HUA HIN, Thailand - Over the past couple of years, smart-phones and their
software have increasingly dominating technology news, reflecting what appears
to be a gradual shift away from desktop computing. This week Microsoft
underlined that apparent trend with the launch of its Windows Phone 7.
The company has so far fared pretty poorly in the global smart-phone market,
with a share of only 4.7% this year. It hopes that the new mobile operating
system and handset will boost sales and prevent the company lagging further
behind rivals Apple, Google and RIM.
Handsets from HTC, Samsung, LG and Dell were showcased this week with a
promising-looking user interface that is devoid of complex menus and the
clusters of icons that are found on competing devices. Large virtual touch
buttons give the user a
glimpse of the status of the unit and whatever apps the user has installed,
such as weather, stocks or news updates.
Reviews on the new handset are mixed, with some claiming it is too late for the
software giant to catch up with its competitors while others state the phone
offers a better way of accessing online data than present alternatives.
One concern is the lack of applications for the device: Apple's iPhone has
around 250,000 on the app store, Google's Android has roughly 80,000l; the
Windows mobile platform has only a few hundred. If the company can offer
developers a little more freedom than its rivals, which censor content and apps
on a weekly basis, and build up a solid base of decent apps, then Microsoft may
be in contention to increase its market share.
Google's Android platform rose to success in just two years, today it has
almost caught up with the iconic iPhone with over 20% of the US market share;
globally it has already taken the lead. Provided Microsoft can offer the goods
and maintain freedom of selection of device and carrier for the user, there is
no reason why it cannot do the same.
The iPhone's success has always been a result of the wide range of available
applications and a brand name that people feel compelled to have. Microsoft has
neither, which is why it will be an uphill journey for its new smart-phone.
That said, there is always the familiarity aspect in Microsoft's corner. No
matter how well Apple seems to be doing, the fact remains that over 90% of the
world's computers still run a version of Windows. If the success of the PC
operating system can be transferred to mobiles and consumers can instantly feel
comfortable operating the device, then success cannot be far off.
Technology is evolving from traditional desktop computers to handheld gadgets
(that also make and receive phone calls) and the world's largest tech companies
are vying to monopolize what has become a very lucrative market.
Every second Tuesday of the month, Microsoft rolls out its updates and patches
for its software product line, which includes Windows and Office. This week's
"Patch Tuesday" was the largest one to date, with the company attempting to fix
a staggering 49 vulnerabilities in Windows, Office and Internet Explorer.
A total of 16 security bulletins encompassed all of the vulnerabilities, with
four of them being rated as critical; if exploited they would allow remote code
execution on the affected system. Nine of Tuesday's updates applied to Windows
7, which the company has touted as the most secure ever. Internet Explorer
versions 6, 7 and 8 all received digital band aids.
The previous record held by the company was 34 patches released in a single
month, in August 2009. Either the software is not as secure as its
manufacturers like to make out or the hackers have been working overtime.
Adobe has also been patching software recently with 23 fixes for its Acrobat
Reader software. This means that those wanting to view PDFs using Adobe's own
software will have to sit through a 200 megabyte download as the program tries
to update itself. A better solution would be to find an alternative piece of
software such as Foxit Reader that will do the same job.
Security company Symantec has been working overtime in its fight against
malware threats. A new next generation platform called Ubiquity, which analyzes
the anonymous software usage patterns of millions of Symantec protected
computers, has been introduced.
By analyzing and rating each file on a system, the new platform is designed to
prevent malware as opposed to curing it as traditional anti-virus software
does. Its database contains security ratings for more than 1.5 billion
executable files with a further 22 million being added on a weekly basis.
There is no doubt that malicious software and cyber-security threats are on the
rise, and extra vigilance by us, the end users, is the first line of defense.
Multiple, ongoing software patching and the use of advanced security suites is
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.