IT solution providers know the benefits private clouds can deliver to customers and prospects. However, it’s not always easy for MSPs, VARs and consultants to translate their knowledge into a compelling pitch to cloud-wary clients.The private cloud helps enterprises and small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) reduce capital spending and decrease their IT operational workloads. However, not all companies poised to leverage their virtual infrastructures are eager to do so. The right approach can make the difference between selling a client on private cloud deployment and closing the door on a potential deal.

The worries that keep your reluctant clients awake at night
Many CEOs and business executives hear the word “cloud” and shut down. This misunderstood buzzword can sometimes raise roadblocks with stakeholders. Therefore, consider leading with a benefits discussion. What do your clients care about? They want to:

  • Drive down costs, improve customer service and provide competitive advantage.
  • Deploy showback and…

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Microsoft Predicts the Future with New Software

Microsoft Predicts the Future with New Software

(Source: software collects information from news article archives and other data sources to predict the future

Using old news articles and a form of Wikipedia, new software is capable of predicting the future’s events.

The software, which was developed by both Microsoft and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, takes a look at archives from The New York Times and studies related data on the Internet in order to form predictions about what will happen next in certain parts of the world — such as disease, violence and a large number of deaths.

The system’s sources include The New York Times’ archives from 1986-2007, DBpedia (the information in Wikipedia constructed using crowdsourcing), WordNet (helps software understand what words mean) and OpenCyc (provides a database of common knowledge).

What the system does is study news reports, then uses outside data for context. For example, the system saw reports of droughts in Angola in 2006. From studying data on the Web, the system knew that droughts can lead to cholera outbreaks in the country. The system further researches the country’s location, population density, GDP, whether there was a drought the year before, proportion of land covered by water, etc.

After collecting said information, and studying yet another report from NYT saying that there were large storms in Angola in early 2007, the system predicted the cholera outbreak. Less than one week later, reports of cholera had appeared.

“I truly view this as a foreshadowing of what’s to come,” said Eric Horvitz, codirector at Microsoft Research who led the study with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Kira Radinsky. “Eventually this kind of work will start to have an influence on how things go for people.”

When testing the software, Horvitz and Radinsky found that it was correct between 70 and 90 percent of the time. The team said the software could use some extra work in terms of greater accuracy, but once that is complete, it hopes the system can be used to help organizations tackle world problems.

While some predictive tools are already in use, this particular software uses 90 data sources total, making it a more “general purpose” tool.

IPad Market Share Falls Slightly, Microsoft Surface Sales Weak

IPad Market Share Falls Slightly, Microsoft Surface Sales Weak

Samsung is catching up to Apple in the tablet arena

Apple’s iPad is still leading the pack when it comes to tablet market share, but this is slowly changing as Samsung plays catch-up.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), a total of 52.5 million tablets were shipped in Q4 2012. Of this, 22.9 million were Apple’s iPad, which represented a 48.1 percent growth from Q4 2011.

However, Apple’s iPad market share has been slipping slightly on a quarterly basis. It went from 46.4 percent in Q3 2012 to 43.6 percent in Q4 2012.

Part of the reason for the slip is Samsung’s ability to gain some ground with its Android and Windows 8-powered tablets. Samsung represented the No. 2 spot with a 263 percent year-on-year growth. For Q4 2012, it shipped 8 million tablets and snagged 15.1 percent of the market share.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the iPad’s market share in Japan was bested by the Android-powered Nexus 7 tablet.

The top five tablet vendors (from No. 1 to No. 5) include Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and a collected group of “others.”

Microsoft is now in on the tablet race too, with its first entry — Microsoft Surface. In November 2012, it released Surface with Windows RT for ARM-based tablets. On February 9, it will release Surface with Windows 8 Pro.

While Microsoft’s Surface with Windows RT was released in the fourth quarter, it was just shy of the top five list with IDC’s calculated number of 900,000 shipments.

According to market research firm iSuppli, Microsoft Surface RT shipments into the channel for the fourth quarter were about 1.25 million, but sales out of the channel were only about 55-60 percent of that. This equals about 680,000-750,000 unit shipments, which is well below the 1 million mark.

The Surface with Windows RT has a lot stacked against it, such as a high return rate (iSuppli said that’s mainly due to the steep learning curve of Windows 8), the fact that device makers aren’t particularly interested in the OS and Microsoft failed to sell the device outside of its own kiosks (there are only a little over 60 of them in the U.S.) and online until mid-December.

Microsoft: Windows 8 Sales “Just Getting Started”

Now that new touch devices are finally being released, Microsoft expects Windows 8 sales to jump

Windows 8 has taken a lot of criticism since its release last fall, but a Microsoft executive insists that the new operating system is off to “a solid start.”

