Upfront - 3

A labs rat gets a head full of Windows Server 2008; W3C opens up; the lost-phone saga continues.

A Head Full of Win Server

Last week, I attended a technical workshop on Windows Server 2008 at Microsofts Redmond campus. There, I and a gaggle of tech journalists from all over the world spent three days having our heads stuffed with details about Microsofts forthcoming server revision and the tools that complement it.

Microsoft has done a lot of impressive work on Windows Server, including faster networking, strikingly mature-looking server virtualization technology and administration interfaces that beat the pants off the competition—both in GUI and command-line flavors.

Also impressive was the focus that Microsoft has begun to train on the midmarket—a huge, currently underserved group that Microsoft defines as companies with 50 to 1,000 employees, 25 to 500 PCs, and between one and five IT staffers.

Microsofts newly minted Windows Essential Business Server offers a very compelling answer to the question, "How can a midsize business consume all the same sorts of Microsoft core server products that a large enterprise might consume?"

Heres the rub: It seems to me that the new server is an excellent answer to the wrong question.

For instance, at the heart of Microsofts new midmarket server products lies Exchange, which makes sense, since e-mail services are one of the most important roles that a company requires. Rather than ask, "Whats the best way to deliver e-mail services?" Microsoft is asking, "Whats the best way to deliver Exchange?"

When youre talking about organizations with between one and five IT people, does it really make sense for those limited IT resources to be spent on something as amenable to outsourcing as e-mail? Hosted e-mail can mean cheaper and more bountiful mailbox storage, anti-spam and anti-virus filtering that occurs up in the cloud, and more scalability than is possible from servers installed on-site at companies that may not even have server rooms.

Fortunately for Microsoft and its midsize business customers, Microsoft boasts more than enough technologies to enable these businesses to reach the best balance between locally hosted and in-the-cloud services, as branch office service scenarios form a huge part of Windows Server 2008. If a midsize business is lacking in server room security, for instance, it could turn to a hosted directory service with a local read-only domain controller for speedy authentication.

—Jason Brooks

W3C Opens Up

The World Wide Web Consortium, which is headed by Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, is the organization that creates and manages the core standards that make up the Web itself.

From HTML to XML to HTTP to a host of other standards, the W3C ensures that the Web remains a level and open playing field for everyone—lone blogger and giant corporation alike.

I recently had a chance to look behind the W3C curtain and see how its standards process works.

During the W3C Technical Plenary/Advisory Committee Meetings Week at the beginning of November, I spent a day listening to debates and discussions on some of the principal issues and challenges facing the W3C today, along with those it expects to face tomorrow.

Berners-Lee was there, along with other core W3C representatives, people from the numerous companies that participate in the W3C standard-setting process and many other interested parties.

One major theme that day (and the reason I was finally able to attend this event) was the move to increased openness for the W3C and its standards process. Multiple speakers discussed the need to let more people find out whats going on with the proposed and existing standards that affect them.

W3C members also spoke about opening up mailing lists—where much of the debate and work on standards takes place—to any interested parties.

Other important issues covered in the sessions I attended included the future of HTML (specifically, focusing on HTML 5 and XHTML 2); the increased importance of the mobile Web; and the need to make video a first-class citizen on the Web (meaning, for example, that video would be viewable directly by browsers and not just through plug-ins).

For more information and presentations from the consortium, visit www.w3.org/2007/11/07-TechPlenAgenda.html.

—Jim Rapoza

IT Coffee Klatch

For many years now, eWeek reporters, editors and Labs analysts have had a great resource: our Corporate Partner Advisory Board. The members of the board—IT managers, CIOs and CTOs—represent our readers.

Once a month, members of the group and I get together for a conference call. Sometimes we have a firm agenda, and sometimes we just talk about whats top of mind for them.

We went the latter route on an early November afternoon. The gathered group was small, but that ended up making for great conversation.

As always, Microsoft wound its way into the conversation. The week we talked happened to be the week that eweek.com published a bevy of stories on Vista and companies slow uptake of the operating system.

Indeed, none of the CPs on the call said their organization had deployed Vista.

"Why not," I asked?

"Its just not ready," replied Ed Benincasa, MIS manager at FN Manufacturing.

"Its not ready, or youre not ready for it?" I countered.

"Its not ready," he repeated. Benincasa went on to say that many of his companys applications wont run on Vista, and that Vista wouldnt be deployed until they could.

Bob Rosen, CIO of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, said applications were an issue for his organization as well, and that Vista deployment was at least six months away.

Benincasa also discussed Microsoft Office, which may have been a bit of a sore spot since he and his IT colleagues have spent a fair amount of time evaluating Office alternatives in an effort to get off the Microsoft platform. But, mostly for file format reasons, FN is going the Office route in its quest to upgrade from Office 97.

