News & Current Affairs

August 5, 2008

Microsoft sees end of Windows era

Microsoft has kicked off a research project to create software that will take over when it retires Windows.

Called Midori, the cut-down operating system is radically different to Microsoft’s older programs.

It is centred on the internet and does away with the dependencies that tie Windows to a single PC.

It is seen as Microsoft’s answer to rivals’ use of “virtualisation” as a way to solve many of the problems of modern-day computing.

Tie breaking

Although Midori has been heard about before now, more details have now been published by Software Development Times after viewing internal Microsoft documents describing the technology.

Midori is believed to be under development because Windows is unlikely to be able to cope with the pace of change in future technology and the way people use it.

Windows worked well in an age when most people used one machine to do all their work. The operating system acted as the holder for the common elements Windows programs needed to call on.

“If you think about how an operating system is loaded,” said Dave Austin, European director of products at Citrix, “it’s loaded onto a hard disk physically located on that machine.

“The operating system is tied very tightly to that hardware,” he said.

That, he said, created all kinds of dependencies that arose out of the collection of hardware in a particular machine.

This means, he said, that Windows can struggle with more modern ways of working in which people are very mobile and very promiscuous in the devices they use to get at their data – be that pictures, spreadsheets or e-mail.

Equally, he said, when people worked or played now, they did it using a combination of data and processes held locally or in any of a number of other places online.

When asked about Midori by BBC News, Microsoft issued a statement that said: “Midori is one of many incubation projects underway at Microsoft. It’s simply a matter of being too early in the incubation to talk about it.”

Virtual machines

Midori is widely seen as an ambitious attempt by Microsoft to catch up on the work on virtualisation being undertaken in the wider computer industry.

Darren Brown, data centre lead at consulting firm Avanade, said virtualisation had first established itself in data centres among companies with huge numbers of servers to manage.

Putting applications, such as an e-mail engine or a database, on one machine brought up all kinds of problems when those machines had to undergo maintenance, needed updating or required a security patch to be applied.

By putting virtual servers on one physical box, companies had been able to shrink the numbers of machines they managed and get more out of them, he said.

“The real savings are around physical management of the devices and associated licensing,” he said. “Physically, there is less tin to manage.”

Equally, said Mr Brown, if one physical server failed the virtualised application could easily be moved to a separate machine.

“The same benefits apply to the PC,” he said. “Within the Microsoft environment, we have struggled for years with applications that are written so poorly that they will not work with others.

“Virtualising this gives you a couple of new ways to tackle those traditional problems,” he said.

Many companies were still using very old applications that existing operating systems would not run, he said. By putting a virtual machine on a PC, those older programs can be kept going.

A virtual machine, like its name implies, is a software copy of a computer complete with operating system and associated programs.

Closing Windows

“On the desktop we are seeing people place great value in being able to abstract the desktop from actual physical hardware,” said Dan Chu, vice president of emerging products and markets at virtualisation specialist VMWare.

Some virtual machines, he said, acted like Windows PCs to all intents and purposes. But many virtual machines were now emerging that were tuned for a particular industry, sector or job.

“People take their application, the operating system they want to run it against, package it up along with policy and security they want and use that as a virtual client,” he said.

In such virtual machines, the core of the operating system can be very small and easy to transfer to different devices. This, many believe, is the idea behind Midori – to create a lightweight portable operating system that can easily be mated to many different applications.

Microsoft’s licensing terms for Windows currently prohibited it acting as a virtual machine or client in this way, said Mr Chu.

Michael Silver, research vice president at Gartner, said the development of Midori was a sensible step for Microsoft.

“The value of Microsoft Windows, of what that product is today, will diminish as more applications move to the web and Microsoft needs to edge out in front of that,” he said.

“I would be surprised if there was definitive evidence that nothing like this was not kicking around,” he said.

The big problem that Microsoft faced in doing away with Windows, he said, was how to re-make its business to cope.

“Eighty percent of Windows sales are made when a new PC is sold,” he said. “That’s a huge amount of money for them that they do not have to go out and get.

“If Windows ends up being less important over time as applications become more OS agnostic where will Microsoft make its money?” he asked.

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July 31, 2008

Surveys: Many people are now watching TV online

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Surveys: Many people are now watching TV online

As much as 20 percent of all TV viewing in the US now happens online, says a survey released this week by Integrated Media Measurement Inc. (IMMI), supporting other recent research which also indicates that the Internet is fast turning into the top choice for many.

For the first time this year, a significant part of the online audience for primetime TV episodes is not watching some portion of the show on TV, according to IMMI’s new survey results. Recent launches of sites like Hulu, offering full episodes of programs, is surely bolstering the trend.

