Friday, May 10. 2013
Finally! Word has trickled out from Microsoft that a new service, dubbed "Mohoro," will offer on-demand provisioning of the Windows desktop as a service to remote users.
Mary Jo Foley has a brief description and some additional details about the in-development offering, which will be, logically, hosted on the company's Azure platform.
Microsoft has not made it easy to move to the next logical step in virtualization services: renting the entire Windows desktop as a service. As a technical matter, this has been practical for some years now, and in a limited fashion businesses have engaged the sort of flexibility this represents by using Windows Server Terminal Services to provision remote-access desktops to on-demand users. However, with some very limited and, perhaps unintended, exceptions, it's not been possible to obtain such service from third-parties… which is the essence of scalable utility computing services.
The utility of this has been clear and is frequently exercised at the server level with great success. The roadblock has been licensing and the fact that this represents a zero-sum game for Microsoft. A third-party provider of desktops represents a finite number of Windows license sales, which, if they are then rented out on-demand to end-users, fill slots that otherwise would almost certainly have resulted in additional license sales to those customers. The ability to share and rapidly re-allocate the license, which is what this sort of solution represents, saves the customer money, which is exactly what Microsoft hates about it… that money would otherwise be theirs.
The name of the game in information technology is efficiency, though, and it's becoming increasingly clear to organizations that the Windows licensing model, and in fact the entire WinTel solution stack, isn't the most efficient way to accomplish many of the tasks facing the modern business. What has been missing from that realization is any widely accepted alternative, although Apple/Google and the handheld device market is starting to produce some real options in certain venues.
The big danger for Microsoft has been that some other company will present that clear alternative before it has a response in place. But by offering this service itself, it both fills the niche and, quite possibly, opens up an additional revenue stream beyond what would have been available in the traditional model.
Microsoft already has the market cornered for enterprise desktops, and enterprises are variously locked in to that model such that rapid re-alignments are unlikely. But new businesses are not operating under those constraints. The new, lean, flexible startup might decide to puts its resources in other places than desktop licensing, when "desktop" is becoming less and less descriptive of how and where staff do their work.
But the "desktop" as a tool for information processing is still indubitably useful, and if it's available without lock-in, and at the right price, it might continue to represent the most cost-effective solution. Kudos to Microsoft for stepping up and making it happen.
Monday, April 22. 2013
With Windows 8 sales proving abysmal and the fate of the PC industry apparently hanging on Microsoft's ability to produce some acceptable successor with the next release, much speculation has been indulged in by various pundits about the tweaks likely to emerge. Among the most popular rumors are that the company will allow users to boot directly to the familiar desktop mode without passing through the tablet-oriented "Metro" interface, and bring back the traditional "Start" button that we have all come to see in our dreams since its introduction in Windows 95. "Click Start" is probably the most popular opening line in the history of all software instruction manuals, ever, now.
But the peculiar combination of these adjustments being reported by Tom Warren at The Verge today is both baffling and unlikely to improve acceptance of Windows 8 among business users:
Microsoft is preparing to revive the traditional Start button it killed with Windows 8. Sources familiar with Microsoft's plans have revealed to The Verge that Windows 8.1 will include the return of the Start button. We understand that the button will act as a method to simply access the Start Screen, and will not include the traditional Start Menu. The button is said to look near-identical to the existing Windows flag used in the Charm bar.
So, you can boot to desktop, where you will get your Start button back, but it's just going to take you right back away from that desktop again... a cruel joke to anyone reading any of those manuals, or who has been trained, by nearly twenty years of daily use, to treat the Start button as a key entry point into almost every function their computer can possibly offer.
This sounds like exactly the sort of Solomonic logic that sinks companies.
Thursday, April 11. 2013
IDC covers last quarter's dramatic drop in PC sales and lays the blame squarely on Microsoft's door-step, citing Windows 8 as the culprit keeping buyers out of the market.
This is an interesting conclusion because there wasn't necessarily any additional explanation required for the sales drop; as the article indicates, PC sales have been slumping for some time, and computing device sales have kicked up more than enough to cover the gap. Still, IDC may well be right, and this may have been Microsoft's fatal mis-step in the slow dance of fading market dominance it has been waltzing to since Bill Gates turned over the reins. If ever there is a bad time to produce a jarring, unnecessary, un-useful product, it is just as cheaper, fresher alternatives are becoming obvious.
In Microsoft's case, it's really a whole ecosystem that is fading, and there's nothing worse than grinding customer's noses in it by making your flagship product for that ecosystem suck just as they were becoming increasingly dis-enchanted with the whole thing anyway.
Business use is generally cited as the saving grace for the PC market, a last bastion of buyers for whose requirement phones, tablets, and consoles cannot breach. But that has been overly simplistic, as end-users have been pushing corporate IT to make more of their job functions available via mobile devices. And Windows 8 is the worst of all possible offerings to that market, a knocked-together compromise likely to satisfy neither end-users entranced by sexier, easier Apple products or stolid corporate IT managers seeking stability and efficiency.
This is a story that's going to take far longer than a few years to play out, but it will be interesting to look back later to see if this was actually the final turning point on the road to the likely fate of the PC as a niche item.
Wednesday, March 27. 2013
Oh, you might have thought we weren't paying attention, that it had all slipped off our sonar, that the cracker-jack submarine-cable-cutting-tracking skills here at Indigo Moon Systems were getting a little rusty. But rest assured, where there is a submarine cable in distress, our lightning reflexes kick into action, and as quick as you can clear your dive mask, we post a devastating blog entry about it.
