Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

Microsoft has built software, but not a Linux distribution, for its software switches

A Microsoft Linux distribution would be remarkable, but Redmond says it doesn’t have one.

Late last week, hell had apparently frozen over with the news that Microsoft had developed a Linux distribution of its own. The work was done as part of the company’s Azure cloud platform, which uses Linux-based network switches as part of its software-defined networking infrastructure.

While the software is real, Microsoft isn’t characterizing it as a Linux distribution, telling us that it’s an internal project. That’s an important distinction, and we suspect that we’re not going to see a Microsoft Linux any time soon.

The Open Compute Project (OCP), of which Microsoft is a member, is an industry group that is working together to define hardware and software standards for data center equipment. This includes designs for high-density compute nodes, storage, and networking equipment. One part that Microsoft has been working on is network hardware, in particular, software-defined networking (SDN). SDN adds a layer of software-based programmability, configuration, and centralized management to hardware that is traditionally awkward to manage. Traditional network switches, even managed ones, aren’t designed to enable new policies—alterations to quality-of-service or VLANs, say—to be deployed to hundreds or thousands of devices simultaneously. And to the extent that such capabilities are present, they vary from vendor to vendor.

Earlier this year, Microsoft, Dell, Mellanox, Facebook, Broadcom, and Intel contributed a specification, the Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI), that provides a common API that can span the wide range of ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits—chips tailored to handle very specific workloads, in this case, handling Ethernet frames) used in software-defined switch hardware. The SAI API is, in principle, cross-platform, defined for both Windows and Linux, but much of the switch hardware is supported best, or even exclusively, in Linux. A Linux distribution to support these applications, Open Network Linux, has even been developed.

The Azure Cloud Switch, which is what Microsoft announced on Friday, is Redmond’s software-defined switch. It builds on the SAI API to enable it to work with switch hardware from many different vendors; in August, an ACS switch using six different vendors’ switch ASICs was demonstrated. ACS is built on top of a Linux SAI implementation, and it uses Linux drivers for the switch ASICs.

Given Linux’s dominance in this area, it’s at once both surprising and unsurprising that ACS uses Linux. Unsurprising because there’s little practical alternative for this situation; surprising because Microsoft is still assumed to have some degree of hostility toward Linux. The company today would tell you that this hostility is a thing of the past. Microsoft would say today it’s willing to use the best tool for the job and work to ensure that its software is available on the platforms that people need it on. With this new, more pragmatic Microsoft, the use of Linux should be expected. And accordingly, Microsoft says that it is using this software in its own datacenters. Microsoft has publicly used non-Windows infrastructure before—some Skype infrastructure initially used Linux, for example, and Hotmail ran on FreeBSD when it was bought—but this is nonetheless unusual, as it’s new Microsoft development, not a bought-in project.

So why isn’t the company calling this new endeavor a distribution? The big reason is that the company doesn’t intend to distribute it. Again, it’s an internal development that showcases the OCP approach, but it isn’t a package that will be given to third parties.

Microsoft’s diagram describing ACS might also be significant; the Microsoft components are a set of applications and services that sit above SAI; that’s a chunk of software, but everything else could be taken from an off-the-shelf Linux distribution (Microsoft hasn’t specified). Another confounding factor could be the various switch ASIC components. Each vendor’s ASICs have their own drivers and SDKs, and at least some of these are not open source. This would make it difficult to build a Linux distribution around them.

As such, hell likely remains toasty and warm, and Microsoft won’t be in the Linux distribution business any time soon. But equally, it’s clearer than ever that this isn’t the Microsoft of the 2000s. If Linux is the best tool for the job, Microsoft is willing not only to use it, but to tell the world that it’s doing so.


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Microsoft, U.S. face off again over emails stored in Ireland

The company has refused to turn over to the government the emails stored in Ireland

A dispute between Microsoft and the U.S. government over turning over emails stored in a data center in Ireland comes up for oral arguments in an appeals court in New York on Wednesday.

Microsoft holds that an outcome against it could affect the trust of its cloud customers abroad as well as affect relationships between the U.S. and other governments which have their own data protection and privacy laws.

Customers outside the U.S. would be concerned about extra-territorial access to their user information, the company has said. A decision against Microsoft could also establish a norm that could allow foreign governments to reach into computers in the U.S. of companies over which they assert jurisdiction, to seize the private correspondence of U.S. citizens.