Tami Reller, Microsoft’s head of business and marketing for Windows, said that Windows 8 had a bit of a disadvantage in the sales area because many tablet and convertible devices running the new OS weren’t available at launch.

“It’s built for a generation of new devices,” said Reller. “They didn’t all come for holiday.

“We are really only just getting started. It’s a solid start.”

Last month, Microsoft bragged that it had sold 60 million Windows 8 licenses. This was great news, considering it took Windows 7 a little over three months to achieve that sales figure.

However, actual usage figures for Windows 8 are below that of Windows 7 at the same point in its release cycle and is even lower than that of Windows Vista (meaning, 60 million licenses sold doesn’t equal 60 million Windows 8 devices out there).

But Reller insists that Windows 8 was made for touch devices, not just desktops — and when more touch devices are released, Windows 8 should see a jump in sales.

Microsoft’s first homemade tablet, Surface RT, hasn’t seen amazing sales either. Just last week, market research firm iSuppli said Microsoft’s Surface RT shipments into the channel for the fourth quarter were about 1.25 million, but sales out of the channel were only about 55-60 percent of that. This equals about 680,000-750,000 unit shipments, which is well below the 1 million mark.

Also, even though the Surface RT was released in the fourth quarter, Microsoft just missed IDC’s list of top five vendors in the U.S. tablet market. Apple topped that list for the first time with its iPad.

Microsoft is releasing the Surface with Windows 8 Pro on February 9, which will feature the full version of Windows 8 instead of the Windows RT operating system (a version of Windows 8 for ARM-based tablets only).

After the Storm: Social, Virtualization Allow Business as Usual

After the Storm: Social, Virtualization Allow Business as Usual

By Nathan McNeill
In Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, many companies built virtual instances of employees’ systems so they could resume work from alternate locations. By untying software and data from physical machines, businesses can more easily relocate impacted workers and get them back up and running with all the tools and information they need to conduct business as usual.
Today’s workforce never truly switches off due to the proliferation of mobile devices and the blurring line between our personal and professional lives. Some have questioned whether this “always on” mentality will ultimately cause more harm than good, both for individuals and businesses as a whole.

While the jury remains out on that question, one positive aspect of the constant availability of technology is the impact on business continuity and disaster recovery.

Despite the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in October, many businesses in the affected area were able to maintain some level of continuity throughout the storm, drawing on mobile, social and virtual technologies to maintain communications with customers, employees, partners and suppliers. Here’s a look at how new technology has fostered greater business continuity, even in the face of unexpected events.
Social Media

When you consider how quickly social networks have evolved from use by college kids to accepted platforms for business communications, it’s truly staggering. The powerful reach of these publicly hosted channels gives organizations the ability to share updates on business-critical issues when their own networks and websites are down due to a storm or other disaster.

Social networks also enable companies to disseminate information to a wider audience that may not be as easily reached via more traditional methods. In the case of Sandy, for example, many retailers used Twitter and Facebook to update shoppers on which store locations were open.

Social networks also provide an avenue for organizations to stay in touch with their employees during unexpected events — providing updates on office openings, public transportation, relief efforts for impacted colleagues and other real-time updates that were incommunicable prior to the rise of social channels.

Mobile Devices

A decade ago, it was uncommon for anyone outside of the C-suite to have email access when not physically in the office. Today it’s safe to say that the majority of employees have their smartphone or tablet hooked up to their corporate email.

And because many companies have optimized enterprise applications for the mobile platform, users can work remotely in much the same capacity as they would in the office, even if only armed with a mobile device.

Faster wireless networks and mobile hotspots also mean that employees can quickly connect to the Internet even if their work or home Wi-Fi is wiped out by a storm.

Using Virtualization

By definition, virtualization extends the traditional enterprise far beyond its physical limits. Many companies leverage server virtualization for disaster recovery, which is a much faster option for restoring systems than traditional tape backups.

In Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, many companies built virtual instances of employees’ systems so they could resume work from alternate locations. By untying software and data from physical machines, businesses can more easily relocate impacted workers and get them back up and running with all the tools and information they need to conduct business as usual.

Remote Support

Another innovation of virtual technology, remote support solutions enable IT to securely access end users’ computers, take control and troubleshoot their technology no matter where they’re located. In addition to saving IT time and money, remote support solutions can be used to remotely build systems and virtual instances (as mentioned above) following disasters. This speeds up the recovery efforts for impacted offices, as IT reps halfway around the world can use the technology to rebuild systems and support users in the affected area as if they were on site.

Of course, this is not to say that hurricanes or other natural disasters still don’t have a significant negative impact upon businesses. But technological advances have made it possible for organizations to continue operations in some capacity during unforeseen events.

For those companies that have yet to take advantage of mobile, virtualization and other innovations, one has to wonder if events like Sandy may cause them to reconsider. After all, enabling employees to be productive outside the office can also increase productivity during normal operations.

