WinInfo Short Takes, March 11, 2011

An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...

Microsoft Sort of Admits Carriers Have Delayed the First Windows Phone Update(s)...

After basically months of silence, the Windows Phone team belatedly revealed via blog post this week that it had, in fact, delayed the first Windows Phone update—code-named No Donuts (or just NoDo)—from this past Monday (its most recent release date) to "the latter half of March." The blog post is long on words but short on content, but at least it's something given the wall of silence that has emanated from this team previously. And parsing through the rubble, you can find a few gems of actual information, as well as, sadly, some huge contradictions. For starters, Microsoft admits that some people have received the so-called "February update" for Windows Phone (or what I call the "pre-update") and some haven't. Why haven't some customers received the pre-update? Here's where it gets vague: Microsoft says that the situation is "complicated" but that "some \\[wireless\\] carriers require more time \\[to test updates\\] than others." Which carriers, you ask? Microsoft doesn't say. So although the post never actually comes out and says this explicitly, here we see the beginnings of an admission from Microsoft that the delays are, as I've stated previously, the carriers' fault.

But the company also backtracks from the abyss, of course. In the same post, Microsoft explains that this pre-update was in fact a "success" because "the overwhelming majority \\[of pre-update installs\\] have been successful." Previously, the company admitted that 10 percent of users who had downloaded the pre-update had a problem, including some cases in which the update "bricked" the phone. I don't personally consider such a record "successful," especially given that the pre-update is a tiny, innocuous change. But Microsoft says it's "not satisfied when problems prevent you from enjoying the latest Windows Phone updates." So you've got that going for you.

And that brings us very neatly to the first "real" update, NoDo. According to Microsoft, which previously and publicly promised to deliver this update in the first half of March—and I'd remind everyone that the update was actually completed back in January—it's now delaying the release until "the latter half of March." And you would think (given that the post is literally called "Phone updates: process and timing") that Microsoft would in some way address the most important issue surrounding this delay, which is "why" it happened. Why has NoDo been delayed from December, January, February, and then the first half of March until the "latter half" of March? Come on, I know you're wondering. This is why: Based on the failure of the February pre-update (what Microsoft calls a "success" in this same blog post), the company has decided to "learn all \\[it\\] can" from that experience (which, remember, was a success). So it has "decided to take some extra time to ensure the update process meets our standards, your standards, and the standards of our partners."

To recap, Microsoft is claiming that the pre-update was such a success that its experience delivering it to 90 percent of a subset of Windows Phone users has caused it to delay the first real update, which was completed three months ago, by an additional few weeks in order to, what? Celebrate this success?

... But It Gets Worse. Doesn't It Always?

OK, so I think I've successfully demonstrated that the Microsoft "explanation" for the software-update delays is contradictory and less than transparent than it at first appears. Skirting around the facts is one thing. But I take a greater exception to another bit in this treatise, which I do label a lie and, equally troubling, a personal attack on me.

To understand why this is so, you need to understand a bit of history. If you've been following along with this drama, you might recall that last November I documented how Microsoft's wireless-carrier partners could, in fact, block software updates for Windows Phone, contrary to the opinion of uninformed bloggers at the time, and contrary to what Microsoft had previously promised publicly. Where did I get this information? Why, from the tap, of course: Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore told me and other reviewers in early November 2010 that—in his words, mind you—"if a carrier wants to stop an update, they can ... Carriers could in fact block updates to sell you a phone. That can happen." Pretty clear-cut, if you ask me.

Unfortunately, this week's supposed mea culpa from Microsoft includes the phrase, "\\[Microsoft has\\] seen a lot of speculation on blogs and forums lately about whether carriers can 'block' an update," which strongly suggests that any discussion about whether carriers could block update are speculative and thus invented. (Speculation is defined as "opinion based on incomplete information.") And instead of outright refuting the fact that carriers can block updates—because, again, they can (and have)—the post notes that Microsoft, vaguely, works with the carriers and that its users "should ultimately receive all the updates we send out."

Right. But that comment doesn't refute my assertion in the slightest. In fact, in the previously cited post about carriers' ability to block updates, I also document how this blocking can occur for only one update cycle. In other words, Microsoft has provided no new information here. But it has cast doubt on anyone who has "speculated" about this now-alleged blocking. More to the point, Microsoft has here cast a doubt on my credibility. After all, I'm the one who documented this originally (or, in Microsoft's words, "speculated" about this originally). Even though the information I published came from the mouth of the guy in charge of Windows Phone development and was made to an audience of about 20 tech reviewers.

I am not a sensitive guy. But I take exception to that. OK, moving on...

