Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Microsoft putting Vista in the rearview mirror

One of the industry's worst-kept secrets is the unauthorized beta release of Windows 7. For all the safeguards that the company supposedly has in place, they haven't done much of anything to slow the download of their next operating system. The operating system can be found on the Pirate Bay BitTorrent site, and apparently it has been downloaded thousands of times.

Why do this?
It seems pretty obvious to me that the company is doing everything it can to dampen the success that Apple's year-long PC vs. Mac campaign has generated. Like the rest of the tech industry, they realize that Vista is their most visible flop since WinMe. So if they can get experts talking about something else, then they will consider the earlier-than-planned beta release as a reasonable cost of doing business.

I haven't looked at Windows 7, yet. I'm not a big fan of early generation releases, so I'm waiting until mid-first-quarter before loading onto one of my old boxes. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Getting more out of mobility

A few years ago, one of my most trusted clients told me that his firm's wireless spending was nearly as much as their land-line spending. At the time, the firm had more than 15 locations in 8 states across the US. How does this compare to your firm's telecomm costs?

According to a recent press release by Nemertes Research, "Companies that have not strategized the use of mobility are much more likely to indicate that their wireless budgets are out of control."

And the value of a mobility strategy does not just show up in reduced costs. The study found a significant direct correlation between the implementation of a strategic plan on mobility and increased ROI from mobile applications.

The relationship between strategy and cost might seem self-evident. But why, then, do so many organizations admit to not having one in place? The press release indicates that over 40% of responding companies did not claim to have ... or to be in the process of developing a ... mobility plan.

Does your firm have a strategic plan for mobility in place?
Do you see your wireless budgets as being "out of control"?

Developing a mobility plan does not have to be hard or excessively expensive. We can see that it is a sound investment and we know that mobility will be even more important to your firm's success a year from now. Now is a good time to contact us for an assessment of your current situation and to develop a roadmap to gaining more value from your mobility initiatives.

Nemertes Research Press Release:
Companies Adopting Mobility Strategies See 60% Increase in Productivity

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Notebooks take the lead in market share

Earlier this month, I discussed the impact of cheaper PC's on Microsoft (read it here). In that post, we learned that notebooks are expected to represent about 12% of worldwide demand next year.

According to yesterday's WSJ (online), iSuppli is reporting that third quarter "shipments of notebook computers rose nearly 40% from last year to 38.6 million units as desktop shipments fell 1.3% to 38.5 million units ... Overall, world-wide PC shipments rose 15% to 79 million units." So what we are seeing is that just about all of the growth in computer sales (as measured by units delivered) is coming from the very low end of the segment.

In my view, here are some of the implications we should be thinking about:

  • Linux will gain acceptance by consumers. Notebook PC's - which often have relatively limited computing power - are well suited for light-weight operating systems such as Linux. This means that opportunity exists for consumer-oriented applications that run on Linux.
  • Microsoft will struggle to grow revenue in the consumer market. These PC's usually run a low-end version of Windows, which is of course less expensive than the full-featured version. Consequently, they will continue to see an increase in licensing volume, but revenue will not track with that growth.
  • The market will become increasingly segmented. Low-end PC's will eventually (in 3-5 years) make up nearly two-thirds of the delivered units. Very high end business machines will make up the rest. The mid-level PC ... which is Dell's bread and butter, by the way ... will lose its relevance when, for just a few hundred dollars more, you can get a much, much better device.

So keep a close eye on notebook manufacturers like Lenovo and Acer. Their machines are best viewed as disposable, and I wouldn't be too surprised to see them leverage that into a long-term, very sustainable revenue stream.

Links in this post:
iSuppli Report: Notebook PC Shipments Exceed Desktops for First Time in Q3
Wall Street Journal article: Notebook Computers Outpace Desktop PCs
Microsoft: MSFT (NYSE)
Lenovo: LNVGY (OTC)
Acer Incorporated: 2353 (TPE)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Google and SalesForce expand their alliance. and Google are at it again. Having first formed an alliance last July (2007), the companies have announced an expansion of this relationship. It is meant to further integrate the applications available through Google Apps into the development platform.