Whereas just a few years ago organizations had to start from square one following a major business interruption, today’s technology enables companies to achieve relative continuity throughout and get back to speed much more efficiently following an unforeseen disruption.

Microsoft Cuts Ribbon on Low-Rent Office

Microsoft Cuts Ribbon on Low-Rent Office

It’s a first for Microsoft: The software giant has made its new Office 365 Home Premium suite available to consumers on a subscription basis. Microsoft is including access to Skype and cloud-based storage, as it tries to fend off free productivity options while leveraging the still-formidable Office brand. Microsoft this week announced the worldwide availability of Office 365 Home Premium, a cloud-based version of its flagship Office productivity software that consumers will lease instead of purchase.

It will include all Office applications and work across up to five devices including Windows tablets, PCs and Macs. Pricing for most consumers is US$99.99 for an annual subscription or $9.99 per month.
I consider this to be the most compelling Office solution that Microsoft has offered in some time, due to the combination of aggressive pricing and the ability to extend a single license across up to five devices,” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told the E-Commerce Times. “That’s a far cry from the one license/one machine approach of most previous versions of Office.”
What Office 365 Home Premium Offers

In addition to the latest set of Office applications, including Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint, Office 365 Home Premium includes touch-based functions.

Eligible students and educators can get Office 365 University at $79.99 for a four-year subscription that will cover up to two PCs.

Both the regular and the education subscription packages include an extra 20 GB of SkyDrive cloud storage and 60 free Skype minutes that can be used to call mobile phones, landlines or PCs anywhere in the world.

The service also allows users to access Office applications and their SkyDrive repositories — even on unlicensed machines — by signing into

Subscribers will be the first in line for free upgrades. Microsoft will notify subscribers when a new release of Office 365 Home Premium is available, and they can choose whether to get the upgrade at that time or wait until later, Microsoft spokesperson Tara Gremillion told the E-Commerce Times. Updates will automatically be made in the background by default.

Consumers can either pay the annual $99.99 fee upfront or pay $9.99 a month, Gremillion said. The latter option is available only from

Office Access All the Time

Customers can use Office whether they’re online or offline. If their Internet connection is down, their content will sync when they’re back online.

“The software is still physically installed on the user’s computer. It’s just streamed there using Microsoft’s technology,” Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told the E-Commerce Times.

Once installed, consumers won’t depend on the Internet connection for productivity, which “is very different than any Web-based collaboration product,” Miller said.

What About Free Alternatives?

Leasing Office will cost consumers considerably more over time than purchasing the package outright, which raises the question of whether this might send consumers flocking to free alternatives such as Google Docs, the Zoho office suite, OpenOffice, LibreOffice and Kingsoft Office Suite Free.

“Free and ‘good enough’ alternatives have existed for more than a decade, yet more than a billion people use Office,” Gremillion said.

“This [leasing] model will prove most appealing to households that have several computers and desire to keep running the latest version of Office,” Directions on Microsoft’s Miller suggested. “I’m not sure that open source alternatives are necessarily the clear threat, though for consumers the offerings from Google and Zoho are definitely [an option].”

Microsoft’s move toward a leasing model targets the purchase patterns of a certain type of consumer.

“Microsoft is aiming Office 365 at a generation of users who are used to monthly billing for services from credit cards to smartphones,” King pointed out. “Toss in the SkyDrive and Skype minutes included in the deal, and it’s hard to see customers heading for the exits.”

Taking Care of Businesses

Office 365 for businesses will be released globally with new capabilities on Feb. 27, Gremillion said.

Currently it runs on the 2010 version of Microsoft’s Office products, noted Miller, and “we expect that to change relatively soon.”

Microsoft Office and the Big Subscription Bet

Microsoft Office and the Big Subscription Bet

Well it’s been another wild week here in the Linux blogosphere, what with all the ruckus emanating out of the bordering Redmond territories.

Much like what happened last fall when Windows 8 made its fanfare-filled debut, the launch of Office 2013 and 365 last Tuesday left more than a few Linux bloggers with a ringing in the ears that didn’t abate for days.

“Microsoft Cuts Ribbon on Low-Rent Office” was one of the more straightforward headlines to appear. It wasn’t long, however, before the complexity of Microsoft’s new productivity scheme became plainly clear.
Open Alternatives’

To wit: “Decoding Microsoft Office: Which Office version does what?” was one attempt to clarify and bring some sanity to the situation.

Then, perhaps more critically, there was, “Not ready for Office 2013? Here are five open alternatives.”

There’s no doubt Redmond is trying a different tack this time around, perhaps in its effort to fend off the growing number of free and open source competitors.

