ribbon user interface. Microsoft in turn bought the third-party object and is now distributing it to developers using the current version of Visual C++. Oh, yeah—it’s only for C++ developers. No ribbon for .NET developers. So now MS has two ribbons; the Office code and new one it bought in. That’s frustrating enough—it would be better to do the work to put the Office 2007 ribbon into a nice little library so the behavior would be identical—but it’s tolerable.

Here’s the bit that blows the mind: Microsoft is going to develop another ribbon, this time as part of Windows Seven. It won’t be the Office one, and it won’t be the Visual C++ one. It will be a new one. And, oh, this one won’t be .NET either. The confusion of UIs in Windows mirrors the confusion of development within Microsoft.

(bolded emphasis added)

Right now, MS stands on two main monopoly legs: Windows and Office; Server is profitable, but actually faces real competition and so doesn’t show the same extremely high profit margins.  An illustration from the excellent RoughlyDrafted Magazine:

If MS ever faced real desktop and office suite competition, especially in the form of free-cost (e.g. Google and/or software libre), the Microsoft’s Empire, already showing its late-Spanish Empire-like-cracks, would begin to rapidly crumble.

Update: An excerpt Wall Street Journal article (mirrored in full here) found via Groklaw’s News Picks:

there is a fear among shareholders that the Yahoo bid exposed weaknesses in Microsoft’s business model. Its operating margins on desktop software hover around 70%. Companies led by Google are now offering competing, ad-supported applications such as spreadsheets and word-processing — free. The worry is that Microsoft may need to combat these efforts. That’s where Yahoo, which excels in selling online advertising and subscription services, came in. Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo was seen by many as a signal the company recognized its grip on the desktop may be slipping.

(emphasis and link added)

Windows XP SP3

April 30, 2008

So…  you want SP3 for XP?  Sorry, MS screwed up by not properly testing against one of their enterprise apps and they had to halt the release.  What’s that you say?  You, as a home user, don’t run “Microsoft’s Dynamics Retail Management System (RMS), a software package for running retail stores”?  Oh.  Well then, just follow the direct download links on this page and get the copy you want! :) Advisory: its > 300 MB.

BTW, if you feel like virtualizing it, I’ve tested XP SP3 in VirtualBox in Ubuntu Hardy and it works quite nicely.  Also, if you have an actual XP SP1 or 2 install disk, you can make a SP3 disk quite easily with nLite (I actually did it in VirtualBox and it worked fine :)  I recommend also adding IE7 (the version for “SP2″ is the one you want).

An Unscientific Poll

April 5, 2008

On a whim I did some Google searches:

I love Ubuntu” ~41,200 hits

I hate Ubuntu” ~1,680 hits (~4% of Ubuntu love)

I love Windows” ~37,400 hits (including facetious uses of that ;)

I hate Windows” ~61,100 hits (~163% of Windows love)

So using this unscientific poll, we can surmise that people’s experience with Ubuntu is generally far more pleasant than with Windows ;)

In a slightly related note, Bill Gates seems to be cementing the Vista-as-Windows ME 2007 reputation by claiming that “Sometime in the next year or so we will have a new version” of Windows.  Never mind that its complete vaporware at this point; perhaps he thinks the message he’s projecting is that “I’m super-enthused about what [Windows 7] will do in lots of ways”… yet what people are actually hearing is ‘avoid Vista'; the results are predictable: people will stick with XP for now if they can, get a Mac if they can’t or maybe even dabble with Linux; Hardy is looking so pretty that it absolutely blows away anyone who hasn’t looked at Desktop Linux in the last couple years (and the EULA can’t be beat :).

[Update: for more unscientific fun, see the comments ;]

ODF vs MSXML adoption

March 30, 2008

On the eve of what may well be an ‘ends justify the means’ victory for MS at the ISO [Update March 31: I note the latest Slashdot headline regarding the matter, “OOXML Will Pass Amid Massive Irregularities” Update April 2: See here for an overview of the ‘irregularities‘; the sneaky trick MS used: “if you can pick the moderator, you win” Update April 6: See also this article.], I did a little experiment to compare the rate of ODF format documents vs MS’ XML document format ala this page (though don’t ask me why some of the numbers are so different; I might be doing something completely different) by typing queries like ‘filetype:doc site:microsoft.com’ into a Google search:

DOC
about 35,000,000
about 29,400 from microsoft.com (<0.1%)

DOCX
about 30,700
about 741 from microsoft.com (~2.4%)

ODT
about 55,700 (~181.4% DOCX)

XLS
about 6,930,000
about 872 from microsoft.com (<<0.1%)

XLSX
about 6,330
about 32 from microsoft.com (~0.5%)

ODS
about 12,800 (~202.2% XLSX)

