<IT WORLD> Vista-free outlook for Microsoft
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - Microsoft has been touting its latest version of Windows
this week and moved closer to dropping the much-derided Vista operating system
by the wayside. Windows 7, expected in early 2010, will be built on Vista but,
according to chief executive Steve Ballmer, it will be a lot better. The
company has taken a lot of flak from rival Apple recently over its failure to
fix problems with Vista.
The underlying architecture of Vista was changed from that of its predecessor,
Windows XP, to improve security but this caused a lot of problems with
third-party applications and hardware, some of which could now not work with
it. Microsoft claims to have
solved all of these glitches and is looking forward to Windows 7, while slowly
pushing Vista under the rug.
Windows 7 is likely to be the operating system that Vista should have been, and
although touch-screen features and a few fixes shouldn't really warrant a
"major release" label, that has not deterred Microsoft from using it anyway.
Appearance wise, the new software will be very similar to Vista and could maybe
be better labeled as Vista SE (Second Edition). Providing the upgrade is
worthwhile and the problems have come to an end, Windows users are likely to
welcome 7, but will still be looking at Microsoft to roll out something
innovative to keep up with its competitors and advances in hardware technology.
Microsoft also released Vista Service Pack 2 to developers and hardware vendors
this week. The public release date has yet to be announced as it will be "based
on quality", according to corporate vice president for Windows product
management Mike Nash. Vista SP2 will contain all the usual previous security
patches and a couple of high-definition media and connectivity upgrades, such
as Blu-Ray data recording, a Bluetooth 2.1 feature pack, an easier
configuration of WiFi connectivity and Windows Search 4.0, an improved version
of the current built-in Windows search function.
A new service was announced by Microsoft this week in an effort to prove its
status as a serious contender in the expanding realm of cloud computing.
Windows Azure will allow companies to use Microsoft's servers to store and run
web-based applications and data. There will also be a web-based version of its
popular Office suite, which will go into competition with Google Docs,
currently doing the same thing.
The efforts to move away from PC-based software to a cloud system, where
everything is stored on a powerful network of web servers, will increase as
this is likely to be the next major tech battleground. The online Office will
run in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, and will offer a lightweight
version of current desktop applications. Prices have yet to be discussed and it
is likely that the system will run online advertising to supplement its
Windows Azure has been touted as "the Windows of the next 50 years" by Ray
Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect. It will run on a large number of
machines in Microsoft data centers and be accessible via the Internet. Immune
to the problems faced by computing locally, such as power outages, natural
disasters and political disorder, cloud computing is the way forward and
Microsoft is right on the button with its latest contribution to it.
Google this week announced the addition of more functionality to Gmail and the
cloud-based Google App Engine. The popular web-based e-mail provider is
evolving into a fully fledged office suite with the latest integrations with
Google Docs. Links to calendar events, and recent and new documents within the
e-mail interface, are the latest offerings from Google Labs.
plans to invest up to US$15 million on the mother of all Internet firewalls.
According to the Thai Ministry of Information and Communications Technology
(ICT), the system will be put in place to block access in the country to any
website deemed to be critical or insulting of the country's monarchy. Over 80%
of such offending websites are hosted abroad, according to the ICT minister.
Anti-monarchy websites or those containing content deemed offensive will be at
the top of the list for blocking, above terrorism and pornography. Thailand is
no stranger to Internet censorship, with thousands of political websites being
blocked during the premiership of Thaksin Shinawatra and the coup that ousted
him in 2006. The popular video-sharing website YouTube was banned in Thailand
in 2006 after videos were posted that were deemed offensive to the monarchy.
YouTube owner Google has since introduced software to prevent viewers within
Thailand seeing these clips.
Thailand carries penalties of up to 15 years imprisonment for insulting the
monarchy, although the king himself has deemed the laws unnecessary, stating in
a recent speech that he was not above criticism. Lese majeste laws are often
used as a weapon by politicians looking for a way to denigrate their opponents
and have come into play in recent political unrest between the royalist,
anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy and pro-government supporters.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.