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Real World Computing

CeBit 2014 diary: Cameron comes to town

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

IMG_1539

How can one link together rural broadband, Big Data and enterprise resource-planning software? By including a pair of EU leaders in the mix, of course. An early start on the stand of sponsor Software AG at this year’s CeBIT put me in a very unaccustomed position among the scrum of paparazzi, as German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister David Cameron walked up behind a fearlessly simplistic diorama of Smart Big Data at work.

As you may be able to tell from my wobbly picture, the perfectly sensible explanation of how cargo-tagging and inventory management makes shipping more efficient may not have exactly kindled the perfect spirit of European allegiance that both Merkel and Cameron would have preferred as a takeaway message for the assembled press-pack. It certainly fired up Software AG’s Karl-Heinz Streibich, whose German flowed much faster than my talent for translation; I got the idea, in as much as an appraisal of the use of Big Data in an Internet of Things around a container port can be made in a three-minute speech with two impatient heads of state waiting their turn with the microphone.

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How to (unofficially) upgrade in place from Windows 8.1 Preview to final code

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Win8.1

Windows 8.1 is here at last, and all Windows 8 users can upgrade for free by visiting the Windows Store. Even users who are currently running the Preview code that was released in June can get the official update – something we’re very pleased to see, as it had been expected that they’d have to wipe their systems and perform a clean installation of the final code.

However, things aren’t quite as peachy as they may seem for Preview users. According to Microsoft’s own advice, if you installed the preview from the Windows Store, you’ll lose your applications when you move to the final code, and will have to reinstall them all. That’s a pain, and staying on the preview code isn’t a long-term option as it expires in January.

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VMworld: I like Gelsinger when he’s angry

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Pat Gelsinger VMware

I’ve said before that people’s experiences with virtualisation vary wildly. I get on with the whole concept very comfortably, but I know people who still suck their teeth and shake their heads every time it comes up.

The most blogworthy moment of this year’s VMworld conference in Barcelona came when one of the greatly expanded corps of European press came out as a fundamental virtualisation sceptic. One of the problems of being a long-term techie in events that cross several language barriers at once is that the “footprint” of the invites can be spread remarkably wide: I didn’t catch the nationality or publication of the (evidently, lone) sceptic, but there was no mistaking VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger’s reaction.

The sceptic’s perspective was that virtualisation – the whole thing – was just another layer of inefficiency: a software stack that keeps people away from the basic performance of the hardware, which should really be avoided. Surely, he argued, network virtualisation was merely a case of more of the same?

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Windows Server 2012 R2: what businesses have been waiting for

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Microsoft cloud computing briefing

Apparently it rains a lot in Seattle. I wouldn’t really be able to verify that, because I was inside a training suite for the entirety of my visit last week, sitting with the Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 development & marketing teams, working through the new features in Server 2012 R2 which, as you will see in Satya Nadella’s blog post qualifies as the Swiss Army Knife of business server operating systems.

It’s worth a read, because Nadella is the head of the Enterprise and Cloud division at Microsoft. In the past everyone’s been used to thinking “Gates said” or “Ballmer announced”, but this is the new Microsoft, and the degree of autonomy in the Server group is easily measurable by the increased confidence of their presentation.

As always, the weight of the tutorial sessions wasn’t quite the same as the emphasis of the press releases. You may be unsurprised to hear that we didn’t spend very long looking at the new Azure US Government Cloud. Conversely, we spent plenty of time discovering how the new features in Windows Intune combine with non-Microsoft devices to let corporate administrators set up their own, tame App Store-like lists of applications, remote desktop sessions and approved resources.

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Why your MP probably isn’t an internet porn addict

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Porn

The minute I read the BBC article on the newly-released figures for porn site accesses from computers within the Houses of Parliament, I smelled a rat.

Looked at from the perspective of a long-standing network administrator, what does this report actually tell us about the state of IT inside the mother of Parliaments? The key revelation is that the statistics for porn site access vary hugely, month on month: in November of the period they looked at there were over 110,000 accesses. In February, there were only 15.

Let’s take those numbers apart. The report says that there is no direct accusation of specific individuals, and that the total headcount in the House is around 5,000 people, including MPs, the Lords, security and support staff, and the tribes of lobbyists, researchers, etc. So what does 110,000 porn accesses in a month really mean given that level of staffing?

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My manifesto for Microsoft

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Windows 8.1

Since the board hasn’t yet seen fit to call me, I thought I’d just put out my manifesto for what I’d do with Microsoft if the company was sensible enough to offer me the job.

