Microsoft: Google Doesn’t Get Business Productivity Tools

New Office 365 Logo - Orange.png (1888×654)

When it comes to productivity apps, Office is still clearly the market leader, and Microsoft is now also quickly iterating on its online apps for Office. When it comes to its competition with Google’s online productivity apps, though, it’s hard to figure out if Microsoft is feeling superior or threatened (or a bit of both). Earlier today, I talked to Michael Atalla, the director of product marketing for Office 365 at Microsoft. In his view, Google doesn’t really get how businesses use productivity apps.

Businesses, Atalla told me, are looking to find the right mix of tools from companies they trust. He believes Microsoft has the “broadest vision of productivity” that includes everything from the basic Office tools like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, to database servers, Skype and Lync for connectivity and real-time presence indicators, and support for multiple platforms.

Microsoft’s Michael Atalla

Productivity, he said, “is more than just working in the browser” (a clear nod in Google’s direction), because organizations also want security policies, the ability to work with data on-premise and off-premise, and a full set of business-focused capabilities (including business analytics, for example) — some of which can’t yet be replicated in a browser or just aren’t part of the standard online productivity suites yet.

He also noted that while Google provides businesses and consumers with the same set of tools, “one size doesn’t fit all.” And while Microsoft “deeply understands that businesses need capabilities that go beyond consumer needs,” he clearly implied that Google doesn’t. Google’s focus, he somewhat jokingly added, seems to be on Glass and not on the productivity apps on Drive.

Google’s I/O developer conference will kick off next Wednesday, and chances are the company will announce at least a few updates to its productivity suite. Its acquisition of QuickOffice has given Google access to better technologies to provide Office users with the kind of high-document fidelity that only the Office Web Apps currently offer online.

I can’t help but think that Microsoft is trying to preempt some of these announcements with the release of its Office Web Apps roadmap earlier this week and its overall publicity campaign around productivity (and it’s somewhat infamous Scroogled campaign).

Microsoft’s Julie Larson-Green Says Windows RT’s Slow Start Is A Consumer Education Problem

Microsoft Surface RT with Touch Covers

Microsoft’s Corporate VP for Windows Julie Larson-Green was at WIRED’s Business Conference today, and she was put on the spot when asked by interviewer and WIRED Senior Editor Michael V. Copeland about the apparently sluggish start for Windows RT. RT’s failure is a consumer education problem, according to Larson-Green, since it’s very different from what’s come before.

Windows RT, for those unfamiliar or confused by the new familial breakdown of Windows following the introduction of version 8, is a lightweight version designed for ARM-powered devices (vs. x86, the architecture which full Windows OS runs on), which doesn’t offer access to the full suite of Windows software. According to our own Matt Burns, that has resulted in a big app gap, and made the Surface RT essentially a glorified web browsing tablet, which sounds like something different from a simple matter of properly framing the product.

“I think we have some work to do on explaining it to people because it’s different,” Larson-Green said. “They’re just so used to Windows meaning backward compatibility in all the programs that you use today. I use Surface RT as my main computing device, I connect to a corporate network using my virtual smart card and VPN when I need to, Office is already on there […] it’s just a simpler experience and then the Surface Pro has the flexibility if you want to work on the details.”

“I love my Surface RT,” was a common refrain from Larson-Green even into the Q&A, who later characterized it as a device for casual consumption mostly, especially filling a niche for “weekend” use. Even the dual nature of her defense of the Microsoft tablet shows that it still needs work at Microsoft itself in terms of fleshing out its role in the consumer ecosystem, which probably isn’t helping the company properly explain its purpose to the buying public.

The Surface RT is estimated to have sold only around 1 million units total since its launch late in 2012, far under its reported initial estimates of 3 million or so. Other OEMs have balked at the RT line in the meantime, with Acer waiting on launching its RT slate until at least Q2 of this year.

Microsoft Says It Has Sold More Than 100M Windows 8 Licenses, 250M App Downloads In Last 6 Months, Blue Coming “Later This Year”

windows-8-logo

By most accounts, Windows 8 isn’t all that popular, but according to Microsoft’s latest numbers, the company has now sold more than 100 million copies of the latest version of its desktop operating system. In January, the last time Microsoft provided updated numbers for Windows 8, the company said that it had passed the 60 million mark. Windows 8 users are also getting used to using the Windows Store, it seems, as the total number of downloads for the first six months has now passed 250 million.

The number of apps in the store, Microsoft’s CFO and CMO Tami Reller said in a canned interview with Microsoft communications manager Brandon LeBlanc today, has increased 6x since launch and 90% of the apps are downloaded at least once every month. Given that the Store didn’t have all that many apps in it when Windows 8 launched, a 6x increase doesn’t sound all that big, but Reller argues that this means Windows 8 has “already passed what iOS had in store, in its first year of app development.” Earlier today, Microsoft also said that SkyDrive now has more than 250 million active customers.

Windows Blue: Coming “Later This Year”

While Microsoft has long acknowledged that the next version of Windows has the codename “Windows Blue” and various leaks have already revealed many of its features, the company has never announced a roadmap for Blue. In today’s “interview,” Keller said that Blue will be available “later this year, building on the bold vision set forward with Windows 8 to deliver the next generation of tablets and PCs.” Blue she said, “will deliver the latest new innovations across an increasingly broad array of form factors of all sizes, display, battery life and performance, while creating new opportunities for our ecosystem.” Blue, she also noted, is an opportunity for Microsoft to respond to feedback from its customers (who all seem to be clamoring for the return of the Start menu).