Pwn2Own: Safari Falls First, Then IE 8

There's a computer-hacking contest called Pwn2Own that's held each year, and each year most of the modern web browsers succumb to hacking attacks pretty darn quickly, reminding us—if briefly—how insecure our primary portal to the Internet really is. And then we just forget about it and keep buying stuff we don't need at Amazon and eBay, and posting private information on forms in Facebook. This year's Pwn2Own, held this week at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver, has unfolded in a largely familiar pattern. Apple's ridiculous Safari browser fell first (and in all of five seconds), despite the release of last-minute security updates and a "fully patched" 64-bit Mac OS X base. So much for that little myth about OS X superiority. But don't get too complacent, Windows fans: IE 8 on Windows was next, and while that little hack required a fairly complex exploit of three separate vulnerabilities, it too was destroyed rather quickly. Holding up better was Google's Chrome running on a Chrome OS netbook, which wasn't hacked. On the mobile side, Apple's iPhone 4 (Safari) and Research in Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerry Touch 9800 both fell easily to hackers. But Google Android and, get this, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 both remained unhacked. Sounds good, right? Nope. The reason these "unhacked" systems remained hack-free—and you really have to dig to corroborate this—is that none of them were actually attacked. In each case, the hacker assigned to those platforms simply didn't show up. So, I can conclude only one thing from this torrid affair: I don't care how you get online. It's insecure.

Yahoo! Finally Patches IMAP, Ends (Some) Windows Phone Suffering

Last fall, readers of my Windows Phone Secrets blog started complaining about errant data usage on Windows Phone, and these reports turned into a full-blown investigation that eventually discovered a culprit: Yahoo!'s IMAP servers were incorrectly retrieving information from connecting devices, causing massive data overruns. Microsoft admitted at one point that it had found the source of the problem but didn't say who it was, so my Secrets co-author Rafael Rivera simply started monitoring device data usage and announced Yahoo! as the winner—er ah, loser. But that was months ago. This week, quietly, Yahoo! finally implemented a change to its IMAP servers, and it's now only retrieving the correct amount of data for each request. In other words, the problem has been solved. But as with the software-update fiasco noted at length above, once again Microsoft's almost never-ending silence caused problems, since it announced that it had found the problem but never told anyone what it was. Classic stuff, really.

Microsoft Updates Its Application Virtualization Wares

Microsoft has so many virtualization solutions these days that it's hard to keep track of what's what, and even if you whittle it down to a particular product category, in some cases, there are still multiple solutions. Case in point: application virtualization. Microsoft offers two main approaches, Application Virtualization (App-V) and Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V). (OK, you could argue that Remote Desktop Services, formerly called Terminal Services, sort of falls into this general category too. Let's not muddy the waters.)  App-V, put simply, allows businesses to package apps that can be run virtually on client desktops. MED-V, meanwhile—and again, this is a gross simplification—virtualizes an entire Windows XP desktop along with specific apps, and allows the end user to run those apps side-by-side with native apps in Windows 7. So, they are different approaches to application deployment and manageability, basically, both using some form of virtualization. Which is all a very long way of saying, this week Microsoft unveiled new versions of each: App-V 4.6 SP1, which includes "package accelerators" for simplifying the process of creating application packages, and MED-V 2.0, which features new integration capabilities between System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and various third-party software management solutions. Both products are available as part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) 2011.

This Week: The Most Pointless Tech Conference on Earth. You Gotta Be There!!

There are tech conferences that make sense, and then there's South By Southwest (SXSW), which is billed as a "unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies. Fostering creative and professional growth alike, SXSW is the premier destination for discovery." It is, in other words, completely pointless. And while there isn't a tech or IT person on Earth who could get work to pay for such a trip legitimately (aside from those with exhibitors, of course), it is somehow really popular. I guess it's like Burning Man without the nudity and fire. I say "guess" because I've never been there. And I never will. But it's being held this week in Austin, as always, and if you're on the who's who list of, well, some sort of bizarre tech blogosphere list, I guess, you just gotta be there. For some reason.

Microsoft Gains on Google Search Again

And really, it's time to start admitting that every little bit helps. According to Hitwise, the combination of Bing and Yahoo! garnered 28.48 percent of the US Internet search market in February, up from 27.44 percent the previous month. (Bing powers Yahoo! searches, lest you forget.) And Google, likewise, was down, falling from 67.95 percent of the market to 66.69 percent in the same time frame. Looked at individually, both Bing and Yahoo! saw small gains. Bing jumped to 13.49 percent of the market, from 12.81 percent. And Yahoo! jumped to 28.48 percent, up from 27.44 percent.

Chrome Reaches Version 10

While Microsoft is busy celebrating its year-and-a-half development of Internet Explorer (IE) 9, Google quietly released its tenth major version of the Chrome web browser this week. One of the things I'll be looking at in my IE 9 review this coming week is whether Microsoft's new browser has the chops necessary for me to stop using Chrome, which has quickly become my favorite browser of choice thanks to its performance, site compatibility, and excellent add-ons. Frankly, IE is going to have a tough fight on its hands. More soon ...

This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast

Leo and I recorded the latest episode of the Windows Weekly on Thursday as usual. The new episode is now available on the Zune Marketplace and iTunes, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.

But Wait, There's More

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TAGS: Windows 8
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