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Microsoft offers to just ‘Fix it’

Posted by comtech3 on February 6, 2009

February 5, 2009 4:00 AM PST

Posted by Ina Fried

When people encounter a problem with their PC, they often go to the Web and do a search to see if others have had the problem. If they are lucky, someone has found a fix and listed the steps on either a support document or within a user forum.

Now, they may have an even better option.

Over the past six weeks, Microsoft has quietly added a “Fix it” button to a few of the thousands of help documents on its Web site. When clicked, the computer then takes all the recommended steps automatically.

An example of the “Fix it” button that has started showing up in some Microsoft help documents, offering users a one-click solution.

(Credit: CNET News)

“If we know what those 15 steps are why shouldn’t we just script it,” said Lori Brownell, Microsoft’s general manager of product quality and online support

The “Fix it” option is still fairly rare, showing up in around 100 different help documents. The effort is growing rapidly, though, up from just four such fixes when the program quietly began in December.

Microsoft continues to offer users the option of doing things on their own if they either don’t trust Microsoft or just like being in control.

“We’re not trying to hide anything,” she said.

The first fixes included a number of common issues, including restoring a missing Internet Explorer icon to the desktop, how to enable the DVD library in Vista’s Windows Media Center as well as what to do when encountering the error message in Street & Trips 2008 that “Construction information for routes could not be downloaded”

For now, Microsoft is having to go back and search its archives to see which of its problem solving tips can be automated. Eventually, it hopes to create the automated fixes at the same time the help articles are created.

Where it can, Microsoft is also adding the “Fix it” option into the error reporting tool built into Windows. Initially, all users could do when a program crashed was send a report to Microsoft. More recently, the system has started checking to see if there is any information on the issue. Next up, said Brownell, is offering the option to have the issue solved automatically.

Long term, the company has even broader hopes.

While it would like to just eliminate bugs and glitches, Brownell said that is not an attainable goal.

“We’d love for our customers to never have problems,” she said. “We’ll never ship bug-free software as hard as we try.”

Instead, she said she is aiming for a day when Microsoft’s products themselves will be able to spot problems and proactively offer fixes. As an example, she noted that in Exchange, it’s a pretty safe bet that once one gets low on disk space, bad things will happen. Making sure that users take action before problems occur is an example where the company is headed.

Another example, she said, would be for Microsoft to be able to notify users if they are running two drivers that others have found to conflict with one another. Assuming the appropriate privacy safeguards were in place, Brownell said it would be great for the user to be alerted and offered a fix before a problem occurred.

That proactive world is still largely a vision rather than a reality. That said, Brownell said that the company is putting in place some of the plumbing necessary to make such things possible.

With Windows 7, Microsoft has added an “action center” that Brownell said offers the underlying capability needed to serve up fixes within the operating system. She said that she would expect some opportunities for that over the life of the product, though the current beta version of Windows 7 has few examples of that.

Personally, I’d just like to see the “Fix it” button extended to other areas of my life. I’d really like one that would make travel plans, fill out my expense reports and hire a plumber. That would make me (and my partner) much happier.

For what would you like to see a “fix it” button?


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Next big PS3 price cut set for April?

Posted by comtech3 on January 14, 2009

January 13, 2009 1:57 PM PST

Posted by David Carnoy

No shocker: more talk of a price drop on the 80GB version of the PS3.

(Credit: Sony)

This rumor’s a little dubious, but several blogs are reporting that Sony plans to cut the PlayStation’s 3’s price tag by $100 in April. That would put the 80GB PS3 at $300. The source: an analyst at Wedbush Morgan who’s also saying that Microsoft will chop $50 off the Xbox 360 Pro around E3 2009 (in June), putting that system at $250.

When it comes to gaming systems, price drops are the equivalent of an economic stimulus plan, and breaking $300 would obviously make the PS3 attractive to a whole new batch of consumers, regardless of poor economic conditions. Price points are price points and things start getting pretty magical when you get under $300 (and in the case of the Xbox 360, $250 is even better).

Naturally, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist–or an analyst at an investment firm–to figure any of this out. And giving yourself a nice four-month buffer to predict a price drop doesn’t exactly impress. But people love to speculate on this sort of stuff, and with word that Sony will report a big $1.1 billion operating loss for 2007/2008 (its first operating loss in 14 years), the pressure’s on Sony to rev up its Playstation 3 franchise for the health of the company and its Blu-ray platform (yes, the PS3 has a built-in Blu-ray player, lest you forgot).

