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April 29, 2009

Microsoft Vine: A subscription meta social network for emergencies, mostly

Posted by David Hunter at 10:56 AM ET.

Microsoft revealed a private beta in the Seattle area of the Microsoft Vine social networking service yesterday and it is more than a trifle odd:

Microsoft has just launched a new product called Vine into private beta. The service connects Facebook, Twitter, text messages, phone calls, email, and other forms of communication into one system for the purpose of keeping people connected during a crisis situation.
….
The new service isn’t being designed to compete with the social networks that are already in place – it’s designed to augment and embrace them by connecting them all together for communication purposes.

Er, OK – it’s meta social network. So what’s the point?

What Vine does is gather news from 20,000 local and national sources, including public safety announcements from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It then displays those news items to you on a map of your area.

OK – it’s a location sensitive news service similar to what most local TV station websites offer.

In addition, Vine displays the Facebook status updates of your friends and family, including their location if they permit that info to be shared. Twitter and other social networking sites will be added as well, but are not currently present at launch time.  Also planned for the future is traditional phone integration. Once added, people will be able to send and receive messages using automated voice technology.

In the event of an emergency, a Vine user could send out an alert to a specific contact list (e.g. “Family,” “Friends,” etc.). Those receiving the alert would do so using whatever format they had chosen – an email or text message for example. Another option for sharing alerts involves linking Vine to Facebook to send the alerts as a Facebook status updates that everyone can see. There’s also a desktop software component that could be used – it currently works on Vista or XP computers, but future integrations are planned, including Mac and Silverlight platforms. Recipients can then reply to the alert using that same format, if desired.

There’s more by following the link, but I’m still scratching my head. In most major emergencies the power is going to be out and folks will have more important things to do than fool around online. If you have power it might save a few keystrokes, I guess, but it hardly seems compelling and neither do the suggestions for nonemergency uses like sending notifications to a mailing list.

If that was all, one could chalk up Vine as a nice but ineffectual public service effort on Microsoft’s part, but Jessi Hempel reports at Fortune that Vine is Microsoft’s attempt to make social networking pay because it actually incorporates a paid subscription service:

… chief strategist Craig Mundie tells Fortune the company is planning on pursuing a subscription-based model instead of trying to support the platform only with advertising. … And he says he is optimistic that Microsoft can crack the code for making money off social networks.

Microsoft says it would make basic service available free, but would charge for premium services, such as access to the platform via smart phone. The world soon will know if consumers are willing to pay for social networking, or if the subscription model is destined to die on the vine.

Pardon the mixed metaphor, but I wonder if even the Seattle/Redmond private beta will get tire kickers for this turkey, much more anywhere else.



Filed under Home Software, Microsoft, Microsoft Vine

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SP2 for Windows Vista and Server 2008 released

Posted by David Hunter at 8:31 AM ET.

Microsoft today released Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. What’s new:

It includes all updates that have been delivered since SP1, as well as support for new types of hardware and emerging hardware standards.

As we have mentioned before, here are some of the key benefits of Windows Vista SP2:

  • Windows Search 4.0 for faster and improved relevancy in searches
  • Bluetooth 2.1 Feature Pack supporting the most recent specification for Bluetooth Technology
  • Ability to record data on to Blu-Ray media natively in Windows Vista
  • Adds Windows Connect Now (WCN) to simplify Wi-Fi Configuration
  • Windows Vista SP2 enables the exFAT file system to support UTC timestamps, which allows correct file synchronization across time zones.

For "updates" in the first line, read "bug fixes" and you’ll get the drift – it’s a roll-up of all fixes plus minor feature upgrades which is just what a service pack should be.

Venturing a bit off topic – here’s a quote from the post above that I enjoyed:

Business customers with Windows Vista will find that the transition from Windows Vista to Windows 7 will be significantly more straightforward due to the high degree of compatibility between Windows Vista and Windows 7. If your Windows Vista SP1 deployment is already underway we recommend you continue with SP1 as planned. Then you can deploy SP2 using your systems management infrastructure.  If you are in the early stages of deployment or still planning Windows Vista deployment our best advice is that you plan on testing and deploying Windows Vista SP2.

If you are like many of the business customers I talk to, you’ll just keep on installing Windows XP until Windows 7 arrives whereupon you’ll go through an evaluation process while still installing Windows XP until you are sure Windows 7 is not a dud.