PPT
about 4,880,000
about 13,700 from microsoft.com (~0.3%)

PPTX
about 12,600
about 1,440 from microsoft.com (~11.4%)

ODP
about 18,600 (~147.6% PPTX)

sum old MS Office: ~46.81 M
sum new MS Office: ~49.63 K (~0.1% old)
sum ODF: ~87.1 K (~175.5% new MS Office, ~0.2% old MS Office)
sum XML: ~136.73 K (~0.3% old MS Office)

What I take from this is that although ODF usage (as posted online) is ~1.5-2X the new MS XML formats, it still is a drop in the bucket compared to the old MS Office formats.  If MS gets OOXML (not quite the same as what Office 2007 outputs (what I’ve been calling MSXML [Update April 21: see this article]), but close enough that they can gloss over the discrepancies [Update April 2: “[Tom Robertson, general manager of Microsoft interoperability and standards] said that Microsoft will begin work on an Open XML implementation road map for implementation at an as yet unknown time. He noted that the ISO is now responsible for the file format and must finalize the standard specifications. He expected the organization’s work to be complete by the end of this year.”  So minimum 2009 before there is even a finalized OOXML!]) made into an ISO standard, they’ll maintain most of their Office profits for the time being and maximize their suppression of ODF. However, even so, given that MS Office is NOT free of cost, the free alternatives do save as ODF and there will be translators available (even if imperfect), I cannot see ODF dying out.  In fact, MS may only have bought itself some time; instead of MSXML facing irrelevance now, they may still face extinction at a later date.  And there will certainly be anti-trust issues raised…  What to watch for will be the curve of adoption of the two XML formats and the rate at which the old MS Office ones are abandoned. Much as MS faces IE7 adoption issues vs Firefox AND IE6, they will face the biggest hurdle from getting people to abandon old versions of Office.  If you want to help ODF, simply save in that format, even if from inside MSOffice with Sun’s Plugin.

Update April 7: I just noticed an article with Mark Shuttleworth’s reaction to the ISO fiasco. I suspect that projects such as OpenOffice.org probably won’t bother implementing the ISO ‘standard’ OOXML, but rather do what they’ve always done: attempt to match the output of MS Office (so, instead of the old DOC, the new DOCX MSXML)

Update April 21: An article: Critics brand OOXML a Microsoft ‘marketing tool’

Don’t hold your breath waiting for MS Office to output valid OOXML (so literally, AFAIK, there are ZERO apps which produce valid OOXML.  And yet ODF is out there with several implementations…)

IE8: A funnel for Microsoft’s crummy online services

March 5, 2008

As you may know, I run Ubuntu.  But I do have VirtualBox installed to test out various things (e.g. Live CDs) and right now I’m testing Windows XP Service Pack 3 (my father in-law wants to switch to Ubuntu, but still keep Windows around in case he needs it and virtualization is less hassle than dual-booting :)  Today I noticed, via Slashdot, that IE8 beta 1 is now available for download.  So I decided to test it out, which is when I noticed this little horror:

“Activity providers enhance your ability to work with text that you select on a webpage, enabling you to map addresses, define words, and more.”  The defaults are: “Blog with Windows Live Spaces, Map with Live Maps, Define with Encarta, Translate with Windows Live, Send with Windows Live Hotmail”

Ick.

If I might make some alternate suggestions (to anyone who doesn’t already know better yet ;)

Blog with WordPress; Map, Translate and Send with Google; Define with Wikipedia and Wiktionary.

Will the last version of IE for XP be 8?

February 27, 2008

Windows 2000 moved from “mainstream support” to “extended support” on June 30, 2005.  About a month before that, MS made an announcement:

It should be no surprise that we do not plan on releasing IE7 for Windows 2000. One reason is where we are in the Windows 2000 lifecycle. Another is that some of the security work in IE7 relies on operating system functionality in XPSP2 that is non-trivial to port back to Windows 2000.

Which makes me wonder…

In March 2006, Bill Gates said that after IE7 (which was finally released in October 2006, over five years after IE6), “Microsoft plans to release updates to IE more frequently, perhaps as often as every 9 months to a year.”  That hasn’t happened.  They’re thinking about an IE8 beta for mid-2008 with a final release about two years after IE7.  Windows XP goes into extended support in April 2009. I highly doubt they’ll be able to squeeze out an IE9 release by then; will IE9 be Vista-only?  Or will it also be the default browser in (the still pre-alpha) ‘Windows 7‘?

Update March 20, 2010:

IE8 was released in March 2009 and was the browser in Win 7 when RTM in July 2009. IE9 will be Vista and newer ONLY because it will rely on hardware acceleration software that won’t be available for XP.


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