You might have missed, through no fault of your own, my insightful and deeply-researched series of blog posts back in 2008 on the rash of unexplained cable outages that plagued the Middle and Far East. Various fruity theories like under-sea earthquakes and dragging ship anchors were floated by other loonies to explain the suspiciously-clustered outages, but my intrepid investigations quickly ruled out such mainstream theories in favor of a far more entertaining one: a MAJOR GLOBAL SECRET CONSPIRACY!
Today, I can breathlessly report to you that the nefarious criminal masterminds behind these outages have been caught! Egyptian commandos apprehended three divers today off the coast of Alexandria who were in the process of severing (with partial success, resulting in slowdowns for Egyptian Internet users) another of the crucial telecommunications cables.
Will this mean the end of their long reign of terror? Who can say! One can only hope that the "enhanced interrogation" techniques of the Egyptian authorities will result in information that will crack the case wide open. But these are ninjas we are talking about... crafty, inured to pain, fanatically dedicated to their mission. There can be no certainty that this will be the end.
But as long as the shadowy enterprise remains poised to strike at the global underwater communications infrastructure, rest assured! We will be here to post additional invaluable updates on the attacks.
Thursday, March 21. 2013
If you're not a regular Google Reader user, you've been wondering what all the fuss is about; if you are a regular Google Reader user, you're having trouble reading this paragraph through the tears of sadness and rage. Reader, the online RSS-reader application that is the latest victim of Google' two-year old effort to "put more wood behind fewer arrows" is being dis-continued as a service as of July 1st.
This fate is the expression of the great fear underlying much of the resistance to the adoption of online-only applications (Software as a Service, or SaaS) in the first place. To be at the whim of some faceless gnome in a dark basement cubicle somewhere in Mountain View is one of the recurring objections I hear when proposing SaaS replacements for traditional on-premises software.
Nevermind that Reader's demise may be a hidden benefit to the SaaS sector in general. The problem is not unique to SaaS and online providers, of course; software vendors have been phasing out products ever since there has been such a thing as software. And in either venue, it can be a necessary and inevitable part of the business. This, in that sense, is simply another excellent reminder that over-reliance on a single vendor with no backup plan is a bad idea regardless of the platform involved.
But there is an immediacy to SaaS phase-outs that is troubling, and a tendency by some providers, Google particularly, to shy away from providing the sort of long-term roadmaps for these products that more traditional vendors, such as Microsoft, have long provided.
When you buy a copy of Microsoft Office today, you know you're not going to be able to count on it past 2023. Conversely, you know you will have supported access to it for at least that long. Sign up for a Google Apps subscription, and it's an open question how long Google intends to commit to supporting that service.
All you have to go on is the Google's past behavior, and your own examination of their internal motivations.
Reader was never commercial software and it was always free to use. But Google, as a company, has had a monolithic, data-driven approach to product service and support that encourages comparisons between its free offerings (which, in some cases, are basically just one end of a sliding scale for a commercial version) and its paid services. Their poor handling of lifecycle support for free products which they advertise as "under-performing" goals leads to skepticism about how exactly they might handle similarly under-performing services they currently charge money for using.
I'm hesitant now to recommend Google services to clients due to this, and I have been encountering some evidence to suggest that potential customers generally are becoming more hesitant to commit to Google solutions. And I am not alone. Marcelo Calbucci thinks that this will prove a watershed moment that will teach Google a lesson as it has irritated a small, but relatively influential audience of folks like me who similarly have an over-weighted amount of influence on potential users.
I don't believe it will really be lesson for Google, but neither is it any improvement to their position. The theory is that they were expending resources maintaining a non-critical service and that those resources are now free to be utilized in a more lucrative fashion. But, if you look at the balance sheet, just about every Google service is non-critical. The company is funded by one: AdWords. With AdSense to attract hosting sites, everything else they do is worthless fluff... measured by that yardstick
None of us have access to Google's internal numbers, so we have to accept that their resource commitments are in fact oriented toward providing more intensive focus and better service in their core services. The basic problem with that justification is that many of what we suppose to be the core services of their business have been getting worse even as they've been re-focusing effort on them. Whatever it is they are putting the wood behind, it doesn't seem to be their core search business.
Instead, it seems to be things like the recently announced Google Keep, an online note-taking application. It's hard to see how such an application is going to be particularly more relevant to the "fewer arrows" or more resource-worthy than Reader was, particularly because Google badly shot itself in the foot with the timing of the release. Nor is it lost on old observers that Google already launched, and killed (similarly to Reader) a very similar service called Notebook not long ago.
Of course, neither they nor anyone else is actually using that resource-allocation yardstick, which is why axing Reader is a mistake. Whatever miniscule percentage of Google's resources were going into the service that are now being re-purposed, their effect won't come close to repairing the general damage done to the company's reputation. It also seems to contradict the underlying rationale for other money-losing Google projects, such as Chrome, SPDY, and community wireless networks: making Internet use a faster, more secure, more ubiquitous process. Since the company, indirectly, benefits from more people using the Internet more broadly for more hours of their day, it has long engaged in otherwise apparently inexplicable efforts to improve that experience.
Viewed in that light, Reader was a huge, data-rich success story. In cutting it, and similar services, Google has signaled that they have no rationale at all now by which outsiders can measure their commitment to products.
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