It remains to be seen what developers will cook up with this new alliance. However, it is a logical convergence between the two firms. For instance, Google's finance data could easily be available from within, allowing a salesperson to have a quick read on a firm's current state while preparing for a sales call.

Link to the announcement from eWeek:
Google, Partner on Cloud Computing

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Global Chip sales forecast for 2009 is down

No big surprises here, but two separate firms, iSuppli and Gartner (NYSE: IT) are predicting a slowdown in global chip sales in 2009. This is not simply a reduction in a previously released growth estimate, but a forecast of an actual reduction in sales compared to 2008.

iSuppli said sales will fall 9.9% to $91.2 billion in 2009. The firm expects 2008 sales to finish up 1.8% at $101.3 billion, which is less than thepreviously predicted 2008 revenue growth of 6.7%. Gartner's 2009 estimate, released on Tuesday (16 December) predicts a 16% drop in global sales revenue.

The only bright spot in iSuppli's projection is that laptop computer sales will still grow by 15%, although is substantially less than the previous prediction of 25% growth in that sector.

Firefox security patch released

Users of Mozilla's Firefox may have already discovered that the application required a code update over the past couple of days. If the application hasn't already run the update, then shut down your browser and restart it, or click on "Help" and "Check for Updates."

According to some reports, vulnerabilities have been exposed which can be exploited by malicious people to bypass certain security restrictions, disclose sensitive information, conduct cross-site scripting attacks, or potentially compromise a user's system. Check out Firefox 3.0.5 release notes for more information.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Microsoft issues emergency patch

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is planning to release an out-of-band patch for Internet Explorer on Wednesday to address a critical security vulnerability that's being actively exploited. Microsoft Security Response Center researchers Ziv Mador and Tareq Saade said in a blog post, "Based on our stats, since the vulnerability has gone public, roughly 0.2% of users worldwide may have been exposed to websites containing exploits of this latest vulnerability." While that percentage may seem very small, it means that 1 out of every 500 IE users has the potential for being infected. According to reports, the exploit seems to have been sourced on sites hosted in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

This is the second time in 2008 that Microsoft has released an "out of band" patch, with the last coming just 3 months ago (it was the subject of my Oct 23, 2008 blog: Urgent Security Patch from Microsoft).

This issue first came to light on Dec 9, 2008, when Microsoft issued a very limited Security Advisory. At the time, the company indicated that they were "ware only of limited attacks that attempt to use this vulnerability." Since then, however, the alert has been updated at least four times, expanding the list of affected software to include several versions of IE... including IE7, IE6, IE6 SP1, IE5.01 SP4 and IE 8 beta 2. Virtually all of the versions of Windows installed by most users are affected... XP SP1 and SP2, Sevrver 2K3 SP1 and SP2, Vista with and without SP1, and Server 2K8.

At some point over the next couple of days, PCs that are set for automatic updates will get the patch and likely be rebooted. If your firm has not recently reviewed your strategy for managing Operating System updates, please contact me. It is well worth a small investment to have a good handle on these kinds of events.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Can the internet really handle mobility?

The base architecture of the internet contains two fundamental and significant flaws. One has been addressed, but one has not.

The internet relies on the basic assumption that every device must have a unique address. That includes every PC, every PDA, every GPS unit... everything. The current protocol for assigning addresses is called IPv4, and it allows for a finite number of addresses. Look at the accompanying graph and you see that we are rapidly approaching the upper limit of available addresses.

A new protocol, called IPv6, is meant to resolve this problem. However, a recent study indicates that less than 1% of IT executives say they are deploying IPv6. Furthermore, those respondents cite government mandates as the only reason they have gone through with the deployment. It is unlikely that IPv6 will be widely deployed until government or market conditions compel organizations to do so, making it very probable that this particular IPv4 limitation will have a significant impact on all of us.

