Microsoft Puts Machine Learning in the Cloud

July 25, 2014

Machine learning is ascending to the cloud. The Register asks, “Do Data Centers Dream of Electric Sheep? Microsoft Announces Machine Learning Cloud.” As competition in the world of SaaS and remote hosting continues to escalate, this move may set Microsoft ahead of Amazon and Google (for now). Our question—will this progress rub off on Bing? One can hope.

Writer Jack Clark tells us:

“The company’s new ‘Azure ML’ service was announced on Monday and means developers can access machine learning systems hosted in the Azure cloud and even link their applications directly to them. The tech gives developers a directory of machine learning and associated technologies, including deep learning systems, that they can apply to their applications…

“Azure ML also has ‘a number of tools to help clean data,’ explained Microsoft exec Joseph Sirosh in a chat with El Reg, and has compatibility with popular mathematical software R. The service also gives users a way to drag-and-drop various machine learning technologies together so that they can build an application in a visually striking and understandable way.”

It is interesting to note that Sirosh spent nearly ten years working with (among other things) Amazon’s internal machine learning systems during his stint at that company. Though machine learning itself is nothing new, Microsoft hopes Azure ML will make it more accessible, and tempting, to developers. Likening this advance to the birth of the cloud itself, Sirosh enthuses, “Machine learning is an incredibly underutilized capability—every app around us could be becoming intelligent. I would love to have the excitement around machine learning be unleashed.”

Cynthia Murrell, July 25, 2014

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Google and Microsoft Shuffle the Deck

July 18, 2014

Each company is using different card tricks.

I see a common theme in the termination of employees at Microsoft and the management redeal at Google.

I read “Beyond 12,500 Former Nokia Employees, Who Else Is Microsoft Laying Off?” I am okay with a Microsoft watcher point out that not just Nokia staff getting the axe. The comment that caught my attention reveals how serious a problem Microsoft faces. Here’s the passage I noted:

Under the new structure, a number of Windows engineers, primarily dedicated testers, will no longer be needed….Instead, program managers and development engineers will be taking on new responsibilities, such as testing hypotheses. The goal is to make the OS team work more like lean startups than a more regimented and plodding one adhering two- to three-year planning, development, testing cycles.

As I understand this, a company almost four decades into its life cycle wants to be “like lean start ups”. I am not sure if my experience is similar to that of other professionals, but working with fewer people does not equal a start up. In a start up, life is pretty crazy. Need a purchase order? Well, someone has to work up that system. Need to get reimbursed for that trade show party? No problem we’ll get a check cut. Over time, humans get tired of crazy and set up routines, systems, and procedures. The thrill of a start up is going to be difficult to emulate at Microsoft.

That’s the core problem. Microsoft has missed or just plain failed with Internet search, unified experiences across devices, online advertising, enterprise search, and improving is core applications. Adding features that a small percentage of users try is not innovation. Microsoft is no longer a start up and firing people will not make it one. Microsoft is an aircraft carrier that takes a long time to turn, to stop, and redirect. Microsoft has to demonstrate to its stakeholders that it is taking purposeful action. Firing thousands of people makes headlines. It does not create new products, services, or meaningful innovations. IBM has decided that throwing billions of dollars at project that “could” deliver big revenue is almost as wild and wooly.

Now to Google. The company reported its quarterly earnings. Cheerleaders for the company point to growth in ad revenue. The New York Times states:

Google’s revenue for the quarter was $15.96 billion, an increase of 22 percent over the year-ago quarter.

Tucked into the article were several comments I marked as indicators of the friction Google faces:

ITEM: “The price that advertisers pay each time someone clicks on an ad — or “cost per click,” in Google talk — dropped 6 percent from the year-ago quarter, largely because of the shift to increased mobile advertising.”

ITEM: “Mobile, however, is something that Facebook seems to have cracked. The social media giant accounted for almost 16 percent of mobile advertising dollars spent around the world last year, eMarketer estimates, up from 9 percent in 2012. Google dropped to a 41.5 percent share of the mobile ad market last year, down from 49.8 percent in 2012.”

ITEM: ““There’s a little bit of concern in the markets that there’s some drunken spending going on,” said Mark Mahaney, an Internet analyst with RBC Capital Markets.”

The New York Times’ article omitted one point I found interesting:

Excluding its cost of revenue, Google’s core expenses in the second quarter jumped 26 percent from last year. Source: http://bit.ly/Uf8JPM.

The Google “core expenses” are creeping up. Amazon has this problem as well. Is there a reason to worry about the online ad giant? Not for me. But the “drunken spending” comments, while clever, have the ring of truth. Then the swift departure of Glass director Babak Parviz (Amir Parviz, Amirparviz, or Parvis) suggests disenchantment somewhere between the self assembly wizard and Goggle management. After a decade of effort, Google has yet to demonstrate that it can create a no advertising revenue stream of significant magnitude for a $60 billion a year company.