How will it fare? Now that’s a topic on which FOSS fans have had plenty to say.

‘Why Should I Care?’

“On my personal scale of interest from a 1 to 10, this is about -4,” Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien told Linux Girl over a fresh round down at the blogosphere’s Broken Windows Lounge.

“LibreOffice does everything I need, and in fact I keep learning about new things I can do in LibreOffice,” O’Brien explained. “I even carry it with me on USB Thumb drive in the Portable Apps version.

“So please explain to me why I should care about overpriced bloatware?” he concluded. “And don’t get me started on the $%^**#%$ Ribbon.”

‘Time We Moved On’

Indeed, “I can honestly say this new version of Office interests me not even a little, and nowhere near enough to make me take out my wallet,” agreed Google+ blogger Linux Rants.

“There are free Office suites that more than meet my needs, and I’d wager the needs of the vast majority of Office users,” he added. “Maybe it’s time we stopped filling Microsoft’s coffers and moved on.”

Blogger Robert Pogson said he has only used Office a few times in the past decade.

“I installed 1.0 within hours of its release and have never willingly used M$’s office suite since,” Pogson told Linux Girl. “OO 1.0 failed frequently; by 2.0 it ran smoothly for me, and now I use LibreOffice 3.6.

“If M$’s office suite costs $100 per annum, I have saved more than $1K because I don’t have much worry about malware or licensing and I have had export to PDF so many years longer,” he added.

‘Willing Slaves’

LibreOffice is easier to use “because of the user interface,” Pogson opined. “I once helped a citizen install M$’s office suite. It took several adults to figure out just how to open the damned box, and we never did figure out the ‘Ribbon.'”

In the meantime, “the citizen had some work to do, so I installed,” he added. “Easy. Download and install. No need to ‘accept’ a EULA or to do things M$’s way.”

Unfortunately, “many businesses accept M$’s office suite as a necessary tool,” Pogson noted. “M$ has made them willing slaves.”

The new pricing scheme, meanwhile, “is just M$’s way to increase costs while the monopoly shrinks,” he added. “The sooner everyone switches to LibreOffice, the better.

“Where I have worked none of the tasks could not be done with LibreOffice, and converting documents in bulk is easy if not perfect,” Pogson concluded.

‘A Giant Meh’

“Honestly, most of the people I know stopped at 2K7,” Google+ blogger hairyfeet said. “A few went 2K10, but nearly everybody I know jumped off the upgrade wagon at 2K7, so it honestly won’t affect me or my shop any.

“Let’s face it: There really isn’t anything to ‘innovate’ when it comes to office,” hairyfeet added. “Those that want collaboration are using Google Docs, and everybody else is happy with what they have.”

In fact, “this is the biggest problem MSFT has been facing (besides the CEO being terrible), in that when it comes to OSes and Office suites, “if it ain’t broke,” why waste money fixing it?” he pointed out. “I still use my ancient Office 2K on my netbook — it’s ultra lightweight, which is perfect for a netbook, and with the converter pack I can open and save in the latest formats.

“So why switch?” hairyfeet concluded. “2K13 is a giant meh as far as I’m concerned.”

‘Not Quality-Related’

If Office 2013 is ODF-compatible, “that would be the only thing to be happy about,”opined Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. “Basically, after MS Office 2003 users have been divided into hating and liking that office suite, mainly because of the huge changes in look and feel and the utilities.

“As in everything that company produces, the majority of the changes are visual and not quality-related,” he added.

“So, if you are not a big fan of microsoft, why bother thinking what 2013 would bring, anyway??” he mused. “Rather, change to LibreOffice at once: easier to use, ODF native format, PDF export from every part of the suite, and 100 percent free and open source.”

‘Dead in the Water’

Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, had a more optimistic outlook for Microsoft.

The Office 365 subscription package and the Office on Demand feature are both interesting, opined Lim, as is the cloud integration and built-in online storage.

“I have migrated to Google Docs, so I won’t be giving Office 2013 and Office 365 a look,” he noted, “but I think a lot of people will. The only fly in the ointment is the absence of Android and iOS versions.”

In fact, “Apple’s iWork would probably be dead in the water if Microsoft ever decided to wade into iOS waters,” Lim suggested.

“As for LibreOffice and OpenOffice, well these two have plenty of work to do,” Lim concluded. “One of them should hurry, come up with a mobile version and strike a deal with Dropbox.”

‘All Wrong’

Last but not least, Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol offered a succinct summary.

“MS is completely clueless,” Ebersol told Linux Girl. “With many competitors in the boxing ring these days, and it is charging more for the same thing? And will cease functions if the subscription is not paid?

“All wrong,” he opined. “If that had happened in 2005 or 2006, OK — they had no competition back then. Now? Google Docs will eat MS’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They only seem to miss the target these days…”