The good news is Sony has a number of highly anticipated exclusive titles coming to the PS3 this year, including Killzone 2, Infamous, Heavy Rain, MAG, God of War 3, Uncharted 2, and MLB 09: The Show. Combine that with a $100 price cut and the PS3 should get a nice jumpstart–whenever it comes. But nothing’s a given these days and clearly Sony has to balance taking a loss on the hardware to spur profits on the software (game) side.

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Ballmer to talk Windows 7, not ZunePhone, at CES

Posted by comtech3 on December 11, 2008

December 10, 2008 12:49 PM PST

Posted by Ina Fried

Microsoft will have a bunch of stuff to show at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but a rumored ZunePhone won’t be one of them, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans.

Instead, much of CEO Steve Ballmer’s focus will be on talking about Windows 7 from a consumer perspective. Microsoft is pushing to have Windows 7 done in time for the holiday 2009 shopping season, so that means this CES is Ballmer’s best stage to tout its benefits.

While the desktop operating system will be front and center, sources say to expect Ballmer to talk about how Windows is moving beyond the PC and into a world of PC, Web, and phone, a refrain we also heard a lot from Ray Ozzie at November’s Professional Developers Conference, where the world also got its first good look at Windows 7.

On the phone front, Microsoft may not have a ZunePhone, but it is going ahead with several other strategies–pushing phone makers to develop phones based on Windows Mobile, developing Windows Live services for phones running a variety of operating systems as well as a number of new “premium mobile services” based on its Danger acquisition.

The company has also talked about extending its Zune service beyond the company’s own dedicated player and mentioned the phone as a logical place to access the service. We may hear more about timing of this at CES, I’m told. In an October interview with CIO UK, Ballmer mentioned the possibility of accessing the Zune service on Windows Mobile phones.

The Xbox will certainly get its due as well during Ballmer’s keynote speech and, as is typically the case, expect Microsoft to announce some new partnerships at the show. A funny video and celebrity guest are usually safe bets as well.

So that’s what I’ve heard, but if tipsters know any more, I’m all ears.

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Microsoft to offer free consumer security suite

Posted by comtech3 on November 20, 2008

November 18, 2008 2:28 PM PST
Posted by Elinor Mills

Updated at 6:15 p.m. PST with Microsoft and McAfee comment, at 5:30 p.m. with Sophos comment, and at 4:40 p.m. with customer comment.

Windows Live OneCare logo

(Credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft on Tuesday said it is changing its strategy for offering PC antivirus software, with plans to discontinue its subscription-based consumer security suite and instead offer individuals free software to protect their PCs.

Code-named Morro, the new offering will be available in the second half of 2009 and will protect against viruses, spyware, rootkits, and Trojans, the company said in a statement.

With the arrival of Morro, Microsoft plans to stop selling the Windows Live OneCare service, although the two services are not identical. Morro lacks OneCare’s non-security features, such as printer sharing and automated PC tuneup. Morro will, however, use fewer resources than the subscription-based offering, making it better suited to low-bandwith systems and less powerful PCs.

Microsoft decided to switch to a free product because there are still so many PCs out there that lack any antivirus software.

“Because they’re not concerned about malware, the number of people who don’t have antivirus software or don’t keep it up to date exceeds 50 percent in developed markets, and it’s worse in emerging markets,” Amy Barzdukas, senior director of product management for the Online Services and Windows Division at Microsoft, said in an interview. “Live OneCare was tailored for developed markets with broadband…and it’s not meeting the needs of a lot of customers.”

Asked why the company wouldn’t just offer both the free and subscription versions, Barzdukas said: “Having core anti-malware at no charge for consumers, we believe, we will protect more consumers that way.” Consumers who want more than the features Morro will offer have “fine alternatives from third parties” to buy, she added.

Despite the fact that McAfee stands to lose paying customers to Microsoft’s new free software, McAfee spokesman Joris Evers said the news signaled a defeat for Microsoft.

“Consumers have voted; OneCare, in its two years on the market, has achieved less than 2 percent market share,” he said in an interview. “Microsoft is giving up and has defaulted to a dressed-down freeware model that does not meet consumer security needs. This is good news for McAfee.”

Barzdukas dismissed the notion that Microsoft was responding to market share or competitive pressures. “If the current approach isn’t working… (as far as protecting consumers broadly) we need to go with a new approach,” she said.

