Archive for April, 2011

Microsoft Planning To Raise Prices Of Certification Exams

Microsoft (NSDQ:MSFT) last week revealed a price hike in Microsoft Certifications that’ll go into effect throughout many parts of the world starting in July.

The price hikes will affect the following certifications: Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP), Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD), Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST), Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA), Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD), Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA).

Microsoft said it doesn’t expect to increase the price of Microsoft Certified Master (MCM), Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA), Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA), and Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Certification exams.

 

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Microsoft isn’t raising the price of exams uniformly around the world: The retail price for Microsoft Certification exams in the U.S. and Canada will rise from $125 to $150, but it’ll remain unchanged in counties like Ireland, Spain and Greece, whose economies are still shaky.

Microsoft says it’ll use the price hike to improve the Microsoft Certification program with new certifications and question types, as well as frequent exam updates and better exam security.

The move came as a surprise to partners, and those who’ve been adjusting their businesses to meet the new terms of Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) said the timing is unfortunate. However, Microsoft plans to offer partners “substantial savings” on exam fees for Microsoft Certifications required to attain MPN competencies. Details on these offers are on the agenda for this year’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), to be held from July 10-14 in Los Angeles.

MPN adds a great deal of weight to the technical skills partners carry, and many have had to make difficult choices as part of their migration to MPN. In MPN, the old Gold and Silver rankings are now being used as indicators of a partner’s skill level within 29 distinct MPN technology competencies.

To obtain Gold, partners must hire or contract with four Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs), and the requirement for Silver is two MCPs. This is in addition to the business model changes Microsoft is pressing partners to make as part of the software giant’s march in cloud computing.

In light of all these changes, it’s understandable that some partners would be irked by the addition of an additional cost burden.

“Not only are we eating administrative costs to realign ourselves with Microsoft, we’re coming off a tough few years of lackluster IT spending and dealing with cloud solutions that are trying to capture a significant amount of value from the channel ecosystem,” said Travis Fisher, executive vice president at Inacom Information Systems, a Salisbury, Md.-based solution provider. “I can’t imagine a worse time for increased certification costs to take effect than right now.”

Microsoft, through its testing partner Prometric, offers a 30 percent discount to partners that purchase an 8-pack of exam vouchers, which includes one free “re-take” for those who don’t pass the first time. There are seven exams required for the MCSE certification, which adds up to $1,050 without the discount.

But as Fisher notes, exams costs are only part of the equation when it comes to obtaining a Microsoft certification. When everything is taken into account, he estimates that Inacom invests around $10,000 per person for certifications every three to five years.

“Let’s be honest: The real costs of obtaining any certification come in the form of boot camps, which cost around $3,500 per week, payroll expenses, and lost productivity,” Fisher said.

It’s unlikely that higher certification costs are going to dissuade Microsoft partners that have begun their move to MPN, particularly because like MPN itself, the exam price hike will likely give partners better visibility and differentiation within the Microsoft channel.

“This will definitely raise costs in the short-term, but fewer partners will achieve and maintain these certs, allowing them to differentiate themselves as experts in a way that other partners can’t,” said Rick Oppedisano, executive director of partner and channel Sales at Azaleos, a Seattle-based Microsoft solution provider.

Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va.-based Microsoft partner, was surprised by the price hike, but says it won’t affect his company’s MPN plans.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s coming in the midst of our move over to MPN, and it matters because we’re trying to get a bunch of people trained,” he said. “But Microsoft has long been quite generous in giving training incentives to partners, and this isn’t an unreasonable increase.”

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Microsoft previews Internet Explorer 10 II

The next-generation browser has a heavy emphasis on HTML5 and offers CSS3 capabilities and accelerated graphics
Preaching the mantra of HTML5, Microsoft began offering on Tuesday a preview of its planned Internet Explorer 10 browser, which emphasizes the critical Web specification and its visual effects.

 

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Microsoft also announced the availability this morning of Windows Azure cloud platform capabilities, including services to accelerate application performance and enable secure Web access via popular identity providers like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. A preview of a traffic management capability for Azure, to balance application performance across different geographies, was made available as well. Additionally, Microsoft unveiled a preview of a Windows Azure content delivery network for media streaming.