The U.S. government has a warrant for access to emails held by Microsoft of a person involved in an investigation, but the company holds that nowhere did the U.S. Congress say that the Electronics Communications Privacy Act “should reach private emails stored on providers’ computers in foreign countries.”

It prefers that the government use “mutual legal assistance” treaties it has in place with other countries including Ireland. In an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief filed in December in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Ireland said it “would be pleased to consider, as expeditiously as possible, a request under the treaty, should one be made.”

A number of technology companies, civil rights groups and computer scientists have filed briefs supporting Microsoft.

In a recent filing in the Second Circuit court, Microsoft said “Congress can and should grapple with the question whether, and when, law enforcement should be able to compel providers like Microsoft to help it seize customer emails stored in foreign countries.”

“We hope the U.S. government will work with Congress and with other governments to reform the laws, rather than simply seek to reinterpret them, which risks happening in this case,” Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith wrote in a post in April.

Lower courts have disagreed with Microsoft’s point of view. U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York had in April last year refused to quash a warrant that authorized the search and seizure of information linked with a specific Web-based email account stored on Microsoft’s premises.

Microsoft complied with the search warrant by providing non-content information held on its U.S. servers but filed to quash the warrant after it concluded that the account was hosted in Dublin and the content was also stored there.

If the territorial restrictions on conventional warrants applied to warrants issued under section 2703 (a) of the Stored Communications Act, a part of the ECPA, the burden on the government would be substantial, and law enforcement efforts would be seriously impeded, the magistrate judge wrote in his order. The act covers required disclosure of wire or electronic communications in electronic storage.

While the company held that courts in the U.S. are not authorized to issue warrants for extraterritorial search and seizure, Judge Francis held that a warrant under the Stored Communications Act, was “a hybrid: part search warrant and part subpoena.” It is executed like a subpoena in that it is served on the Internet service provider who is required to provide the information from its servers wherever located, and does not involve government officials entering the premises, he noted.

Judge Loretta Preska of the District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected Microsoft’s appeal of the ruling, and the company thereafter appealed to the Second Circuit.



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Microsoft’s rollout of Windows 10 gets B+ grade

General vibe of the new OS remains positive, say analysts

Microsoft has done a good job rolling out Windows 10 in the first two weeks, analysts said today, and the general vibe for Windows 8’s replacement has been positive, even though glitches have dampened some enthusiasm.

“If I had to give Microsoft a letter grade, it would be a B or a B+,” said Steve Kleynhans of Gartner. “It’s not an A because it hasn’t gone perfectly. They’ve stubbed their toe over privacy issues, for example.”

Microsoft began serving up the free Windows 10 upgrade late on July 28, giving participants in the firm’s Insider preview program first shot at the production code. It then slowly began triggering upgrade notices on Windows 7 and 8.1 machines whose owners had earlier “reserved” copies through an on-device app planted on their devices this spring.

The Redmond, Wash. company has said little of the rollout’s performance other than to tout that 14 million systems were running Windows 10 within 24 hours of its debut.

Estimates based on user share data from U.S. analytics company Net Applications, however, suggests that by Aug. 8, some 45 million PCs were powered by Windows 10.

Analysts largely applauded the launch. “As far as the roll-out, it’s not any worse than any other Windows,” said Kleynhans. “But it’s all happening at this compressed timetable.

“And social media now amplifies any problems,” he continued, much more so than three years ago when Windows 8 released, much less in 2009, when Microsoft last had a hit on its hands.

Others were more bullish on Microsoft’s performance. “Windows 10’s go-to-market was really quite good,” said Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that specializes in tracking the company’s moves.

Miller was especially impressed with Microsoft’s ability to make customers covet the upgrade. “Something Microsoft has not always done a great job of is creating a sense of exclusivity,” said Miller. “But they’re withholding [the upgrade] just enough that there’s a sense of excitement. People are saying, ‘I want it, I’m not getting the upgrade yet.’ Arguably, that exactly what Microsoft wants.”