Asked if Microsoft would ever consider bundling the security features into Windows, Barzdukas said: “I can’t foresee such a time.”

Representatives from Symantec could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said the news doesn’t impact his security firm because it focuses on the enterprise market.

“I think this announcement may cause some sleepless nights for the chiefs at McAfee and Symantec–they’ve always done well out of the consumer anti-virus market, and with tougher financial times ahead of them (they) won’t be pleased to see the possibility of that evaporating further,” he wrote in an e-mail response to questions.

Microsoft had been selling Windows Live OneCare for $49.95 per year, which covered up to three PCs and offered centralized backup and optimization features in addition to security capabilities.

Windows Live OneCare will continue to be sold for Windows XP and Vista via retailers through June 30, 2009, and direct sales will be gradually phased out as Morro becomes available. “Microsoft will ensure that all current customers remain protected through the life of their subscriptions,” the statement said.

Morro, which will be available for download over the Internet, will work on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and the upcoming Windows 7.

The news frustrated OneCare customer Cas Purdy who complained on Facebook: “I just paid for OneCare. I’m kind of bitter.”

Purdy, who heads up public relations at security firm Websense, said in a follow-up phone interview that he paid for his OneCare subscription a few weeks ago for his home laptop. Websense does not compete with Microsoft on consumer software.

“I’m all for a free tool but given that I just paid for it…we’ll see,” he added.

Microsoft’s Barzdukas said customers should contact customer support if they have a concern. “We will absolutely do the right thing by our customers, and if the customer wants to call our free phone support line we’ll make sure they are happy,” she said.

A posting on the Windows Live OneCare Team Blog has a detailed FAQ for customers.

Microsoft started selling OneCare in May 2006, three years after signaling its intent to enter the security software market with its purchase of Romania’s GeCad.

Although OneCare received only mixed reviews, it significantly shook up the security software market, resulting in generally lower prices.

The software maker has also started selling its Forefront line of security software for businesses and indicated at its Microsoft Online launch on Monday that it plans to expand its lineup of hosted security services.

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Microsoft chopping Zune prices

Posted by comtech3 on November 19, 2008

November 18, 2008 12:10 PM PST
Posted by Ina Fried

With the economy tanking and the holidays looming, Microsoft is hoping to salvage some Zune sales by chopping prices.

Zune(Credit: Microsoft)

The software maker plans to announce on Wednesday a price cut for its flash-based models. The 4GB version will drop to $99, the 8GB model will drop by $10 to $139, and the 16GB model will sell for $179, down from $199.

Microsoft is also cutting prices for several of its Zune accessories. The cuts take effect on Wednesday in the U.S. and on Friday in Canada.

Zune marketing director Adam Sohn said in an interview on Tuesday that the moves were being made to “ensure hopefully we have a good holiday season.” The prices put Zune’s flash players cheaper than a similar capacity iPod Nano, though Sohn said that wasn’t the explicit goal of the price cuts.

“We’re trying to take into consideration what the realities of the market are,” Sohn said.

The company introduced the latest Zune models, as well as the version 3.0 update to its software in September. Microsoft introduced a few new games and other device features on Tuesday as part of a version 3.1 firmware update.

Microsoft also kicked off a new wave of TV ads on Monday that aim to get more people to download the free Zune software, even if they haven’t yet decided to plunk down for a Zune player or Zune Pass subscription.

“We think we need to attack it from both sides,” Sohn said. The ads will run in prime time as well as on national cable and online, he said.

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What if Apple built a search engine?

Posted by comtech3 on November 14, 2008

November 13, 2008 11:18 AM PST

Posted by Don Reisinger

is reporting today that it has heard some rumblings about the possibility of Apple developing a search engine to compete with Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. According to the publication, it believes that Apple’s reason for doing so is its desire to find another avenue of monetization for all the traffic it can capture through its Safari browser and elsewhere across the Web.

But after some digging, TechCrunch found that the chances of Apple working on a search engine in secret right now are relatively low and the Silicon Valley has heard little about the possibility of Apple turning to another sector in the industry.

I don’t think there’s any debating that the rumors are false and the very idea that Apple will develop a search engine sounds ridiculous. Apple’s current strategy is tied to its hardware and there’s no reason for the company to jump into another market.

But now that we’ve rejected the notion of Apple developing a search engine, why not explore it a bit more? What if Apple developed a search engine? Would it lead to bigger and better things or prove to be the company’s downfall? Would it captivate consumers the way it does with its hardware or fall flat on its face?