Also from Microsoft on Tuesday, version 1.1 of the Orchard project was rolled out, for delivering applications and reusable components based on ASP.Net. Improvements include a Recipes feature for streamlining setup, a new admin panel design, usability and workflow improvements more extensibility and customization. Orchard features a content management system and blogging support out of the box. The company also refreshed of its ASP.Net MVC (Model-View Controller) 3 software, with tools offering HTML5 capabilities.

Microsoft previews Internet Explorer 10

The next-generation browser has a heavy emphasis on HTML5 and offers CSS3 capabilities and accelerated graphics

Preaching the mantra of HTML5, Microsoft began offering on Tuesday a preview of its planned Internet Explorer 10 browser, which emphasizes the critical Web specification and its visual effects.

 

 



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The browser offers CSS3 capabilities and accelerated graphics. “We’re hard at work on IE10 on some forward-looking things,” said Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live division at Microsoft, during a presentation Wednesday at the Mix11 conference in Las Vegas. Company officials demonstrated the IE10 platform preview, featuring HTML5 video, CSS3 gradients, and 3D transforms. The preview, which was shown running on a machine running an ARM processor, also boasted faster SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), CSS3 Flexible Box Layout capabilities, and ECMAscript 5 Strict language improvements.

[ Despite having proprietary technologies to rival HTML5, both Microsoft and Adobe are on board supporting HTML technologies. | Get your websites up to speed with HTML5 today using the techniques in InfoWorld’s HTML5 Deep Dive PDF how-to report. | Follow Paul Krill on Twitter. ]

Microsoft is about three weeks into the development of IE10. The preview is available at the IE Test Drive site, said Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft corporate vice president of Internet Explorer. He also stressed Microsoft’s adherence to “native HTML5,” supported in IE9, which was released four weeks ago. “You and your site can take advantage of that today and deliver significantly better browser experiences.” Native HTML, Hachamovitch said, means “that you really use the language to take advantage of the underlying OS” and leverage hardware acceleration.

Updates to the IE10 platform preview are planned for every 8 to 12 weeks. No specific time was offered for a general release of the browser. Hachamovitch acknowledged that browser upgrades at user sites can be a slow process. He cited an example of a hospital nuclear imaging system he was aware of that still used IE6: “Sometimes, the old versions just take a while to go away.”

Despite’s Microsoft’s emphasis on HTML5, seen as a rival to the company’s proprietary Silverlight rich Internet application plug-in, a beta release of Silverlight 5 also is due to be released at the conference. But in touting HTML5, Hachamovitch stressed it offers capabilities previously requiring a plug-in. “Native HTML5 support within Windows in IE9 makes a huge difference in what these sites can do.”

Microsoft is acknowledging that HTML5 “is the language for developing front ends on the Web,” said analyst Al Hilwa, of IDC. “The position on Silverlight is no different than that articulated earlier. It seems to me that Silverlight will remain native-type technology as an extension of .Net into lighter-weight devices. Silverlight will likely be heavily used in Windows 8 tablets, but we will not know for sure until September.”

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Microsoft’s Windows Phone Lags iOS, Android In Consumers’ Eyes: Report

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 is running behind Apple’s iOS, Android and RIM as a desired smartphone for consumers, says a new Nielsen Company research note.

Windows Phone 7 lags behind RIM’s BlackBerry franchise, Google Android devices, and Apple’s iOS among desired smartphones, according to new data from The Nielsen Company.

 

 



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That comes despite recent data suggesting that Microsoft’s latest smartphone platform is seeing some traction among third-party developers, whose apps are considered a vital part of any smartphone’s appeal.

For the period between January and March, some 31 percent of consumers indicated they wanted an Android smartphone as their next device, up from 26 percent from Nielsen’s July-September 2010 survey. Meanwhile, Apple’s iOS scored 30 percent, down from 33 percent, and RIM’s BlackBerry came in third at 11 percent (a dip from 13 percent).

The combined Windows Mobile/Windows Phone 7 scored 6 percent, a slight downtick from the 7 percent in Nielsen’s last reading. Microsoft managed to beat out Palm/webOS and Symbian. Around 20 percent of respondents weren’t sure about the brand of their next smartphone, up from 18 percent.