With Microsoft Build at the end of June, chances are we will hear quite a bit more about Blue at that time, so it’s probably a fair guess that “later this year” refers to the late summer.

Internet Explorer 0-day attacks on US nuke workers hit 9 other sites

Attacks exploiting a previously unknown and currently unpatched vulnerability in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser have spread to at least nine other websites, including those run by a big European company operating in the aerospace, defense, and security industries as well as non-profit groups and institutes, security researchers said.

The revelation, from a blog post published Sunday by security firm AlienVault, means an attack campaign that surreptitiously installed malware on the computers of federal government workers involved in nuclear weapons research was broader and more ambitious than previously thought. Earlier reports identified only a website belonging to the US Department of Labor as redirecting to servers that exploited the zero-day remote-code vulnerability in IE version 8.

A separate blog post from security firm CrowdStrike said its researchers unearthed evidence suggesting that the campaign began in mid-March. Their analysis of logs from the malicious infrastructure used in the attacks revealed the IP addresses of visitors to the compromised sites. The logs showed addresses from 37 different countries, with 71 percent of them in the US, 11 percent in South/Southeast Asia, and 10 percent in Europe. CrowdStrike’s data showed IP addresses before exploit code was run against the visitors’ machines. Not all those visitors were likely compromised since the exploit code worked only against people using IE8.

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Microsoft’s $2B loan to Dell buyout group involves new Windows license deal

The terms of Microsoft’s $2 billion loan into the war chest of Denali Holdings, the Dell private buyout entity led by Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners, are now public record. Microsoft’s money was key in raising the $24.4 billion required to finalize the offer for Dell, but it’s possible Dell will benefit even beyond the loan; the loan documents make clear that after the acquisition is complete, Dell will re-negotiate its payment terms for Microsoft software licenses.

“From and after the date hereof,” the securities purchase agreement between Microsoft and Denali states, “each of the parties hereto agree to negotiate in good faith and enter into… one or more agreements between the parties and/or their Subsidiaries, in order to modify, alter or amend, effective as of the Closing, the standard terms for payment under the existing commercial agreements between (Microsoft) and/or its Subsidiaries, on the one hand, and Dell and/or its Subsidiaries, on the other hand, including the master OEM relationship agreements.”

The OEM relationship agreement specifies the terms by which Dell pays for Windows operating system licenses for the computers it distributes. Just who those terms would be altered to favor isn’t clear, but the terms and the loan itself may be part of a move by Microsoft to keep Dell from abandoning the sale of desktop PCs by giving Dell a break on Windows licensing fees. That could create trouble with other PC manufacturers looking to improve margins in the headwinds of declining PC sales.

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Internet Explorer zero-day exploit targets nuclear weapons researchers (Updated)

Attackers exploited a previously unknown and currently unpatched security bug in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser to surreptitiously install malware on the computers of federal government workers involved in nuclear weapons research, researchers said Friday.

The attack code appears to have exploited a zero-day vulnerability in IE version 8 when running on Windows XP, researchers from security firm Invincea said in a blog post. The researchers have received reports that IE running on Windows 7 is susceptible to the same exploit but have not been able to independently confirm that. Versions 6 and 7 of the Microsoft browser don’t appear to be vulnerable.

Update: In an advisory published a couple hours after this article went live, Microsoft confirmed a code-execution vulnerability in IE8. Versions 6, 7, 9, and 10 of the browser are immune to the exploit. People using IE8 should upgrade to versions 9 or 10, if at all possible. Those who are unable to move away from version 8 should take the following mitigations:

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Report: DRM decisions on next Xbox will be left to publishers

In the run-up to Microsoft’s official “new Xbox” unveiling next month, the one major rumor that refuses to go away is that the system will sport some sort of requirement to be logged in through an Internet connection in order to be used. A new insider report today confirms those rumors somewhat but also suggests that the Internet-connected DRM might not be as stringent as some had feared.

Polygon cites unnamed sources in reporting that the next Xbox will indeed support an Internet requirement, but publishers will be able to decide how it is used with regard to DRM on a per-game basis. According to the report, current Microsoft guidelines will allow publishers to choose between requiring a constant Internet connection, performing a one-time check when the game starts up, or simply not implementing any Internet-based DRM at all.

If this came to pass, the new Xbox wouldn’t be all that different from the PC in terms of software DRM, with some games featuring overbearing online checks and others released without. It’s unclear whether or not Microsoft itself would require an Internet check for its own games or for any traditionally offline functions of the system itself.

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The TIME Creativity Poll

In partnership with the Motion Picture Association of America and Microsoft, TIME polled Americans about the role of creativity in the workplace, in schools and in government. Here are some  highlights: More than 7 in ten people say the current economic situation makes creativity more important, and  more than 8 in 10 think America should be considered a global leader in creativity. People who say America is not the current world creativity leader cite lack of creativity in schools and lack of government support for creativity. 55% of people believe that technology is making Americans more creative. 35% of Americans believe the United States leads the globe in creativity now, and even more—42%—believe America will lead the creative pack in 30 years. Fewer Americans expect China and Japan to be the world’s creativity leaders in 30 years than believe they are creativity leaders today. For more on this poll, visit TheCreativityConference.com  Or follow the event on Twitter  @Creativity_Con, #CreativityCon