Microsoft tweaked its cloud offerings this week, introducing new features to Office Web Apps, Bing and Hotmail designed to give those services further advantage over Yahoo and Google.
Updates to Hotmail include a new e-mail attachment size of 25MB, support for viewing Dailymotion and Justin.tv videos from within an e-mail, and subfolders for more precise mail management. There's also Facebook Chat integration, so otherwise-productive time can be wasted that much more efficiently.
Updates to Office Web Apps, the company's cloud-based suite of productivity applications, include the ability to embed Excel and PowerPoint documents in a blog or Website, open a Web-based document in desktop-based Office, and view Excel documents on one's phone.
With regard to Bing, its search engine, Microsoft launched its Bing Rewards Preview page-a move that will remind some of the company's now-deceased Bing Cashback Program. Unlike the latter initiative, which gave shoppers cash in exchange for online purchases made through Microsoft's merchant partners, Bing Rewards offers points in exchange for performing Bing-related actions such as trying out new features. Those credits are redeemable for rewards such as a Bing-branded Magic 8-Ball (500 credits) or an Amazon.com gift card (541 credits). Because even if you never realized it before, your life simply isn't complete unless it features something with "BING" stamped on the side.
Microsoft faces competition from Google and Yahoo with regard to both e-mail and Web applications. The browser has become another area of substantial competition, to which the company recently responded by unveiling its Internet Explorer 9 beta Sept. 15.
Meanwhile, online users seemed willing to give the IE 9 beta a test run: Some 2 million of them downloaded the application during its first two days of release. That seems in keeping with the trend with the company's other beta releases, which typically attract multimillion-user audiences. Microsoft then uses their feedback to fine-tune the final version of the software.
"In the first two days, over 2 million people worldwide downloaded IE9 Beta," Roger Capriotti, a product management lead for Internet Explorer, wrote in a Sept. 20 posting on The Windows Blog. "By comparison, when Internet Explorer 8 Beta launched in August 2008, we had 1.3 million downloads over the first five days."
Microsoft is touting IE 9's streamlined user interface and features such as extensive support for HTML5, hoping to maintain its browser's market share lead over aggressive competitors such as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.
However, only Windows 7 and Windows Vista are capable of running the IE 9 beta, something seemed tailor-made to irritate those legions of users who never upgraded from Windows XP. Although Microsoft has pledged to support Windows XP through April 2014, several of its executives routinely blog or speechify about the benefits of upgrading to Windows 7. Which is natural, considering that Windows 7 and its other traditional software products continue to power the company's bottom line.
"Until the final code of Internet Explorer 9 is released to the Web (RTW), we recommend businesses first move to Windows 7 Enterprise with Internet Explorer 8," Rich Reynolds, general manager of Windows Commercial Product Marketing, wrote in a Sept. 21 posting on The Windows Blog. "Thanks to the high degree of application compatibility between the two browser versions, any investments today in deploying Internet Explorer 8 will put you on the best path for transitioning to Internet Explorer 9."
The final version of IE 9 will apparently not require Windows 7 Service Pack 1-contrary to rumors circulating earlier this week. Copies of Windows 7 without the Service Pack upgrade will apparently run the browser just as well.
On the more business-minded side of Microsoft's equation, the company released its Windows HPC (high-performance computing) Server 2008 R2 this week. The server is designed to help businesses, government and academia leverage such capabilities for powerful analysis.
Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 is interoperable with Microsoft technologies such as SharePoint and Microsoft System Center. It will serve as a vital part of Microsoft's broader technical computing initiative, which involves developing applications for parallel computing platforms on client systems, server clusters and the cloud.
"We're now at the point where parallel computing-many computers working together to solve complex problems-is expanding out of HPC and into the mainstream," Bill Hilf, general manager of Microsoft's Technical Computing division, wrote in a Sept. 20 posting on The Official Microsoft Blog. "Multicore PCs and cloud data centers offering tens of thousands of processors create opportunities for a much broader set of people to harness parallel systems, in order to ask tougher questions, gain deeper insights and solve bigger challenges."
Businesses that don't crunch massive amounts of data, however, may be more interested in Microsoft's other announcement this week, concerning changes to the Security Essentials licensing agreement. Starting in early October, the licensing language for the security suite will be adjusted to cover SMBs whether they're home-based or not.
"What it boils down to is that Microsoft Security Essentials can be installed on up to 10 PCs, no matter if they are home-based or office-based," a Microsoft spokesperson told eWEEK. "We view users operating a business out of their homes not to be 'home users'-even though the business is based out of their home."