Microsoft keeps burning money on things that don’t make money, and can only get away with doing so because a few cash cows make all the profit. The core truth is that Microsoft is an enterprise software and services company, and it has never succeeded in really engaging with the home market. Of course, it had huge success with early versions of Windows in the home, if only by making the assumption that a home computer is a workstation without a domain controller.

It has built up a huge management structure at enormous cost. Name the wackiest thing you can imagine, and Microsoft probably has a department for it. So the first thing I’d do is reduce the headcount by 30%. I know that will make people gasp, but it has to be done.

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What exactly is the point of Surface RT?

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Surface RT

The ongoing story of Windows 8, and in particular the Microsoft Surface hardware, keeps rumbling onwards. Hot on the heels of news that Microsoft was holding a Surface RT firesale for developers, and setting a “get one in a packet of breakfast cereal” price for academic institutions, comes the news that Microsoft has a warehouses full of unsold stock that has an unpleasant tendency to depreciate. And your auditors have an unhelpful requirement that things are valued correctly.

So the news that there is a near billion dollar writedown on the value of the Surface RT stockpile held by Microsoft comes as no great surprise, although the scale and size of the loss is substantial. Some are claiming it points to Microsoft having ordered some six million units of the thing, which, although somewhat higher than I would have expected, might turn out to be about right.

One has to ask what would motivate an organisation such as Microsoft to display such strong belief in a product that has real hard costs associated with it? After all, getting the production rate for something like Windows is not an issue — its licenses, bits of paper, and a few DVDs. Building laptops is a different kettle of fish.

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How AOL killed a company’s email

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Spam folder

AOL is a long-standing provider of online services. I choose that sentence with care: firstly because I want to draw a distinction between “online services” and “internet access”, and secondly because I want to dispose of the fact that far back in the mists of time, there were plenty of PC Pro types, including me and erstwhile editorial director Mr Derek Cohen, who had AOL accounts. For several years, this was a mainstay of my internet access, so trust me when I say that it gives me no pleasure at all to relate this current, 2013 tale of woe.

My client is a wholesaler of raw materials to the fashion business. It has a small list of customers and every so often, it has an over- or under-supply of its principal product. My client has tell its customer base whether it’s sensible to make orders or to hold off, and it has been using a mailing list to do this job for several years. Unbeknownst to my client, there are some gaping holes in its success rate when it comes to mail delivery, and the principal source of the problem here is AOL.

If AOL thinks it has detected incoming UCE (unsolicited commercial emails, to use an acronym that doesn’t come from a Monty Python sketch featuring lots of vikings) then it takes pretty serious and far-reaching action. Rather than responding to the spammer’s apparent reply-to address with a notification of UCE status, AOL goes straight to the top of the tree and threatens the ISP that hosted or forwarded the traffic with a blanket block of not only that customer’s mail, but all customers’ mail. Stopping the flow of identified messages is the only solution it will accept.

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Thatcher’s tech legacy: an inconvenient truth

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

BT phone

There are no shortage of reasons to regret the influence of the late Baroness Thatcher. Her death has produced an understandable outpouring of bile from those who believe that a Thatcherless world would have been a better place, though I confess I don’t understand their emotional approach to the matter, best summarised as “good riddance to the politician who did more than any other to ensure the death of social compassion in the UK”, which to my mind demonstrates far less compassion than anything she managed to achieve…

That’s hardly a matter for us techies, however. Instead, I want to highlight something that is tech-centric, yet which at the time was taken to be an irrelevant sideshow.

It surprises me how much I turn out to know about telecommunications – not in terms of all the protocols and structures, but rather in terms of the companies and the relationships and the winds of change. I think this has a lot to do with my late uncle, who was “something” in the GPO before British Telecom was moved out into a separate but still government-run entity.  Even though he didn’t bring his work back to the family very much, some genetic osmosis seems to have taken place, and it’s against that background that the death of Thatcher cast my mind back to what life was genuinely like in the early 1980s.

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Is Apple rattled by Samsung? Let’s hope so

Monday, March 18th, 2013

The new anti-Android page at the Apple website

Defensive, prickly and occasionally flat-out disingenuous, Apple’s attempt to swing undecided buyers to the iPhone is great news. For Android users, it confirms that the long wait for an alternative mobile platform that you can bring home to your parents is almost over. Apple’s anti-Android potshots are an indication that Android has finally come of age for consumers.

That’s good news for everyone. If Apple now sees Android as a real threat, it will have to find ways to stop users drifting away. In the long run, Apple on the back foot should mean nicer, better-value products. In the short term it means snippy, linkbait anti-Android marketing barely worth the HTML it’s written on – but still, Apple’s rattled. That can only be a good thing.

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