The possibility is just a bit too delicious to pass up.

If Apple developed a search engine, I don’t think there’s any doubting that the company would have its sights set firmly on Microsoft. Sure, Google is still the leader in the market and maybe Apple should be focusing its attention there, but let’s face it–Apple and any other company in the space won’t be able to catch Google no matter how useful its search engine is. Why? Because Google was the first to understand that success in the market means getting rid of you and since so many people have found that experience through Google, there’s really no reason to switch.

But when it comes to building a search engine (remember, we’re assuming Apple is in this example), Steve Jobs would love to focus all his attention on Microsoft. You remember Microsoft, right? It’s the company that beat Apple in the software space years ago and the main reason why Steve Jobs isn’t as rich as Bill Gates today. But more importantly, Apple’s Safari browser has always tried to one-up Internet Explorer and there’s no reason to suggest Apple Search wouldn’t try to do the same to Live.

Now that we know Apple’s competitor, what is its motivation for developing a search engine? At its lowest level, it’s cash. But what if Apple’s search engine is just a precursor to its desire to break into the online world in a big way? Maybe a search engine will allow Apple to make the case to shareholders that diving into the online world with all that extra cash it has hanging around really is worth it.

But then again, success in the search engine space will be required in order for Steve Jobs to get the go-ahead to expand online. And if Microsoft has taught us anything, tens of billions of dollars isn’t enough to be successful in search.

The possibilities for Apple are endless and the reasons for breaking into the search engine market are numerous. And although most us can probably agree that Apple will never release a search engine, I think the case can be made quite easily that if it’s serious about the online world and it wants to put even more pressure on Microsoft, developing an outstanding search engine that goes above and beyond the scope already offered from Live might be a good place to start.

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Belkin makes PC-to-Mac switch even easier

Posted by comtech3 on November 13, 2008

November 12, 2008 2:29 PM PST
Posted by Ina Fried

Belkin’s new $50 cable aims to make the PC-to-Mac move even easier.

(Credit: Belkin)

Back in 2006, Microsoft was only too happy to tout a cable from Belkin that made it easier to move from XP to Vista. It even gave away the devices as part of its CES press kits.

However, a new twist on that cable is likely to get a far chillier reception in Redmond.

While Belkin’s original USB cable–the Easy Transfer Cable–was aimed at moving from XP to Vista, its latest product is aimed at those moving to a Mac.

The $50 Switch-to-Mac cable “automatically moves your music, movies, photos, files, and Internet preferences” from a Windows machine over to a shiny new Mac. It works with either XP or Vista on the PC side and either Tiger or Leopard on the Mac as far as Macs go.

There’s obviously other ways to move files and make the switch, but if this cable works as smoothly as the XP-to-Vista one did, it’s likely to make life easier for switchers.

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Microsoft hopes to rebuild trust with Windows 7

Posted by comtech3 on November 6, 2008

LOS ANGELES–One of the biggest problems with Windows Vista had nothing to do with the software Microsoft shipped.

Microsoft’s Jon DeVaan speaks about Windows 7 as the company kicks off its WinHEC 2008 conference in Los Angeles

(Credit: Ina Fried/CNET

It was all of the things Microsoft didn’t ship. In the years leading up to Vista’s release in November 2006, Microsoft changed course several times, leading to wasted time and energy for hardware and software makers that had made bets on features or timing that later were changed.

In a speech to hardware makers attending the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), Microsoft’s Jon DeVaan said that the company is aiming to rebuild trust that Microsoft will deliver products with the promised features and at the promised time.

And Microsoft is also hoping that most partners won’t have a lot of work to get ready for Windows 7. “We have the tenet that if something works in Vista it really should work in Windows 7,” said DeVaan, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Windows core operating system division.

The company is hoping to improve some things from Vista, particularly start-up times as well as performance when managing a lot of open windows.

Battery life is another area where Microsoft hopes software improvements will make a meaningful difference. The company said that in some cases it is getting up to an extra hour of DVD playback and at a minimum, the same PC should get 20 more minutes of time in 7 than the same system would get in Vista.

That’s the difference between a cliffhanger and getting to finish your movie, one of the Microsoft workers said during a demo onstage.

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Next version of Office heads to the browser

Posted by comtech3 on October 29, 2008

October 28, 2008 9:00 AM PDT

Posted by Ina Fried

LOS ANGELES–After years of questioning the value of Net-based productivity applications, Microsoft confirmed Tuesday that it will offer new versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that can run from within a standard Web browser.