However, even if IPv6 is deployed flawlessly across the world tomorrow, we still have a significant problem, especially as it relates to mobility. Once a device is assigned an address, the internet establishes a path to that device. And the details of that path have a significant reliance upon geography. As a device moves from one region to another -- in an airplane or a ship -- that path will need to be updated. The computing power required to keep track of all of those individual paths, and their changes is virtually incomprehensible.

Unfortunately for all of us, the fundamental design and development of the base internet was "good enough" for the purposes of the last 15 years. However, to paraphrase Jim Collins, we've allowed "good enough" to become the enemy of progress. I'm sure there is no simple solution. But ignoring this problem will invite significant disruption in our global connectivity.

Read the findings from Nemertes Research: Internet Interrupted

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gartner identifies alternatives for off-shoring

Economic conditions being what they are, off-shoring is going to become an even more attractive option for organizations searching for ways to keep their projects going. Gartner (NYSE: IT) released a study last week that identified the thirty "best" countries for off-shore capabilities. India still tops the list. However, the rest of the top countries contained names that may surprise you.
  • Americas: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama.
  • Asia/Pacific: Australia, China, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA): The Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain and Ukraine.
Because of the criteria used in the study (see below), English-speaking countries like Canada, Ireland, Australia and South Africa will fare well. Using a Canadian firm may prove to be a very attractive alternative given the cultural similarities... and don't forget about the time differences.

This study did not seem to address outsourcing as it relates to operational tasks, like network maintenance and desktop support. For firms that have already gone as far as they can on project expenses, those areas will be logical targets for review.

Gartner's study also claimed that out-sourcing expenditures world-wide will have grown by 40% during 2008. I am suspicious of that number, and the report does not back it up with any details.

Gartner study criteria:
Language, government support, labour pool, infrastructure, educational system, cost, political and economic environment, cultural compatibility, global and legal maturity, and data and intellectual property security and privacy

Link to Gartner study: Gartner Identifies Top 30 Countries for Offshore Services

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Keeping data secure from internal users

When conducting your annual security assessment, be sure to pay close attention to internal users with access to privileged information. A study conducted over the summer by a California-based security company identified several key findings regarding security breaches from the inside:
  • Security breaches not only manifest as mishandled data. In some cases, perpetrators targeted specific employees' personal information.
  • Data stolen by insiders is highly likely to be used in a geographically concentrated area, near (within 20 miles) the scene of the crime.
  • A majority - 69% - of stolen ID's were used to fraudulently obtain cell phone services.
  • Almost all of the resulting illicit activity occurred very quickly ... within 2 weeks of the theft.
  • The vast majority -- 80% -- of fraudulent activity was perpetrated online

What does this mean for you?
It means that, while perimeter defenses are important, enforcing sound security policies with staff and associates is absolutely critical. Secure passwords for internal applications (not just for network access) should be a requirement for all users, including executives. Creating local copies of sensitive information should be restricted. And all applications should be reviewed for hidden developer access.

Link to ID Analytics Press Release: Study Reveals Employees' Criminal Misuse of Stolen Identities

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cheap PCs are not Microsoft's friend

Three interesting trends in the world of netbooks. First, they are estimated to account for about 8% of worldwide PC demand, climbing to 12% over the next four years. That's an astounding number. Second, 30% of netbooks are believed to be running some version of Linux, which equates to 2.4% of the world market. Another astounding number. Third, the remainder only have the capability to run a stripped down version of Vista, which will have a negative impact on Microsoft's revenue.
"It’s pretty clear that netbook sales are cannibalizing sales of higher priced versions of Windows," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Seattle-based research firm Directions on Microsoft. "This is clearly a trend Microsoft is concerned about."

I don't know where Mr. Rosoff gets this information, but it's hard to argue with his conclusion.

Consider who would be the primary target market for these devises. Students. Middle-market and down-market consumers. Bargain hunters. In current conditions, I believe that netbooks will make market share gains even greater than the predictions indicated above. On the other side of this recession, Microsoft may find it difficult to win back the consumers that have explored beyond the fence. Further, it will be imperative for organizations to build customer-facing applications to accommodate Linux users.

