Week in review: Microsoft parts the clouds

Software giant shows developers what is waiting in the wings, while Motorola looks to Google as its cell phone savior. Also: Net threats.

At this year's Professional Developers Conference, Microsoft offers glimpses into the next version of its OS, the next iteration of its productivity suite, and its cloud-computing efforts.

Microsoft announced a version of Windows that runs over the Internet from inside Microsoft's own data centers. Dubbed Windows Azure, it's less a replacement for the operating system that runs on one's own PC than it is an alternative for developers, intended to let them write programs that live inside Microsoft's data centers as opposed to on the servers of a given business.

With the launch of Azure, Microsoft will find itself in competition with other providers of Internet storage and computing services including Amazon.com, Salesforce.com, and Rackspace. Microsoft is making Windows Azure in preview form to developers, with a limited subset of the features that it plans to have in the product before its final release.

Microsoft also offered up far more details on Windows 7 , successor to the company's oft-maligned Windows Vista. In particular, Microsoft is focused on improving the time it takes for Windows to start up and shut down. In addition to its own work, Microsoft has been working directly with computer makers to address all factors that affect system performance.

As far as other features, Windows 7 is touted as offering support for multitouch input and a new taskbar that makes it easier to manage multiple open Windows. The early, prebeta version handed out to developers has all of the programming interfaces that will be in the final version but only some of the planned features.

And after years of questioning the value of Net-based productivity applications, Microsoft confirmed that it will offer new versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that can run from within a standard Web browser . The browser-based editing capabilities are being developed in conjunction with the next version of Office, known as Office 14.

Microsoft will offer browser-based Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in two ways. For consumers, they will be offered via Microsoft's Office Live Web site, while businesses will be able to offer browser-based Office capabilities through Microsoft's SharePoint Server product.

The company has been pushed into this arena by Google, which has been offering its free Google Apps programs for some time. In competing with Google, Microsoft is touting the ability to use Microsoft's familiar user interface, as well as the fact that all of the document's characteristics are preserved.

Holding the line
Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said in a speech that Sprint is not ready for the Google Android OS just yet. Hesse reportedly said that at present Android is not "good enough to put the Sprint brand on it."

Still, Hesse promised that the carrier will sell a phone powered by Android "at some time in the future." Sprint is a member of the Open Handset Alliance, which developed Android in partnership in Google. Hesse did not elaborate on when that would be or on what kind of Android handset it would sell.

Android, however, is good enough for Motorola. The cell phone pioneer is placing heavy bet that phones with Google's mobile operating system can help turn around its struggling cell phone division.

Co-CEO Sanjay Jha, who was hired in August to take over the handset business and help spin it into its own company, said on the company's earnings call that Motorola will dump at least four operating systems, including Symbian, to focus on developing products using Android and Windows Mobile. Midtier phones will run Android, while the company will use Windows Mobile for its high-end smartphones.

The problem for Motorola is that it will take time to make this transition. Jha said he doesn't expect an Android phone on the market until the 2009 holiday season.

However, things are so bad for Motorola that the handset division will cut $600 million in costs next year, as part of an overall $800 million budget cut. This will include cutting an additional 3,000 workers lopped off the Motorola payroll, two-thirds of whom are expected to come from the handset division.

If you already have the T-Mobile G1--the phone that runs Android-- but you don't want to use it on T-Mobile , there is good news for you: the G1 has finally been unlocked. For $22.99 you can send in your IMEI number to unlock-tmobileg1.com, which then returns an unlock code for you to enter. Once done, you can use the popular smartphone on any GSM network.

For iPhone users, an unlocked iPhone 3G is a little closer to becoming reality , according to the iPhone Dev Team. A video produced by the iPhone Dev Team demonstrates that it has gained access to the baseband processor used by Apple in the iPhone 3G. The baseband chip is what controls the connection between the phone and the mobile phone network, meaning that a software download that could let you use your iPhone 3G on a carrier network other than the ones officially designated by Apple could be released soon.

Also, free Wi-Fi for iPhone users is finally available from AT&T . After two false starts, the company is indeed allowing all iPhone users to access its 17,000 Wi-Fi hot spots around the country for free.

The free Wi-Fi will be available wherever AT&T offers a Wi-Fi hot spot, which includes restaurant chains, airports, and Starbucks coffee shops.

Net threats
Security specialist FaceTime Communications commissioned a survey of nearly 530 IT managers and end users to find out exactly how people are using the Internet at work and what impact those activities have on their IT departments . Ninety-seven percent of end users surveyed reported using one or more Internet applications at work, up from 85 percent last year, and 82 percent say they use Web conferencing.

All that Web use has a downside, though. Seventy-three percent of IT managers reported having had to deal with at least one Internet-related attack at work, with viruses, Trojans, and worms being the most common types, followed by spyware.

On average, IT managers reported 34 incidents per month. A typical incident takes 22 hours to fix and can cost a company as much as $50,000 based on an hourly IT worker wage of $70, according to the report.

Microsoft, Yahoo, Western Union, and the African Development Bank are partnering to educate Internet users about the dangers of fake lottery winner e-mails . In such scams, victims are told that they have won a lottery, often in a foreign country, and are then asked to provide their personal and financial information to claim the winnings. In the current economic downturn, the fear is that desperate people will be more likely to take the bait.

Of 4,930 people surveyed, 113 people reported losing money to an Internet fraudster in the last year. Twenty-seven percent of Internet users surveyed predicted they would become a victim of a lottery scam and more than half said lottery scam e-mails scared them off from buying things online.

The U.S. intelligence community is concerned that terrorists might use micro-blogging tool Twitter to coordinate attacks , according to a purported draft Army intelligence report posted on the Web. The report--present by the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion and posted to the Federation of American Scientists Web site--examines the possible ways terrorists could use mobile and Web technologies such as the Global Positioning System, digital maps, and Twitter mashups to plan and execute terrorist attacks.

The report appears to have been first presented earlier this month. It includes a chapter titled "Potential for Terrorist Use of Twitter," presents general, introductory information on Twitter and how it works, and describes how the service was used to report details of a recent earthquake in Los Angeles and by activists at the Republican National Convention.

Also of note
A day after launching a new line of Netbooks , Hewlett-Packard says it's looking at selling them in conjunction with wireless service providers ...The ability to stream Netflix movies and TV shows is expected to come to TiVo DVRs by the end of 2008...Intel and Asus launched a Web site that solicits ideas from consumers with the goal of producing what they call "the world's first community-designed PCs."

 

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