But the company is not moving right to the latest version of Office 2007. It has purchased Office 2007 licenses, but in a flavor that will let the company "bump back a generation" first. Essentially, FN Manufacturing will go from Office 97 to Office 2003 to Office 2007.

Why, you ask? I did, too.

Benincasa said the reason was because Office 97 to 2007 was just too big a jump. In fact, the company is developing a "delta" training program, documenting how functions have changed from version to version so users can eventually be moved to 2007.

Moving along, we heard that another concern for Rosen is TMI—too much information. His organization is struggling to identify what information must be saved and for how long.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases is a research organization, which adds its own set of challenges. For example, when Rosen asked one of the scientists there how long research should be saved, the scientist said, "Forever."

Of course.

"On what media do you store information that must be saved forever?" I asked.

Precisely the problem, I was told.

The CPs discussed many other issues, including wireless (as in testing 802.11n), the challenges involved when a company quadruples in growth (I guess thats one of those good problems to have), virtualization as a disaster recovery technology and standardizing desktops.

Finally, Gannett IT Architect Gary Gunnerson gave us the latest on a project thats been occupying much of his time, the development of Nimbus.

A rich media ad tag, Nimbus delivers constantly updated weather conditions, forecasts, warnings and watches across the United States. Nimbus gets its satellite-delivered data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service, and is being beta tested on sites including www.9news.com, www.tennessean.com and www.delawareonline.com.

For more information on Nimbus, go to www.nimbusiness.com.

—Debra Donston

The Lost-Phone Saga Continues

When I thought I lost my Treo 650 and thus all my personal data, I panicked. I thought I had put all my data—and that of many of my friends and family members—into the hands of a stranger. My phone was eventually returned to me, but I did learn some important lessons.

1. Be less aggressive in marking vendor e-mail about application upgrades as spam. My Treo was running an old version of Butler, which can lock or erase data from a handheld after getting an SMS message with a pre­determined code. If I had been updating Butler all along, I probably wouldnt have had to buy the product again to get the new features I wanted when I discovered that I needed them.

2. Password protection is worth whatever annoyance it causes. Seven keystrokes, and Im into my Treo data. A stronger password would be super-annoying and would make me want to stop using the device. Thats the line we all walk in balancing security with convenience.

This makes the case again for SSO (single sign-on) tools such as v-Go from Passlogix, which make it easy for users to manage a single password that enables them to get to all the applications they need while enforcing impossibly strong password strength to access the apps.

The thing I like about v-Go is that when an employee leaves his or her organization, administrators need only to disable the SSO password because users never even know the passwords that v-Go used on their behalf. I dont think v-Go has a version that manages phone access, but applications that are accessed from the phone are covered.

3. A monetary reward for a smart phone isnt a good idea. Now that I have remote lock and wipe, Im keeping the password protection but dumping the $100 reward I had offered for the safe return of my device.

Heres my thinking: If the phone was stolen, the $100 isnt likely to entice the thief to return my phone. If it was lost, Id rather spend $100 toward a cool, new iPhone than toward getting my old phone back (although the iPhone still cant accept outside applications such as Butler, so maybe just an uncool, but eminently useful, new Treo would do.)

—Cameron Sturdevant

MapQuest, This Is It!

One of the earliest Web successes was, arguably, MapQuest. It made effective use of online technology and delivered something many people desperately want: directions.

I have printed out my share of MapQuest directions through the years. And how many times have you seen drivers with MapQuest printouts laid against their steering wheels while they try to watch the road and read directions at the same time?

But I swear, on everything that I hold dear, that I will never rely on MapQuest again.

Probably the only thing worse than getting lost using MapQuest directions is getting someone else lost while you "navigate" using MapQuest directions. ("No, I said a slight right, not a right!")

Ill admit I dont have the best sense of direction. Ill also concede that I should have paid attention the hundreds of times Ive been driven into Boston and Cambridge, Mass. But who pays attention to where theyre going when theyre not driving?

Obviously, not me, because on a trip into Cambridge Nov. 7 for a panel discussion on tech publishing hosted by Fama PR, I got hopelessly lost. And its all MapQuests fault!

I typed in my "from" and "to" addresses and carefully studied the directions that were returned. Seemed easy enough. I got about three-quarters of the way through the drive pretty well, but there came a point—as has happened lo so many times before—where the directions just stopped making sense.

I drove around and around, asked for directions at a Hess gas station, drove around and around some more, and finally found my destination through some innate sensibility—or, more likely, sheer dumb luck.

I almost cried.

So, thats it, MapQuest. And, no, Google Maps, youre no better.

Guess all I want for Christmas is a GPS.

—Debra Donston