Filed under Microsoft, OS - Client, OS - Server, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008, Windows Vista, Windows XP

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April 28, 2009

Microsoft releases Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2)

Posted by David Hunter at 5:40 PM ET.

Microsoft today announced the availability of Service Pack 2 for Office 2007. What’s in it for Office 2007 users?

Users should notice the improved performance and stability of Outlook, better charting functionality in Excel, and more control over the appearance of SmartArt graphics.

On the server side, IT professionals will notice several enhancements to the security and performance of SharePoint Server 2007, including support for read-only content databases, improvements to forms-based authentication, and an STSADM command-line utility that enables administrators to scan sites that use the variations feature for errors. SharePoint Server will also feature better support for newer versions of the Firefox browser.

Also, having a wider array of file-format choices should really benefit customers. With SP2, Office 2007 now has built-in support for Open XML, ODF and PDF, along with the dozen or so other formats that were already supported in Office 2007.

Office 2007 users can download SP2 right away or wait for it via Microsoft Update where it will appear "no sooner than three months from now, and with at least 30 days notice."



Filed under Adobe, Coopetition, Microsoft, ODF, OOXML, Office, Outlook, SharePoint Server, Standards

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April 23, 2009

Microsoft takes the expected profit and revenue hit in fiscal 3Q09

Posted by David Hunter at 8:44 PM ET.

Microsoft announced fiscal 3Q09 result after the market close today and while it was a sorry story, but it was pretty much what Wall Street analysts had expected:

Excluding one-time items, the software giant reported a profit of 39 cents a share in its fiscal third quarter, on a topline of $13.65 billion.

In the same period last year, Microsoft turned in a profit of 47 cents a share on revenue of $14.454 billion.

The company was seen reporting a profit of 39 cents a share on sales of $14.094 billion, according to a Thomson Reuters consensus estimate of analysts who follow the company.

You’ll notice that while the profit met the Wall Street estimate, the revenue was rather lighter and moreover the first year-over-year revenue drop in Microsoft’s history.

Always more interesting to me are the year over year quarterly numbers for Microsoft’s various business segments (per Microsoft’s 10-Q statement):

Client

Profit was down 19% on revenue that was down 16%. The problem as expected was decreased unit sales exacerbated by the switch to cheaper and lower profit Windows operating system versions driven by the rise of the netbook PCs:

Client revenue decreased primarily as a result of PC market weakness, especially PCs sold to businesses, and a continued shift to netbook PCs. OEM revenue decreased $637 million or 19%, while OEM license units decreased 6%. The decline in OEM revenue reflects a 14 percentage point decrease in the OEM premium mix to 62%, primarily driven by growth of licenses related to sales of netbook PCs, a decline in premium editions sold to business customers, and changes in geographic mix. …

Client operating income decreased primarily reflecting decreased revenue and increased research and development expenses, partially offset by decreased sales and marketing expenses.

Business Division (mainly Office)

Business Division income was down 8% on revenue that was down 5% as consumer sales dropped while business sales managed to eke out modest growth based on deferred revenue from previously signed volume licensing agreements. Also, Microsoft’s April 2008 acquisition of Fast Search & Transfer ASA (“FAST”) once again hit the bottom line as it added 16% to cost of revenue.

Server and Tools

I think it would take a comet hitting the Earth to stop Microsoft’s Server and Tools group which had a 24% increase in profit on a 7% increase in revenue.

This [revenue] growth reflects recognition of deferred revenue from previously signed agreements and continued adoption of Windows Platform applications through SQL Server 2008, which was released in the first quarter of fiscal year 2009, CAL Suites, and System Center products.

CAL Suites are bundles of Client Access Licenses for multiple Microsoft Server products.

Online Services Business

Online revenue was down 14% and the loss doubled year over year to $575 million due to a 16% drop in advertising sales, a 28% decrease in the legacy ISP revenue, and a 48% increase in cost of revenue "primarily driven by increased traffic acquisition costs and data center and equipment costs."

Entertainment and Devices Division

EDD went slightly into the red on a 2% drop in revenue:

EDD revenue decreased primarily due to decreased sales of application software for Apple’s Macintosh computers, partially offset by increased Xbox 360 platform and PC game revenue.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’d be more enthusiastic about the Xbox if Office for the Mac weren’t carrying the division.

Bottom Line:

The big question posed by these results is whether Microsoft’s Client and Office cash cows are just under the weather due to the economy or whether the rise of netbooks has caused a much more serious illness.



Filed under Acquisitions, Financial, General Business, Microsoft

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