Windows 10’s rollout has departed from those of past editions in significant ways.
Historically, Microsoft released a new Windows to its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners first, who were given months to prepare new devices pre-loaded with the operating system. Only when the computer makers were ready did Microsoft deliver paid upgrades to customers who wanted to refresh their current hardware. Relatively few users paid for the upgrades; most preferred to purchase a new PC with the new OS already installed.

This cycle, Microsoft gave away the Windows 10 upgrade to hundreds of millions of customers — those running a Home or Pro/Professional edition of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 — to jumpstart the new OS’s adoption. With some exceptions, the upgrade hit before OEMs had prepared new devices or seeded them to retail.

Because of the large number of customers eligible for the free upgrade, Microsoft announced it would distribute the code in several waves that would take weeks (according to Microsoft) or months (the consensus of analysts) to complete. While some had predicted that the upgrade’s massive audience would stress the delivery system Microsoft had built, or even affect the Internet at large, neither happened.

The “Get Windows 10” app — which was silently placed on PCs beginning in March — not only served as a way to queue customers for the upgrade, but also ran compatibility checks to ensure the hardware and software would support the new operating system, another slick move by Microsoft.

“Microsoft rolled out Windows 10 to the audience that would be most receptive,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, referring to the Insiders-get-it-first tactic. “Then they rolled it out to those who weren’t Insiders, but who had expressed a desire to get the upgrade. And only those [whose devices] passed all of its tests got it. That was a smart thing to do.”

The latter was designed to limit upgrade snafus, something Microsoft has chiefly, although not entirely, accomplished. “While the rollout was pretty clean, there have been glitchy issues here and there,” said Kleynhans, who cited post-Windows-10-upgrade updates that crippled some consumers’ machines.

Moorhead echoed that, highlighting the out-the-gate problem many had keeping Nvidia’s graphic drivers up-to-date as Microsoft’s and Nvidia’s update services tussled over which got to install a driver. “Problems have been more anecdotal than system-wide,” Moorhead said. “And they seem to get remedied very quickly.”

The bungles haven’t been widespread enough to taint the generally favorable impression of Windows 10 generated by social media, news reports and Microsoft’s PR machine, the analysts argued.

“Overall, I’d say Windows 10 has received a much more positive reception than other [editions of] Windows,” said Moorhead, who said the reaction was justified, since the developing consensus is that Windows 10 is a big improvement over its flop-of-a-predecessor, Windows 8.

“The vibe is positive, but it’s much more about consumers now than businesses,” said Directions’ Miller. Enterprises, he said, will take a wait-and-see approach — as they always do — before jumping onto Windows 10, as they must if they’re to stick with Microsoft, a given since there isn’t a viable alternative.

A credible reaction from corporate customers, Miller continued, won’t be visible until Microsoft finishes unveiling its update tracks, called “branches,” particularly the “Long-term servicing branch” (LTSB). That branch will mimic the traditional servicing model where new features and functionality will be blocked from reaching systems that businesses don’t want to see constantly changing.

“People are liking what they are getting out of the other end” of the upgrade, added Kleynhans. “From what I’ve heard, they’re happy, surprisingly happy, and generally pretty positive about the OS. But I’d expect the new shine to wear off after the first couple of weeks.”

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Microsoft buys sales-gamification startup with eye to CRM combo

Microsoft has acquired Incent Games and plans to integrate the Texas startup’s FantasySalesTeam sales-gamification software into Dynamics CRM.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Adding the fantasy sports component to its CRM offering will give companies a tool to make incentive programs for sales staff more engaging, according to Bob Stutz, corporate vice president for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, in a who discussed the news in a blog post.

Microsoft will integrate the platform into its own Dynamics CRM software in the coming months, Stutz said. It will also continue to support customers using FantasySalesTeam with other CRM products.

However, the move drew some derisive commentary from at least one analyst.

“Are they kidding?” said Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research Group, via email. “Let’s see, for many years and even centuries, we have incentivized sales people with money (the carrot) and job loss (the stick). That wasn’t enough? Really?”

The real problem with incentives is the difficulty in individualizing and applying them across a product line that contains more than one product, and that can’t be solved with gamification, Pombriant said.

Rather, it’s a big data problem, he suggested, and it can be solved by comprehensive compensation-management systems such as what’s offered by companies like Xactly and Callidus.