For some shows, online viewing is higher than DVR playback. Yet the IMMI researchers also contend that only about one-third of American households own DVRs, whereas about 82 percent of them have Internet access.

About 29 percent of “traditional live TV viewers” use a DVR frequently, in contrast to just 22 percent of online TV viewers.

Around 50 percent of all online viewing was characterized by IMMI’s respondents as “TV replacement,” whereas 31 percent of the time, it was described as “catch-up viewing,” and 18 percent of the time as “fill-in viewing.”

Online TV as a “TV replacement” is certainly nothing new. As previously reported in BetaNews, in a study conducted by Burst during the recent Hollywood writer’s strike, almost half of those surveyed were spending more time than usual online, in order to avoid repeat programming on TV.

Although that particular study didn’t ask the TV defectors how they spent their time online, it’s probably a good bet that a lot of them were viewing videos.

Europe seems to be much further ahead of the US in watching TV online, according to a survey by Motorola. Even back in mid-2007, when that survey was published, 45 percent of respondents across the UK, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy claimed to be watching at least some TV online, with France taking the lead at 59 percent.

Given the choice, why do some people prefer watching TV online? Another recent survey — this one conducted by Simmons, a unit of Esperian — showed that viewers are 25 percent “more engaged” when watching TV online.

Released last December, the Simmons study defined “engagement” according to six characteristics that respondents identify with media: “personal time-out,” “social interaction,” “inspirational,” “trustworthy,” “life-enhancing,” and ad receptivity.

Although that could be, maybe people just find it interesting to get up off the couch, ditch the remote, and flip around between various Web sites – some showing TV programs, and others offering music, downloadable software, social networking, news, gaming, e-mail, search engines, and an endless array of other stuff.

Microsoft posts videos of users who liked Vista after thinking it was new OS

Microsoft posts videos of users who liked Vista after thinking it was new OS

Microsoft has posted actual videos from its “Mojave Experiment,” an effort to dispel negative stereotypes about Vista by making Windows users think they were running a newer operating system that was actually Vista.

While not referring to Mojave by name, Microsoft first talked about the project publicly during a meeting with financial analysts last week, when Bill Veghte, a senior VP, mentioned an experiment done by Microsoft among PC users who “have a negative perception relative to” Vista.

“They’re not using it, but they are predisposed to think about it in a negative way,” according to Veghte, who heads up Microsoft’s Online Services & Windows Business Group.

Veghte said the subjects in the experiment consisted of a focus group chosen through a phone survey based on random dialing. He then rolled video showing how users who’d voiced anti-Vista leanings in the survey — but were then duped into thinking they were looking at a new OS codenamed Mojave — liked what they saw, even though they were actually viewing Vista.

In practically the same breath, Veghte mentioned another survey done by Microsoft, this one conducted among existing Vista users. “We have 89 percent satisfied or very satisfied, and 83 percent of those customers would recommend it to friends, family, et cetera. That is a very good result when you compare and contrast the satisfaction levels on other products,” he contended at the meeting.

When early reports about Mojave emerged online late last week, BetaNews contacted Microsoft to find out more about the two surveys discussed at the analyst meeting, and whether their relationship — if any — to one another.

As it turns out, Mojave and Microsoft’s “Vista satisfaction” survey are not related — not directly, anyway.

“The source of the [Vista satisfaction] survey was Penn Schoen and Berland Associates, which is a different company than Microsoft is working with on Mojave,” a Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews today.

Mojave, on the other hand, was aimed at getting a better understanding of “the reactions of customers to Windows Vista, when they were not aware that they were using Windows Vista,” she said.

“The people we tested were were a collection of Mac, Linux, and Windows users who have not made the switch yet to Windows Vista,” BetaNews was told. “We look forward to showing them on July 29.”

BetaNews asked Microsoft whether the Mojave videos will be released in Microsoft ads. “We intend to use these videos as part of some upcoming Windows Vista marketing treatments. You can expect to continue to see ongoing product marketing efforts around Windows that communicates its value to our customers,” the spokesperson maintained.

Early Monday evening, prior to the posting of the anticipated Mojave videos, a teaser site established over the past few days spilled a few other details about Mojave.

The Mojave Experiment took place over “three days in San Francisco, July, 2008,” according to postings on the site.

“Subjects get a live 10-minute demo of “‘the next Microsoft operating system – codenamed Mojave – but it’s actually Windows Vista,” the teaser site proclaimed.

More than 120 computer users viewed the “Mojave” demo, presented on an HP Pavilion DV 2000 with 2GB of RAM.

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