As first reported by CNET News last week, Microsoft will use its Professional Developer Conference here to show off browser-based versions of its Office programs.

Click for gallery

In an interview, Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop said that the browser-based editing capabilities are being developed in conjunction with the next version of Office, known as Office 14. Microsoft won’t say when that version will arrive, but Elop said that a technology preview of the browser-based products will come later this year and that a beta version will be released in 2009.

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

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

“If you go into some competitive products right now and take a Word document in and then spit it out afterword, it’s unrecognizable,” Elop said. “You lose a lot of fidelity.

Elop said that not all of the editing capabilities of the desktop products are in the browser versions. “The editing we are characterizing as lightweight editing,” he said.

Although Google Apps has seen most of its popularity among consumers, it has started to attract attention from corporate customers. Google Apps got a strong look from Procter & Gamble, which only decided to stick with Office after a strong push from Microsoft. Part of that pitch, Elop said, included Microsoft offering details on its plans for the Web-based versions of the Office programs.

“This was part of the conversation, absolutely,” Elop said. “We have been sharing with customers under varying circumstances to a greater or lesser extent.”

Although he didn’t name names, Elop said Microsoft has found itself in a competitive situation with Google in other business accounts as well.

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Microsoft: We’re all ‘mixed source’ companies

Posted by comtech3 on October 20, 2008

October 17, 2008 4:00 AM PDT

Posted by Ina Fried

In case you were wondering, Microsoft thinks the battle of open source vs. proprietary software is basically over.

“Today, but increasingly in the future, we are all going to be ‘mixed source’,” Microsoft’s top intellectual property lawyer said in a lunchtime interview on Thursday. To bolster his claim, Horacio Gutierrez notes Microsoft is releasing plenty of stuff as open source, while open-source companies like Red Hat often license commercial software alongside their open-source products. “I actually think the war between proprietary and open source is a thing of the past,” he said.

Gutierrez: If every effort to license proves not to be fruitful, ultimately we have a responsibility to customers that have licenses and to our shareholders to ensure our intellectual property is respected.

(Credit: Microsoft)

That doesn’t mean Microsoft is ready to sing Kumbaya with Red Hat, or other companies that haven’t made an IP deal with Redmond. While Microsoft is patient, Gutierrez indicated that Microsoft’s patience is not unlimited.

“If every effort to license proves not to be fruitful, ultimately we have a responsibility to customers that have licenses and to our shareholders to ensure our intellectual property is respected,” he said.

Microsoft has, on a number of occasions, asserted that Linux violates a ton of Microsoft patents, but Microsoft has never sued a company over those claims.

Gutierrez said he would like to keep that record intact, noting that the Novell deal, in particular, is an example of how working with a rival can ultimately benefit both companies.

It’s generally thought that if you want to kill a good technical discussion, just bring in the lawyers.

But Gutierrez notes that it’s often the complete opposite. In fact, he credits Microsoft’s stepped-up licensing efforts that began five years ago for having helped the company find a way to talk to rivals that it had shunned in the past.

“It is truly a business mechanism to start discussions that weren’t possible before,” he said.

He notes that before software patents were in widespread use, companies were reluctant to share any technical details, jealously guarding all their know-how as trade secrets–another form of intellectual property protection that largely requires information to be kept confidential.

Patents remain a double-edged sword for Microsoft, however. Gutierrez said the company is defending about 50 patent cases at the moment–half of all the company’s litigation docket.

“I actually think the war between proprietary and open source is a thing of the past.”

–Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft intellectual property lawyer

While some are high-profile cases such as the disputes with Alcatel-Lucent, most are with companies that don’t actually make goods related to the patents they hold.

In an effort to help head off patent disputes, Microsoft is an investor in Nathan Myrhvold’s patent-buying Intellectual Ventures effort and has also made deals with several other such patent companies. “We’ve done deals with a number of others,” Gutierrez said.

On the positive side, though, are deals like the Novell one, Gutierrez said. In the end, Novell has grown its business, Microsoft got added revenue and customers end up with products that work better together. Gutierrez wouldn’t name names, but he said to expect more deals along the lines of the ones Microsoft struck with Novell and Sun Microsystems.

“We have tasted the opportunity to put IP to work in a very constructive way that leads to better products and more satisfied customers,” he said.

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