“We spend all kinds of effort and resources trying to squeeze more productivity out of sales reps,” Pombriant said. “It makes little sense to me to introduce a game system that takes their attention away from the business at hand rather than pursuing results.”

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Windows revenue takes another bad beating

Third consecutive quarter of double-digit declines, but CEO is confident Windows 10 will ‘restore growth’

Microsoft on Tuesday said that Windows revenue again declined by double digits, the third straight such quarter, with sales of licenses to computer makers down 22% from the same period last year.

For the June quarter, Windows revenue from OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) was off $683 million relative to the same three-month span in 2014, making the decline for the fiscal year — Microsoft’s ended on June 30 — approximately $1.9 billion.

The bulk of Windows’ revenue comes from sales to OEMs, which pre-load the operating system on PCs, 2-in-1s, tablets and a few smartphone models. In the past, Microsoft has said 65% to 72% of Windows revenue stemmed from OEM sales.

Second quarter revenue from OEMs was down 27% for what Microsoft calls the “non-Pro” category and off 21% for the “Pro” class. The terms refer to the kind of Windows license, with non-Pro indicating the OS for consumer PCs and tablets, and Pro for devices targeting businesses. In Windows 10, for instance, the former will be Windows 10 Home while the latter will be Windows 10 Pro.

The declines of both non-Pro and Pro were both slightly larger than for the first quarter of 2015.
Microsoft blamed the consumer licensing downturn on slack in the sales channel as OEMs prepared devices for Windows 10, a 180-degree turn from the prior quarter, when it said the channel was still stuffed with PCs left over from the holidays.

“OEMs tightly managed PC inventory ahead of the Windows 10 launch, particularly in developed markets,” said CFO Amy Hood in prepared remarks during the front end of an earnings call with Wall Street Tuesday. “In our view, this is a healthy state for the channel as we head into a transformational launch that starts next week,” she added, referring to the July 29 debut of Windows 10.

Hood returned to the scaled-back OEM inventories when she responded to a question about whether Windows 10 would make up some of its second-quarter declines caused by the emptying retail sales channel. “Before every launch, we tend to have a tightening in the channel as they prepare and run reasonably lean,” Hood answered. “This is a healthy state. It’s within the range of normal.”

Meanwhile, Hood said Pro license revenue was still hamstrung by the tough comparisons in 2014 when sales of business PCs jumped as companies purged Windows XP — which was retired in April of that year — from their organizations. Microsoft has used XP as the whipping boy for the last several reporting periods, and gave the 2001 OS a few more licks Tuesday.

Also in play, although not stressed much by Microsoft, perhaps because it’s a broken record: The underlying problems of the PC industry, which continued a 14-quarters-and-counting contraction, and seems destined to be almost entirely a replacement market, with little signs of any meaningful growth down the line.

Both Hood and CEO Satya Nadella, who was also on the call, spun the Windows declines as less about the loss of revenue in the quarter just past and more about the opportunities ahead with Windows 10.

“With Windows 10, we expect momentum to build throughout the year, as we and our partners bring new devices, applications, and services to market,” said Hood. “We expect this to benefit our business results in the second half of the fiscal year.” Microsoft’s fiscal year runs from July to the following June, so Hood was referring to the first half of 2016.

Nadella pitched in as well. “Our aspiration with Windows 10 is to move people from meeting to choosing to loving Windows,” he said, repeating remarks he made earlier this year.

Not surprising — because it’s part of every CEO’s job description, no matter what industry or under what circumstances — Nadella was confident Windows 10 would turn around the company’s OS fortunes, if not in direct licensing revenue then in sales of after-market services and software, and advertising opportunities in its Bing search site.

“While the PC ecosystem has been under pressure recently, I do believe that Windows 10 will broaden our economic opportunity and return Windows to growth,” Nadella said. He touted the large number of devices and configurations in the testing process for Windows 10 certification, most of which won’t be available until later this year, as well as some revenue and gross margin growth possibilities from Microsoft’s own hardware, primarily the Surface Pro portfolio.

“Third, we will grow monetization opportunities across the commercial and consumer space,” Nadella pledged. “For consumers, Windows 10 creates monetization opportunities with store, search, and gaming.”

The three money-makers Nadella ticked off were the same ones Hood outlined to financial analysts in May, when she fleshed out the firm’s “Windows as a service” monetization strategy. Microsoft intends to shift revenue generation from its decades-long practice of licensing Windows to one more reliant on revenue from search ads within Bing results, gaming and apps sold through the Windows Store.

That strategy has led Microsoft to a number of radical decisions, including giving away Windows licenses to smartphone and small tablet makers — a move that hasn’t done much for the OS’s share in those categories — subsidizing Windows to makers of cut-rate notebooks, and most importantly for Windows 10, giving away upgrades to the new OS from Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

The biggest contributor to that money-making strategy in the June quarter was clearly Bing. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Microsoft said that Bing search advertising revenue had increased 21%, or $160 million, in the second quarter compared to the same period the year prior. Adding Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant and prognosticator, to Windows 10 was also part of the plan to increase Bing’s importance to the OS — which features strong links to the search engine in multiple components, including the new Edge browser — and use Windows 10 to drive the search service’s revenues.

While the growth in Bing ad revenue was less than a fourth of the decline in Windows revenue during the quarter, it was something.
Microsoft said nothing in the SEC filing about app revenue — perhaps because it remains minuscule — but it did boast of a $205 million increase, representing a 58% boost, from Xbox Live, its subscription-based multi-player network. Xbox Live is baked into Windows 10, and Microsoft has pinned significant revenue hope on the OS and Xbox Live reinvigorating the company’s PC gaming business, with the monetization angle coming from the ties between the two platforms — console and PC — and sales of and on the former since the service will be free on PCs and tablets running Windows 10.

“Gaming is an important scenario for Windows 10, and our success with Xbox this quarter gives us a strong starting position heading into launch,” said Nadella Tuesday.

And he remained glass-half-full. “We are confident that these are the right levers to revitalize Windows and restore growth,” Nadella said.

In general, Microsoft’s second quarter was a mess because of $8.4 billion in charges and layoffs in its phone division, resulting in the biggest-ever single-quarter loss and the first since 2012.

Microsoft took a $3.2 billion net loss for the quarter, compared to a $4.6 billion net profit for the second quarter of 2014, a $7.8 billion flip.

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Exam 77-419 Microsoft SharePoint 2013

Exam 77-419 Microsoft SharePoint 2013

Published: 28 June 2014
Languages: English
Audiences: Information workers
Technology: Microsoft Office 2013 suites
Credit towards certification: MOS

This exam measures your ability to accomplish the technical tasks listed below. The percentages indicate the relative weight of each major topic area in the exam. The higher the percentage, the more questions you are likely to see on that content area in the exam.

Please note that the questions may test on, but will not be limited to, the topics described in the bulleted text.

Create and format content (25–30%)

Navigate the SharePoint hierarchy
Use Quick Launch, use All Site Content, use breadcrumb trails, add content to Quick Launch, use Content and Structure for navigation

Manage lists and libraries
Create lists or libraries, edit properties for new items, enable email notifications on lists or libraries, provide shortcuts to a mobile site URL, manage document templates, manage list views, create alerts on lists or libraries, use ratings, add columns, add content validation, manage column properties

Manage list items
Create new list items, edit content, delete list items or documents, version list items, publish assets, manage existing workflows, upload documents, create and manage announcements, collaborate with Microsoft Office assets (calendars, spreadsheets, web apps)

Manage document sets
Add documents to document sets, create document sets, activate and deactivate document sets

Preparation resources
Manage lists and libraries with many items
Introduction to document sets

Manage SharePoint sites (30–35%)

Manage pages

Create new site pages, use templates, edit and delete existing site pages

Perform administrative tasks on sites and workspaces
Create new sites or workspaces using templates, configure site or workspace structures, configure the Content Organizer, display a list of all user alerts, modify Look and Feel, recover assets (lists, libraries, documents, list items), use document and meeting workspaces, view site web analytics, view detailed reports

Manage Web Parts on a page
Add Web Parts, configure Web Parts, hide or remove Web Parts, export or import Web Parts

Manage content types
Associate content types to lists, extend the columns of content types, create custom content types

Manage users and groups
Create groups, manage groups, manage user access, manage group permissions

Preparation resources
How to: Create a page layout in SharePoint 2013
Configure and deploy Web Parts in SharePoint 2013
Determine permission levels and groups in SharePoint 2013

Participate in user communities (15–20%)

Configure My Site
Add keywords, add colleagues, select themes, configure the Colleague Tracker Web Part, configure RSS feeds, configure My Profile

Collaborate through My Site
Update profile status, share pictures in My Site, manage personal documents, share documents in My Site, browse the organisation hierarchy, add Web Parts to My Site

Add tags and notes to content
Add notes to the Note Board for lists or libraries, add tags for lists or libraries, rate items, use tag clouds, review tags on My Site

Preparation resources
Configure My Sites in SharePoint Server 2013
Social and collaboration features in SharePoint 2013

Configure and consume site search results (15–20%)

Perform search administration at the site level

Configure searchable columns, configure list searches, configure site search visibility

View search results

Browse search results, use Best Bet results, use the Refinement Panel, use alerts and RSS feeds with search results, preview documents

Perform advanced searches
Use Boolean operators in searches, use wild cards in searches, use property searches, use phonetic searches, use People Search, use advanced searches

Preparation resources
Manage the search schema in SharePoint Server 2013
Search in SharePoint Server 2013
Plan to transform queries and order results in SharePoint 2013

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Exam 62-193

Exam 62-193
Technology Literacy for Educators

Published: 16 October 2012
Languages: English
Audiences: Academic
Technology: Windows 7
Credit towards certification: Microsoft Certified Educator

* Secondary and higher education students are eligible for special academic pricing. See Exam policies and FAQ for details. Pricing does not reflect any promotional offers or reduced pricing for Microsoft IT Academy program members, Microsoft Certified Trainers, and Microsoft Partner Network program members. Pricing is subject to change without notice. Pricing does not include applicable taxes. Please confirm exact pricing with the exam provider before registering to take an exam.

Skills measured
This exam measures your ability to accomplish the technical tasks listed below.

Please note that the questions may test on, but will not be limited to, the topics described in the bulleted text.

Demonstrate understanding of the Technology Literacy Goals described in the Competency Framework for Teachers (CFT) framework

Identify the policy goals supported by the CFT framework

Identify CFT framework and approaches

Identify the target student outcomes that result from implementing a CFT-supported learning experience

Demonstrate basic knowledge of how Information and Communication Tools (ICT) resources can support curriculum outcomes

Given a curriculum goal or standard, incorporate ICT resources

Given a scenario, evaluate and select an ICT instructional resource

Given a scenario, evaluate and select an ICT assessment resource

Select an appropriate computer-based tool to monitor and share student performance data

Use basic tools to support learning activities

Given a specific learning activity, identify the hardware requirements and devices necessary to support the activity

Use the Internet to support learning activities

Use a search engine and search strategies to support learning activities

Create and use a web-based email account

Given a scenario, select the most appropriate type of software application

Use software to manage and share student and classroom data

Use common communication and collaboration technologies to support learning activities

Organise and manage a standard classroom

Integrate learning activities into a computer laboratory environment

Manage the use of ICT resources with individuals, small groups and whole groups in varied environments

Manage logistics and social interactions around ICT resources

Use digital literacy tools to enhance professional performance

Use ICT resources to enhance teacher productivity

Use ICT resources to support teacher professional learning

Identify and manage Internet safety issues


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IT services group celebrates staff success

Senior systems engineer Adam Willford and systems engineer Alex Taylor have been awarded the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) qualification after passing exams in the technology giant’s flagship credential.

The qualification is a globally recognised standard for IT professionals, and proves the individual’s ability to build innovative solutions across multiple technologies.

It demonstrates the holder’s competence in server and desktop infrastructure, the cloud, messaging, communication, data platform and business intelligence.

Senior helpdesk engineer Ben Coltman has become a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) after passing the first of two exams, which shows his IT professionalism and technical expertise.

This first level covers a wide range of Microsoft products, technologies and solutions and the exam involves multiple choice questions, drag and drop questions and hotspot questions along with scenario-based ones.

Meanwhile, helpdesk apprentice Sam Wood has passed the first part of two CompTIA A+ examinations which are seen as the starting point for a career in IT.

The tests cover maintenance of PCs, mobile devices, laptops, operating systems and printers.

CompTIA, also known as the Computing Technology Industry Association, is a non-profit trade association, and looks to advance the global interests of IT professionals and IT channel organisations.

A few days before passing his CompTIA exam he also passed his test to become a Microsoft Certified Technology Associate (MTA).

Lee Evans, Vital Network Solutions’ managing director said: “Adam, Ben, Alex and Sam have worked really hard to gain these qualifications so well done to all of them, and we’re really pleased to be able to continue supporting them as their careers develop.

“Having highly-qualified employees is a major asset to us as we continue to grow year-on-year, and adds strength to our already highly competent IT management department.”

Founded in 1996, Vital has an annual turnover in excess of £1 million, and specialises in providing small and medium-sized businesses across Yorkshire with outsourced IT support and management services, advising, deploying and supporting Microsoft’s cloud and Office 365 solutions.

In 2013 Vital joined a group of only one per cent of Microsoft partners, including just 300 in the UK, when it was awarded Microsoft’s Cloud Accelerate partnership status, which has now been replaced by SMCS.

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First Look: Microsoft’s new Spartan browser for Windows 10

Here’s what sets Spartan apart from Internet Explorer.

The most recent Windows 10 Technical Preview comes with Spartan, a web browser that will eventually replace Internet Explorer. It’s not an updated version of IE under a different name; it’s a new browser that Microsoft built from scratch. Here’s what sets Spartan apart from Internet Explorer.

New name
For the time being, the browser is officially referred to as Project Spartan, and “Spartan” may or may not be its final name when it’s released with Windows 10. Sure, unlike “Internet Explorer,” the name doesn’t strongly imply that this program is for browsing the Internet, but neither do the names Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Safari. So we think “Spartan” sounds like it would fit in perfectly among its competitors.

Internet Explorer lives on
Microsoft’s previous, and not much-loved browser will still be included in Windows 10, in case you need to visit sites or use web services that absolutely require it. This will probably apply mostly to enterprise users. The current Windows 10 Technical Preview doesn’t list Internet Explorer on the desktop or taskbar. It’s hidden under Windows Accessories in the Start Menu.

Spartan is the default
Spartan will be set as the default browser in Windows 10. This status can be changed by another browser, like Chrome or Firefox, to take over the role as the default. There isn’t a way to set Spartan back to default within its own settings. To do this you have to go to the new Windows 10 Settings app.

Spartan features Edge
rendering engine
Not only will Windows 10 come with two web browsers, each browser will use a different rendering engine. IE will still use Trident, while Spartan comes with the faster and more technologically up-to-date successor Edge. Originally, Microsoft considered stuffing both engines into their new browser, but elected not to, in order to better clarify the separation between the two browsers: IE would be sticking around for backward compatibility.

Spartan becomes Windows app
Is Microsoft’s new browser a Windows app or desktop application? It appears to be the former. In Windows 10, users will interact with Windows apps on the desktop environment in resizable windows; the overall feel from using Spartan suggests it is such an app. It also shares the same design language as the other new, resizable Windows apps coming to Windows 10, such as the Store and Maps apps, as seen in its title bar and borderless frame.

Spartan has cleaner, simpler look
As its name implies, compared to IE, Spartan sports a cleaner looking UI with a borderless viewing pane and simpler graphical elements in the toolbar. This minimalism is also evident under its settings menu, which displays things in large text and isn’t cluttered with several options. In a side-by-side matchup, Spartan’s GUI initially looks similar — the main differences are that Spartan’s has fewer colors and slightly larger toolbar icons, but its tabs are set over the toolbar, as opposed to the way IE does it by setting tabs within the toolbar. Spartan’s arrangement of tabs looks less confusing.

Spartan has link sharing feature
This is a minor feature, but one that isn’t in the latest IE. In Spartan, you can send a link directly to another Windows app, such as OneNote or the Reading List.

Cortana is integrated into Spartan
Microsoft’s personal digital assistant Cortana will come with Windows 10. It’s similar to Apple’s Siri or Google’s Google Now, where, basically, you speak aloud a command or question and the technology will scour the Internet for your requested information, sometimes speaking out what it finds in a digital voice. Cortana’s features are integrated into Spartan but, as of this writing, can be accessed only in the US versions of the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview, but Microsoft plans to expand its availability to other countries soon.

Spartan will likely support extensions
Firefox has add-on functionality, while Chrome refers to its equivalent feature as extensions. Under Spartan, add-ons appear to refer to plugins for running multimedia technologies, like Flash. It’s been reported that Spartan’s final release will have extension support similar to Chrome, so developers will be able to write tools to enhance the usability of the browser.

Spartan has ‘reading view’ for smaller screens
Spartan can re-render certain pages to display only the main body of text and a related image, stripping out extraneous graphics and text from the original layout. This is meant to make an online article more legible and visually comfortable to read, especially on a tablet. To do this, you click the open-book icon to the right of the URL address bar. This function isn’t available when this icon is grayed-out: Not every page is able to be stripped down to its essentials. Spartan’s reading view tends to be available when you visit a page showing an article or blog entry, but not always.

Spartan integrates with Web Note drawing tool
This ballyhooed feature lets you draw right onto a page, doodling over it or jotting handwritten notes (if you are using a digital pen on a Windows 10 tablet). But technically what Web Note does is capture an image of a page, and then give you basic drawing and highlighting tools. You can also annotate the image with notes you type in, and copy the image of the page, or portions of it, so that you can paste it into a document or image that you’re editing in another program. Pages can be saved as a favorite (bookmark), added to the browser’s reading list, or forwarded to other Windows apps through Share.

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First Look: Microsoft Office ‘lite’ for touchscreens

As part of the beta release program for Windows 10, Microsoft has released free touchscreen versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word through the Windows Store.

Microsoft Office
As part of the beta release program for Windows 10, Microsoft has released free touchscreen versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word through the Windows Store. This does not represent the next version of Office, but instead a simplified version of the current Office. Nonetheless, together, they are a full-fledged set of tools that you can use to create documents, and edit or view your current Office format documents (.doc, .docx, .ppt, .pptx, .xls and .xlsx).

Only available for Windows 10 Technical Preview testers
Excel Preview, PowerPoint Preview, and Word Preview are each available for free for the time being, but are meant for testing purposes, and only for users of the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview, which is Build 9926. Each is downloaded separately from the beta of the desktop version of the Windows Store. Their file sizes range from 78 MB up to 90 MB.

Designed to work across all screen sizes
These are among Microsoft’s first apps intended to work across different Windows 10 device platforms: desktop/notebook, tablet or phone. To accommodate touchscreen use, the toolbars utilize large fonts and icons with plenty of whitespace in between. When you highlight te

Designed to work across all screen sizes
These are among Microsoft’s first apps intended to work across different Windows 10 device platforms: desktop/notebook, tablet or phone. To accommodate touchscreen use, the toolbars utilize large fonts and icons with plenty of whitespace in between. When you highlight text or an image, a toolbar appears listing Cut, Copy and Paste buttons. The UI still works with the traditional keyboard-and-mouse. Thus, these apps are well suited for Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, which is designed to be switched between notebook and tablet modes.

Features: Not as extensive as Office
Some Office 2013 features are missing. In Word Preview, you can’t create a table of contents. You’re not even allowed to define custom margins or page sizes; you can only choose from a selection of preset margins and sizes. But when it comes to the features they do have, these three apps are similar to the web app versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word. They are “good enough” for most users’ needs. Excel Preview includes charts and formulas helpfully grouped into categories. The light bulb icon works as both a help search engine and agent that can guide you on how to do something to your document.

Availability of final releases
As for the price of these apps when their final versions are publicly released, it’s speculated that they could be included with the next version of Microsoft Office (which is being targeted to come out sometime in the second half of this year) and to subscribers of Office 365. They will also come pre-installed on Windows 10 phones and tablets (which have screens of a certain maximum size, perhaps 10 inches and smaller), and could be offered for free for other Windows 10 computers and devices. Either way, additional features would be unlocked with an Office 365 subscription.

Bridging touchscreen devices and desktops/notebooks
So how would these touch versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word fit within the Microsoft Office ecosystem? For desktop or notebook users, these touchscreen versions are certainly capable enough for creating and editing basic Office documents with a keyboard and mouse or touchpad. On smartphones and tablets, they are used best for throwing together a rough-draft document, or editing a document you already have. These app versions look to be Microsoft’s attempt to bridge these two platforms into a single workflow.

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