More information from the Wall Street Journal: Cheap PCs Weigh on Microsoft

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Virtualization returns to the desktop

The Wall Street Journal has reported that "IBM says it has created a 'Microsoft-free' virtual desktop -- a complete suite of applications that run on a backroom server and don't require Microsoft software or costly desktop hardware." The basic idea is to deploy desktops with virtually no locally installed software. All of the tools the user needs are installed on a server which reserves memory and processing power for each logged in user. The user experience is similar to a conventional desktop, including the ability to store preferences. However, the desktop PC can be a very low-end machine.

A few years ago, I had set up one of my clients with Linux desktops and a terminal server connection to a Windows platform. Users had all of the benefits of Microsoft applications, like familiarity and compatibility, but the company could easily get by with sub-$500 PC's, including the operating system. We shifted the budget in favor of high-end screens, which thrilled the users. More sophisticated users took advantage of the locally installed Linux O/S to install cookies from websites (which we restricted on the server-side).

Kyle Vickers, CIO of the American HealthCare Association, has long used a Citrix environment with dumb terminals on the desktop with great success. His team has no software on the vast majority of user desktops.

So IBM isn't -- by far -- the first to come to this party.

There is, however, one very simple reason why this has not gotten widespread use: Portability.
The virtual desktop simply does not yet work for the mobile user. It's coming, for sure, but we're not quite there yet. Until the executive user can connect her laptop to the corporate server from an airplane, this extreme desktop virtualization will remain a true rarity.

WSJ Article: IBM Creates 'Microsoft-Free' Desktop

Monday, December 1, 2008

A path forward for Linux

One of the big issues for Linux, in general, is that the variety of distributions makes broad-scale adoption of specialty applications relatively difficult. The general use applications - like web browsers, word processing, etc. - aren't impacted because developers have taken the initiative to adapt these apps to the various applications. But business lives and dies by the usability of their specialized software, be they manufacturing control, database or order fulfillment systems. Until some order is established in the Linux distribution community, this problem will persist.

A writer at InformationWeek proposes several improvement strategies, including some sort of governing body to oversee package development, among other things. Most of the suggestions are sound, but I believe the proposal is somewhat idealistic, if not naive. Nevertheless, here they are, and you may notice a couple of themes ...

  1. Meta-package format: a promising potential solution because I believe entrepeneurs could create a sustainable business out of provision and maintenance.
  2. A consistent configuration system throughout (from the kernel to userland tools and user applications): a great idea, but who will decide what the standards are to be?
  3. Consistency in the kernel application binary interfaces: I don't pretend to know what this means, but the problem with deciding who sets the standard presents itself yet again.
  4. Native File Versioning: This will make it feasible to consistently roll back installations and upgrades. Good quality software is built with this in mind, and shouldn't be too much to ask of the developer community as a whole.
  5. Consistency across Audio APIs: It seems that every distribution has its own "best" audio implementation. Standards would be nice, but again... who?
  6. A predictable GUI: Every distribution has a different look and feel, which confuses most users.
  7. X11/Application Integration: Another hallmark of good software is its ability to gracefully handle errors and hiccups. But many Linux-capable applications lack an ability to restore a previous session.
Consistency and Standards.
One of the great things about dictatorships is that standards are set, and consistency is enforced. Microsoft has proven this and, as mediocre as some of their offerings have been, it has been an unimaginably fantastic benefit that developers and end-users know what to expect when they sit down at any Windows PC. Of course, they profit from this benefit -- as they should. And therein lies the path for Linux.

Someone needs to be able to make ridiculous profits from standardizing the Linux offerings. Until that happens, Windows will dominate the desktop.

InformationWeek Article:
Fixing Linux: What's Broken And What To Do About It

4G - Speed to burn

I have had a unique opportunity to test Sprint's nascent 4G WiMax network. Thus far, the results are astounding. Several speed tests have clocked in at 8Mbs download and nearly 3Mbs upload. Coverage is very limited at present, as Sprint builds out the network, and there are - as one would expect - very few users using the current bandwidth. However, the potential can't be overstated and I would keep an eye out for its general release in your area.