Jun
13
2018
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Microsoft gives Office a refreshed look and feel

Microsoft today announced that it’s bringing a new user interface design to its Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. This new look will be in line with the Fluent Design System the company launched last year and will roll out to both the Office.com online apps and the Office desktop tools over the course of the next few months.

Besides the overall switch to the Fluent Design System, which is essentially Microsoft’s take on what Google is doing with Material Design, there are three major changes to the design of the Office apps.

The most obvious is the redesigned and simplified Ribbon — though Microsoft is taking a very cautious approach with rolling this new feature out to all users. While it was a bit controversial when it first launched in Office 2007, most users quickly got used to the Ribbon and Microsoft quickly brought it to virtually all its Windows and online applications. With this update, Microsoft is collapsing the traditional three-row view into a single line that highlights the most important features. Users who want the traditional view can still expand the simplified Ribbon and get that full view.

Microsoft is clearly aware that this is going to be a controversial move, so it’s only launching the new Ribbon for the web version of Word for now. Some Office Insiders will also see it in Outlook for Windows in July. For now, though, the company is holding back on a wider rollout.

“Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on Windows offer our deepest, richest feature set – and they’re the preferred experience for users who want to get the most from our apps,” the company writes in today’s announcement. “Users have a lot of ‘muscle memory’ built around these versions, so we plan on being especially careful with changes that could disrupt their work. We aren’t ready to bring the simplified ribbon to these versions yet because we feel like we need more feedback from a broader set of users first. But when we do, users will always be able to revert back to the classic ribbon with one click.”

The other major visual overhaul here is a new set of colors and icons. Unlike the new Ribbon, these design changes will make their way to all the Office applications soon. The Web version of Word at Office.com will get it first, followed by an Insider release for Word, Excel and PowerPoint on Windows later this month. Outlook for Windows will follow in July, with Outlook for Mac getting it this update in August.

Another new feature that’s less about the design but the user experience is the launch of what Microsoft calls ‘zero query search.” This AI- and Microsoft Graph-powered feature is meant to bring up useful recommendations for your searches every time you place your cursor into the search box. For commercial users, this feature is already live in Office.com, SharePoint Online and the Outlook mobile app. It’ll roll out to Outlook on the web in August.

Jun
11
2018
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Workday acquires financial modelling startup Adaptive Insights for $1.55B

Workday, the cloud-based platform that offers HR and other back-office apps for businesses, is making an acquisition to expand its portfolio of services: It’s buying Adaptive Insights, a provider of cloud-based business planning and financial modelling tools, for $1.55 billion. The acquisition is notable because Adaptive Insights had filed for an IPO as recently as May 17.

Workday says that the $1.55 billion price tag includes “the assumption of approximately $150 million in unvested equity issued to Adaptive Insights employees” related to that IPO. This deal is expected to close in Q3 of this year.

IPO filings are known to sometimes trigger M&A. Most recently, PayPal announced it would acquire iZettle just after the latter filed to go public. Skype was acquired by Microsoft in 2011 while it was waiting to IPO after previous owner eBay said it would spin it off.

Workday itself went public in 2012 and currently has a market cap of nearly $27 billion.

The deal will give Workday another string to its bow, in its attempt to become the go-to place for all for back-office services for its business customers: the company plans to integrate Adaptive Insights’ tools into its existing platform.

“Adaptive Insights is an industry leader with its Business Planning Cloud platform, and together with Workday, we will help customers accelerate their finance transformation in the cloud,” said Aneel Bhusri, Co-Founder and CEO, