Tech Giants Are Classy and Semi Clever

August 16, 2019

I read “Google Attacks Windows by Comparing It to a Broken-Down Car.” Classy on two criteria:

  1. TechRadar’s story title. DarkCyber loved the “broken down” bound phrase
  2. Google’s decision to diminish the Microsoft system.

The Google has coveted Microsoft’s position in the computing world. The company rolled out its word processing, presentation, and ledger software specifically to undermine Microsoft Office. Years ago a Googler explained the strategy. (Sorry. I can’t tell you why a real Googler was talking to a person who lives in rural Kentucky.)

Humor is useful, particularly for stand up comedians. Jack Benny made fun of Fred Allen. The two had a feud.

The difference is that from where I view the world across the hollows and streams filled with mine drainage:

  1. Both companies deliver software and services which are deeply problematic. Whether it is Google’s irrelevant results on ad choked page or Microsoft’s updates which kill systems upon which people rely for “work” — both outfits have some technical work to do.
  2. Both companies are monopolies in distinct ways. Google controls a number of services; for example, content delivery via the Android complex. Microsoft dominates in business software.
  3. Both companies have an arrogance which surfaces in product support and public messaging.

To sum up, two deeply flawed organizations sniping at one another is less amusing than what flows from professional comedians.

The ad and the news giant reporting about the ad remind me of individuals who think that their insights are really clever.

Maybe they are, but will high school antics determine what type of laptop computer I will buy? Nope. I am happy with an eight year old Mac Air. No reason to change because advances in the tools I use on a day to day basis are not changing in a meaningful, useful manner.

When innovation stalls and creativity wanes, why not go for jokes?

Stephen E Arnold, August 16, 2019

Microsoft Walks the Fine Line with China

August 13, 2019

US President Donald Trump is daily criticized by US news outlets. One of the latest criticisms is how Trump is handing trade negotiations with China. Trump’s take is that he is fighting for a better trade agreement that does not take advantage of the US, while his opposition says he wants more money in his pocket and is screwing everything up for the US economy. As a result of the Chinese-US trade conflict, rumors circulated that many companies would take their manufacturing jobs elsewhere; among them was Microsoft.

ITProPortal states that the rumor is false in their story, “Microsoft Says It Won’t Be Quitting China.” Microsoft was not the only company that was believed to withdraw from China; Amazon, HP, and Dell were also on the list that would move their factories to southeast Asian countries. The US-China trade war was not the only reason these companies were going to leave. Raising labor costs was a big issue.

Microsoft will stay in China and continue to have its factories manufacture Xbox parts. However, the other companies on the list might leave:

“When HP was asked to discuss the report, the company told Tom’s Hardware it won’t discuss rumors, but that it ‘shares industry concerns that broad-based tariffs harm consumers by increasing the cost of electronics.’”

The trade war affected technology company Huawei, believed to be a threat to national security, and ZTE was almost destroyed.

China is a hard country to abandon. Even if the labor costs go up, nothing can beat the amount of people to market products to and there never is a labor shortage.

Whitney Grace, Augustk 13, 2019

Capital One and Surprising Consequences

August 4, 2019

DarkCyber noted the ZDNet article “GitHub Sued for Aiding Hacking in Capital One Breach.” According to the “real news” outfit:

While Capital One is named in the lawsuit because it was its data that the hacker stole, GitHub was also included because the hacker posted some of the stolen information on the code-sharing site.

Github (now owned by Microsoft) allegedly failed to detect the stolen data. Github did not block the posting of Social Security numbers. These follow a specific pattern. Many text parsing methods identify and index the pattern and link the number to other data objects.

What law did Github violate? Management lapses are not usually the stuff that makes for a good legal drama, at least on “Law and Order” reruns. The write up reports:

The lawsuit alleges that by allowing the hacker to store information on its servers, GitHub violated the federal Wiretap Act.

DarkCyber thanks ZDNet for including a link to the complaint.

Lawyers, gotta love ‘em because we have a former Amazon employee, a financial institution with a remarkable track record of security issues, and a company owned by Microsoft. What about the people affected? Oh, them. What if Github is “guilty”? Perhaps a new chapter in open source and public posting sites begins?

Stephen E Arnold, August 4, 2019

The Online Titans Deliver News As Slivers of Information

July 8, 2019

Last week a person who plays piano in our local symphony orchestra asked me, “How can I keep track of the news?”

Ever helpful, I immediately responded The Big Project. If you are not familiar with this service, navigate to this link for news. The service is a useful place to look for US and non-US news. Content is in English as well as in other languages. The layout takes a bit of learning, but the service is a good one.

But the write up “Google News vs Microsoft News: Which News Reader Is Better” goes in a different direction. In the article, the two choices are Google and Microsoft. The methods of access are mostly mobile centric.

The bottom line seems to be a fine “no decision” by the experts at Guiding Tech. The article states:

Here is what I think. Google News is better when it comes to managing sources and finding content or news stories. You can control and add topics, blogs, and magazines. The Full Coverage and Timeline feature are beneficial. Microsoft News offers a better reading experience. The dark mode is consistent, it blocks ads effectively, and you can change the layout or even font size.

Gentle reader, compare these two news services to the content available from The Big Project. Answer these questions:

  1. Which of the three allows explicit access to specific sources?
  2. Which of the three contain content in more than one language?
  3. Which of the three makes it possible to follow a story across publications and countries?

Like much US generated information, the perspective within the American lens is different (sometimes) from that which is available from multiple lenses.

Informed or uninformed? Which is better? In Harrod’s Creek, we go with the multiple source approach. Big slices and chunks of news, please, not slivers, not tiny slivers from a curated selection of just okay sources.

Stephen E Arnold, July 8, 2019

Microsoft and Data Practices: No Backups as a Little Aerial Burst Burns Backup Floppies

July 4, 2019

I read “Microsoft Restores Deleted Technet and MSDN Blogs.” The title is incorrect. DarkCyber suggests “Microsoft Cannot Restore Deleted Blogs Because Backup Practices Fail.” I rarely pay attention to old Microsoft anything. Sure, we noticed that a desktop computer reported that the registration code was no longer valid. We plugged in another legal code and forgot about Microsoft’s odd ineptness with any type of data management. Hey, where are my digital books?

The point of this write up deep in the hollows of rural Kentucky is encapsulated in this passage from the write up:

The problem with the above delete and restore operation: Apparently there was no backup, but you had to restore it from any backups. There is a risk that parts will be lost or that the structure will not return in its old form.

Ever wonder why backups of SQLServer don’t work? Ever wonder where documents went in SharePoint? What happened to historical data in Bing queries?

If the above statement highlight in red is accurate, the reason is that Microsoft’s data practices leave something to be desired; for example, stringent application of such mantras as 1, 2, 3 backup procedures and software that sort of actually works. Hey, where are those restore points?

In the last few days, Facebook nuked itself. Google undergoes self inflicted carpet bombing consistently. Now Microsoft reveals that a fundamental function has been ignored or simply does not work.

What’s up? Complexity hides problems until the fragility of the super duper structures break down. Of course, if the write up is sour grapes, Microsoft remains just the wonderfulest outfit in the digital world.

Stephen E Arnold, July 4, 2019

Microsoft Security Consistency Involves Prohibition and Discouragement. Yeah, about That Security Thing?

June 22, 2019

I read “No Slack for You! Microsoft Puts Rival App on Internal List of Prohibited and Discouraged software” and had to laugh. Adobe Flash and Microsoft Windows have something in common. These are two of the “systems” which have been the super highway to exploits, hacking, and mischief for years. I am not sure the Mac is more secure; it is less popular. With forced installations, Microsoft’s software has emerged as a go to way for many bad actors to compromise systems. Yep, Word macros, Shadow Brokers’ code dumps, and freebie exploits explained by security researchers — quite a few pivot on Microsoft technology.

The write up explains that Microsoft has identified software which poses security leaks for the one time monopolist and all time champ of questionable browser technology:

  • Amazon AWS. Yep, Amazon is a threat. A security threat? Only if those using the service fail to follow the recommended procedures. Plus Amazon is gobbling Microsoft’s mindshare by making it possible to run Microsoft on AWS. There you go.
  • Grammarly. Don’t you love it when Word gets grammar incorrectly? Grammarly does some grammar moster correct. How do you solve the problem? Hey, just ban the Grammarly thing. Word’s method is Microsoftianish-like.
  • Slack. Use Skype and be happy. Use Outlook and be happier. Use Zoom. Nope, strike that. And didn’t Microsoft try to buy Slack in 2016?

But “git” this: Microsoft owns another banned service GitHub. Now banning something you have owned since late 2018 is straight out of bizarro world.

Why not invest to “fix” GitHub? Why not make your own code less vulnerable to bad actors? Why not? Why not?

One of the TV shows has used the catchphrase, “Come on, man” to call attention to what I would call ill advised on field actions.

It is applicable to Microsoft’s new found concern for security.

Come on, man.

Stephen E Arnold, June 22, 2019

Windows and Search: A Work in Progress, Slow Progress

June 13, 2019

Unless you know a file’s specific name, trying to find it using the Windows search function sucks. The Windows search function is notoriously bad in each version from 1995 to the latest Windows 10. Searching on a Windows PC is so bad that Apple makes a point of stating how fast and accurate its Spotlight Search function is. In June 2019, Microsoft debuted its latest Windows version dubbed 1903. MS Power User explores how Windows’ 1903 has changed search (or so Microsoft claims) in the article, “How To Use The Enhanced Windows 10 Search in 1903.”

It is hard to understand how a company that revolutionized how people interact with computers cannot get a simple function correct. Yes, search has its own complexities that require well written code, but it remains one of the simplest machine learning functions compared to language translation, photo editing, and processing audio files. MS Power User agrees that Microsoft let the ball drop when it comes to search, but 1903 might be software patch it needs:

“Microsoft’s Windows 10 has had search as one of its pain points ever since it debuted. Search was often panned for being slow, inaccurate and sometimes just for not finding anything at all. With Windows 10 1903, Microsoft has tackled that. First. Cortana and Search were split apart so the Windows team could tackle both individually. This means that Cortana gets better at Cortana things, while search gets better at Search things. With 1903, those seeds have already borne some fruit.”

To improve search with 1903, users have to adjust the search settings. Windows 1903 has two options: “classic search” and “enhanced search.” By selecting the enhanced search option, the full power of Windows search is projected over a computer’s entire hard drive. Windows classic search sucks. Why is Microsoft still including it in their OS when there is a better option? In fact, why are they even forcing users to choose between the classic and the enhanced search?

A good OS should not make its user work harder. A good OS is a tool that is supposed to easily organize and communicate information. Windows, you are letting me down.

Whitney Grace, June 13, 2019

Bing and Ad Revenue: Fake News or Cash Money?

June 13, 2019

No one ever thought it would happen, but Bing is actually making more money via ads than Google. Cue the double take and head scratching. How is this possible? Bloomberg explores how in the article, “Bing’s Not The Laughing Stock Of Technology Anymore.”

Microsoft’s search engine is ten years old and was build upon the company’s first effort to rival Google. Bing was advertised as a “decision engine” compared to Google that only found things. Bing has been a joke for the past decade, but under current CEO Satya Nadella’s guidance Bing makes Microsoft a tidy profit.

CEO Nadella’s approach to Microsoft has been less about taking on giants, but rather being pragmatic about products and their purpose. Bing stopped hemorrhaging money when Nadella stopped tossing funds at it and cut down on costs. Bing was placed at the forefront of Microsoft products, where users would see and be persuaded to use it. Bing’s ad revenue grew twelve percent last year, which did not trail far behind Google’s seventeen percent growth.

Microsoft does not concentrate all of its energy on Bing, instead its search engine is more of a side hustle that brings in money that is directly injected into other areas. Bing has also forced Google and Microsoft to stop bullying one another for ad revenues. Apparently the two companies accept that they each exist and work around one another. Bing meanwhile continues on:

“Bing may remain a side gig for Microsoft, and certainly it failed as the strategic counter strike to Google. But birthdays are best if you don’t think about what might have been and instead appreciate what you have. So happy birthday, Bing. You’re not the laughingstock of technology anymore.”

Bing might be doing well, but Google continues to pull more accurate results. Has Bing’s results accuracy improved? Not really.

Whitney Grace, June 12, 2019

Microsoft and Oracle: Fear Helps Make New Friends

June 6, 2019

I found “Microsoft, Oracle Team Up on Cloud Services in Jab at Amazon” amusing. The real news outfit Thomson Reuters reported this unusual big company relationship when I was making my way through torrential rain in lovely West Virginia coal country. The mist did disguise the land renewal, but this Microsoft Oracle relationship is going to make for a nifty road trip video.

Imagine. The elegant Larry Ellison and the sleek Satya Nadella explaining how old school databases are the pajamas made for the cool cats. Amazon and Google will pay attention to this odd couple because it makes very visible the fear which both companies have for their database futures. Forget the cloud. We’re talking databases anywhere: On premises, hybrid, in the cloud, or residing in some wonky quantum storage thing yet to be made stable, affordable, and usable by a normal rocket scientist.

The news report does not wax poetic, nor does it offer much in the way of addressing the fear thing. I did note this statement:

The two companies said the high-speed link between their data centers would start with facilities in the eastern United States and spread to other regions. They will also work together to let joint users log into to services from either company with a single user name and get tech support from either company. The move comes as both Oracle and Microsoft are courting large businesses and government customers considering moving computing tasks currently handled in their own data centers to cloud providers.

I would point out that Oracle has chosen to add its legal pointy stick to its approach to database efficacy. Microsoft, on the other hand, is working overtime to explain that it is the solution to a range of data management issues. If one does not think about Microsoft’s struggles to update its Windows operating system, the PR sounds darned convincing.

I wish to offer a couple of observations:

First, Amazon and Google continue to capture the attention of the next generation of innovators. Oh, I know that there are clever Microsoft and Oracle wizards inventing the future at this very moment. But let’s be real: Amazon has an innovation ecosystem. Google may not have the perseverance to make its products work and then “put wood behind” some to make them competitive, but the Google does have a low cost phone and the ability to go off line because of configuration errors. Amazon, on the other hand, is evolving into an innovation platform. I am not sure the database technologies are what makes Amazon attractive to smaller firms and specialists, but Amazon is revving the bulldozer’s engine.

Second, Microsoft and Oracle are “look back” technology providers. I think both companies share many of the adorable traits of Hewlett Packard (any flavor) and IBM. In today’s business environment, which is similar to the weather around Oklahoma City, being old is not what I interpret as a plus.

Third, the two besties have somewhat different personalities. Microsoft wants to be a do gooder. Oracle wants to fly its fighter jet over the San Jose suburbs. Microsoft wants to be the big dog in Seattle. Oracle wants to be relevant. Microsoft wants to avoid the fate of Vista. Oracle wants to keep the myth of the structured query language alive. Amazon and Google, on the other hand, just want to avoid regulation and emulate the business success of pleasant people like JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and a couple of other “good business men.”

To sum up, fear is tough to explain away. The exchange of fraternity rings and an appearance at the fraternity party or the high school reunion is in the future. Town & Country material I believe. Will the two parties dance each dance together at these shindigs?

Stephen E Arnold, June 6, 2019


Microsoft and Misconduct

May 20, 2019

Microsoft acknowledges it has a problem with workplace misconduct, and is dedicating resources to get to the bottom of it. Quartz reports, “Microsoft Is Tripling the Size of its Team Investigating Workplace Misconduct.” Since March 2019, the company has been coping with reports of harassment and discrimination that were first expressed on their internal message board. Within a week of those reports, some preliminary changes were implemented, including increased manager training and a promise of more data transparency. Writer Dave Gershgorn tells us:

“Microsoft’s head of HR, Kathleen Hogan, told employees she had met with 100 men and women who have come forward about misconduct inside the company, a number Microsoft confirmed to Quartz. Hogan will focus on reforming five areas of internal culture: behavior, manager expectations, investigations, accountability, and data transparency. Each of those areas was also mentioned in a letter Nadella sent to Microsoft employees last month. Microsoft chief legal officer Brad Smith also told employees that the company is expanding its Corporate, External, & Legal Affairs (CELA) team, which investigates these matters, from 7 people to 23. The senior leadership team (SLT) now meets every week about this topic, employees were told, though a Microsoft representative notes that company culture has long been a staple of the weekly SLT meetings.”

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella allegedly said: “I want people to point out my flaws.”

Admitting there is a problem and making an effort to fix it is often the wisest course. We shall see where Microsoft takes it from here.

Cynthia Murrell, May 20, 2019

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