“Consumer preferences can be fickle,” cautioned an April 26 posting on Nielsen’s blog.

According to recent data from analytics firm comScore, Microsoft’s share of the smartphone market dipped to 7.7 percent for the three months ending in February, down from 9 percent in November 2010. That placed the platform behind Google Android, Apple’s iOS, and RIM’s BlackBerry. During its MIX11 conference in Las Vegas, however, Microsoft executives insisted that third-party developers were busy adding high-quality apps to Microsoft’s app storefront, and that the upcoming “Mango” software update would introduce essential features such as multitasking and Internet Explorer 9—both indications, apparently, that the platform was on the way up.

On April 21, Microsoft and Nokia also announced a definitive agreement to partner on Windows Phone 7, a relationship that could radically alter the mobility landscape in years to come. Under the terms of that agreement, Nokia will manufacture phones loaded with Windows Phone 7, receiving billions of dollars in return from Microsoft. (Nokia also remains publicly committed to supporting its Symbian OS through at least 2014, with new Symbian phones slated to hit the market in 2011 and 2012.)

“With the definitive agreement now signed, both companies will begin engaging with operators, developers and other partners to help the industry understand the benefits of joining the new ecosystem,” read a joint statement. “At the same time, work will continue on developing Nokia products on the Windows Phone platform, with the aim of securing volume device shipments in 2012.”

According to a recent research note from IDC, that Nokia partnership could propel Windows Phone 7 past RIM and Apple to become the second-ranked smartphone operating system in the world by 2015. “The new alliance brings together Nokia’s hardware capabilities and Windows Phone’s differentiated platform,” IDC analyst Ramon Llamas wrote in that statement. “IDC expects Windows Phone to be number 2 operating system worldwide behind Android.”

That could take a bit more desire than the Nielsen numbers indicate.

Microsoft Explains Its Phone Location-Data Policy

Microsoft moved to explain how and when its Windows Phone devices collect location data, even as Apple moved to squash chatter about iOS location-tracking.

As Apple wrestled with controversy over iOS devices storing location data, Microsoft moved to offer its own explanation for when and how its Windows Phone devices collect information on a user’s physical location.

 

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“When you allow an application or game to access your device’s location, the application or game will connect to Microsoft’s location services and request the approximate location of the device,” reads the FAQ posted on Microsoft’s corporate Website. “The location service will respond by providing the application or game with the location coordinates of the user’s device (when available), which the application or game can then use to enrich the user experience.”

Microsoft’s location services apparently rely on a database of local cell towers and known WiFi access points to “provide an approximate location of the user’s device.” (Microsoft insists the “managed driving” it uses to collect information about WiFi access points will not take any emails or passwords transmitted by those hotspots.) Users can also deny applications access to their location information.

“Applications that use your location are required to provide the ability to turn off that application’s access to your location,” reads another part of the FAQ. “And you can always turn off access for all applications by turning off location services.”

In addition to WiFi access points, Microsoft’s location services can leverage a device’s GPS to provide observed longitude, latitude, direction and speed.

Furthermore, Microsoft’s location services “will only collect information when you allow a particular application to request location information and that particular application requests location information.” While Microsoft apparently creates a randomly generated ID to identify mobile devices sending information to its location services, the FAQ makes no mention of whether such transmissions are encrypted in transit. Microsoft also claims the location information “is not shared with mobile operators.”

Windows Phones don’t seem to store the user’s location data on the smartphone itself, a marked departure from iOS or Google Android.

Both Apple and Google are under additional government pressure to reveal how they collect and store location data, after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked to meet with executives from both companies to discuss privacy issues. Apple is also facing inquiries from U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who fired off letters to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking for greater clarification on news that the iPhone and 3G-enabled iPad running iOS 4 have been saving location data to a hidden database file.

Researcher Alasdair Allan wrote about iOS 4’s supposed location-sniffing abilities in an April 20 posting on the O’Reilly Radar blog. Working with co-researcher Pete Warden, he released an open-source iPhone Tracker application that can plot stored location data on a map.