Microsoft’s and Google’s recent actions make clear that both companies are trying to adapt to realities of today’s market. Both companies are under increasing pressure to “just make it work.” Three card Monte

Stephen E Arnold, July 18, 2014

Bing Search: Will It Be Forgotten

July 17, 2014

I read “Bing Implements ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Ruling, Asks Applicants ‘Are You Famous?’” My reaction to is that search is Google. Microsoft wants to be compliant with the European Union. The Register took a different view of the situation. In a story “Forgotten Bing Responds to Search Index ECJ Rule: Hello? Remember Us?” People don’t want to be in the Google index but don’t seem to think about Bing index.

Microsoft wants respect. “Microsoft to Cut Up to 18,0000 Jobs over Next Year.” some of these soon0to-be-RIFed employees may create blogs and other online content. Microsoft executives may want to make some content about itself go away.

The comment by Daniel Ives, an analyst with FRB Capital Markets, explain the situation like this:

“Under the Ballmer era, there were many layers of management and a plethora of expensive initiatives being funded that has thus hurt the strategic and financial position the company is in, especially in light of digesting the Nokia acquisition,” says Ives. “Nadella is using today as an opportunity to make sure that Microsoft is ready and well positioned to embark on its next chapter of growth around mobile and cloud.”

What strikes me is that the observation can apply to Amazon and Google equally well. As these companies expand, generating new revenues and delivering meaningful profit becomes more and more difficult.

Microsoft’s plight may be a harbinger for other firms as well. Search is a bit of a muddle at Microsoft and time may be running out for Bing to become a substantial contributor to Microsoft’s financial position.

Stephen E Arnold, July 17, 2014

Microsoft and Its Don Quixotesque Deep Learning

July 15, 2014

I know that artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, digital brains, and the other next generation technology will revolutionize search and then everything. I will be pushing up daisies when the future arrives.

I just read “Microsoft Research Reveals Project Adam, A New Deep-Learning System That Trumps Google Brain.” Maybe the future is here. Even though I have a Windows Lumia 925, I don’t have the Windows 8.1 update. I can’t control the colors of the nifty yet obscure icons. I can’t reliably access my email. Yep, the future of Project Adam awaits me.

Wired Magazine, on the other hand, is excited:

Microsoft even brought dogs on to the stage and demoed the system in which the mobile camera recognized the dog breed when pointed at the dog.

I need to do this with my mobile phone.

Here’s another passage I liked:

Lee believes Adam could be part of what he calls an “ultimate machine intelligence,” something that could function in ways that are closer to how we humans handle different types of modalities—like speech, vision, and text—all at once. The road to that kind of technology is long—people have been working towards it since the 50s—but we’re certainly getting closer.

Yep, closer. I am looking forward to news releases and demonstrations from Microsoft’s many competitors. For me, I will be happy with a 925 upgrade that improves the rocket science of getting an email message.

Stephen E Arnold, July 15, 2014

Prepare for Double Life with Office 365

July 15, 2014

Microsoft is pushing all SharePoint clients toward Office 365 for obvious reasons. In fact, they announced discontinuing certain payment plans last month in an effort to consolidate some services. And while some organizations, particularly smaller ones, are hesitant for the transition, even early adopters are finding it is not completely seamless. The Register covers the story in their article, “Face Up to a Double Life with Hybrid Office 365.”

The author sums up the situation:

“The vision is of businesses using Office 365, running in Microsoft’s Global data centres, for collaborating, conferencing, messaging and calendaring . . . If you are migrating to Office 365 from on-premises you will need to set up a hybrid deployment to get your services migrated to the cloud. Once you have done that you can decommission your on-premises environment. But it often turns out that businesses with Exchange, SharePoint and Lync deployed on-premises will need to keep a small portion of that environment running.”

These are the sorts of hiccups that happen often with large implementations like SharePoint, especially SharePoint. Stephen E. Arnold has made his career out of following and analyzing all things search, including SharePoint. His Web service, ArnoldIT.com, is a one-stop-shop for all things search. Check out his SharePoint feed to stay on top of the latest news, tips, and tricks.

Emily Rae Aldridge, July 15, 2014

Microsoft Retires Some SharePoint Online Plans

June 26, 2014

In what is sure to cause a big uproar, Microsoft is discontinuing some popular SharePoint Online payment plans. Redmond Magazine covers all the details in their article, “Microsoft Ending Some SharePoint Online Plans This Month.”

The article begins:

“Microsoft is retiring some of its SharePoint Online and Office Online plans by the end of this month, while offering other plans as substitutes. A total of four plans are going away and won’t be sold after June 30, 2014, Microsoft announced today. Those plans include SharePoint Online Plans 1 and 2 with Yammer, plus Office Online with SharePoint Plans 1 and 2. Organizations currently licensed under those expiring plans can still use the software for a year or two, depending on how the software was purchased.”

Substitutions are suggested in a helpful chart that follows. Stephen E. Arnold also has a few suggestions. He has made a living out of covering all things search, and reports his findings on ArnoldIT.com. His SharePoint feed is full of tips and tricks for SharePoint, as well as all manner of search options, enterprise and otherwise. And while users are bound to be frustrated over SharePoint’s pricing changes, it is doubtful that it will do anything to change the demand for its ubiquitous product.

Emily Rae Aldridge, June 26, 2014

SharePoint Burns Bridges with Payment Options

June 24, 2014

SharePoint is the mostly widely known and adopted enterprise search option for organizations of any size, and yet it also has a reputation for being one of the most difficult, on many levels. SharePoint has proven the critics right with their latest announcement to cut some popular payment plans. Read more in the CMS Wire article, “Microsoft Fiddles With SharePoint Pricing.”

The article begins:

“It’s hard to see the justification, but Microsoft just announced it will cut back four of its payment plans for SharePoint Online and Office Online once the plans expire at the end of June. While Microsoft certainly can cut back on plans whenever it wants, especially when those plans expire, the lack of an explanation could leave a bad taste in the mouths of enterprise customers facing higher prices in replacement plans.”

Stephen E. Arnold has made a career out of tracking these sorts of quirks in SharePoint, as well as all other aspects of search. His Web site, ArnoldIT.com, offers a helpful SharePoint feed for those who need to track the ups and downs. In the meantime, SharePoint is going to get a lot of feedback, mostly negative, on these new pricing plans. However, it is unlikely to dent their market share, as users will hesitate to rework their infrastructure, despite the price hike.

Emily Rae Aldridge, June 24, 2014

Microsoft Winds Up Being Cheaper

June 2, 2014

Maybe to the dismay of users, Microsoft winds up being cheaper long term than open source software. When it comes to total cost, Microsoft actually overcomes seemingly cheaper options once all investments in the system are considered. The topic is covered in a popular forum, SlashDot. Visit this thread to read more, “Microsoft Cheaper To Use Than Open Source Software, UK CIO Says.”

The discussion begins:

“Jos Creese, CIO of the Hampshire County Council, told Britain’s ‘Computing’ publication that part of the reason is that most staff are already familiar with Microsoft products and that Microsoft has been flexible and more helpful. ‘Microsoft has been flexible and helpful in the way we apply their products to improve the operation of our frontline services, and this helps to de-risk ongoing cost,’ he told the publication. ‘The point is that the true cost is in the total cost of ownership and exploitation, not just the license cost.’”

So while open source is enticing, it is possible that many organizations enter into open source implementations without considering the cost of customization, security, etc. and all the staffing time that goes with that. And while there may be good reasons to still go your own way with open source, it is best to do the research ahead of time and possibly consult with professionals who can look at the total cost of installation.

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Emily Rae Aldridge, June 02, 2014

This is Microsoft Embracing Predictive Analysis

May 19, 2014

Now here’s a valuable use of predictive analytics. Digital Trends reports, “Microsoft to Use Bing Search Data to Predict Outcomes of Reality Shows.” Microsoft announced the initiative in this Bing blog post. It is good to see such an influential company investing its resources in issues that affect the quality of life for all humanity. Writer Konrad Krawczyk tells us:

“Beginning today [April 21], Bing will attempt to forecast the results of shows like ‘The Voice,’ ‘American Idol’ and ‘Dancing With The Stars,’ by scanning search data, along with ‘social input’ from Facebook and Twitter. For instance, if you head over to Bing right now and search ‘American Idol predictions’ like we did, the top of the page will feature a set forecasts for five singers. We’ll refrain from adding in any potential Bing-generated spoilers here, but you’re free to check out what the search engine thinks for yourself.

“‘In broad strokes, we define popularity as the frequency and sentiment of searches combined with social signals and keywords. Placing these signals into our model, we can predict the outcome of an event with high confidence,’ the Bing Predictions Team says in its blog post.

“Microsoft also says that Bing’s predictions incorporate numerous emotionally-driven factors into how it generates predictions, allegedly accounting for biases like favoritism, regardless of how a person’s favorite singer/contestant performs from one week to the next.”

While this example does sum up the gist of predictive analysis, we can think of several areas to which the technology could be better applied. To be fair, the Bing Predictions Team says reality TV is not the pinnacle of its prediction projects. Will the next initiative be aimed at similarly vacuous forecasts?

Cynthia Murrell, May 19, 2014

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Microsoft Rolls Out Natural Language Processing

May 1, 2014

I have lost track of Microsoft’s NLP initiatives. Internal research, Powerset, Fast Search & Transfer, and more have preceded smarter Smart Search. Microsoft said:

Smart Search allows you to swipe or type from the start screen to find what you need – whether it’s a document on your PC, a photo album in the cloud, your favorite app, or a website. This week we’re rolling out a series of improvements that allow you to find what you’re looking for and take action even faster.

Want to know more? Navigate to “Making Smart Search Smarter.”

The only hitch in the git along is that not too many folks write complete queries. Oh, if the user speaks to his or her mobile device, ambient noise can foul up the works.

Microsoft is trying, just as it did with contact lenses that could be medical devices. As you may know, Google snagged one of the key people in this project.

I am not sure if NLP is going to follow the same path. The contact lens project was pushing into new territory. The NLP thing is more of a “been there, done that” for customers, Apple, and Google. Bing’s me too noises may not attract as much attention as nanotechnology.

Stephen E Arnold, May 1, 2014

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