“The database of your locations is stored on your iPhone as well as in any of the automatic backups that are made when you sync it with iTunes,” Allan wrote as part of a FAQ about removing the data. “One thing that will help is choosing encrypted backups, since that will prevent other users or programs on your machine from viewing the data, but there will still be a copy on your device.”

Location data saved by iOS 4 apparently includes information gleaned from cell towers and the names of WiFi access points, and not actual GPS data from a tablet or smartphone. Other recent news reports have suggested that smartphones running Android are transmitting location data to Google.

In a FAQ posted on its corporate Website, Apple attempted to clarify its position on location-logging.

“The iPhone is not logging your location,” reads one section. “Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested.”

Apple goes on to insist that the iPhone only stores a protected subset of that total crowd-sourced database. “The location data that researchers are seeing on the iPhone is not the past or present location of the iPhone, but rather the locations of WiFi hotspots and cell towers surrounding the iPhone’s location,” reads the FAQ, “which can be more than one hundred miles away from the iPhone.”

Apple apparently plans to stop backing up this cache “soon,” courtesy of a future software update.

Microsoft Promises Multitasking, Augmented Reality Apps for Windows Phone

Microsoft showcased the next version of its Windows Phone platform at the MIX11 conference in Las Vegas Wednesday. The upcoming iteration should bring several important improvements, including support for application multitasking.

 



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The new platform will become available to developers in May. Besides multitasking, key improvements should enable developers to take advantage of audio and file transfer, fast app switching, deeper OS integration and access to the camera and motion sensor library, which will enable augmented reality apps similar to those we’ve seen on other platforms such as iOS and Android.

To showcase the capabilities of the new platform, Microsoft gave visitors an early look into new concepts for several popular apps from Skype, Spotify, Layar, Qantas, Amazon Shopping and Kik Messenger.

Microsoft also announced the the new Microsoft Silverlight 5 beta, available now, providing support for hardware video decoding, a new XNA-based interface for delivering 3D visualizations within apps and something Microsoft calls Trickplay, a feature that provides variable-rate video playback with audio pitch correction. The new beta version is available for download at microsoft.com/silverlight.

Finally, Microsoft showcased some new features from the Kinect for Windows Beta SDK coming this spring. It includes Robust Skeletal Tracking, which tracks the skeleton image of one or two people moving within Kinect’s view; an XYZ depth camera that indicates the distance of the object from Kinect’s sensor; and advanced audio capabilities that include a four-element microphone array with sophisticated acoustic noise and echo cancellation as well as beam formation to identify the sound source.

Developers can sign up at research.microsoft.com/kinectsdk to be notified when the SDK is released.

Microsoft Windows Phones Built By Nokia Due in 2012

Microsoft and Nokia signed a definitive agreement that seals the deal announced in February between the two companies, creating a formidable competitor against Google‘s Android and Apple‘s iOS.

 

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Now, Nokia can migrate away from its aging Symbian operating system, embracing the Windows Phone software to create a new ecosystem of Nokia hardware and Microsoft software. The companies announced that Nokia-built Windows Phones are already in development, “with the aim of securing volume device shipments in 2012.”

While Nokia engineers are busying themselves creating hardware for the Windows Phone, Microsoft gains the power of Nokia’s mapping and navigation platform, certain to enhance Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Those mapping services will also show up on Nokia phones running Windows Phone, but there was no word about whether those mapping services would also run on Windows Phone handsets not made by Nokia.

What about developers? The companies plan to ease the transition for Symbian developers to move to the Windows phone operating system. According to a Nokia spokesperson (see video below), “All Symbian developers will have a free registration for the next year for the Windows developers program.”

Nokia will also reportedly open a Nokia-branded app store based on the Windows Marketplace infrastructure, where developers will be able to distribute their apps for Windows Phone, Symbian or Series 40 devices.

In our view, this looks like a mutually beneficial relationship, where Microsoft will have a formidable hardware manufacturer and map platform in its camp, while Nokia will gain Microsoft’s resources, including gaming expertise, Windows Phone, Bing search facilities on every smartphone and Microsoft’s vast marketing machine.

Which company do you think got the better end of the deal here?

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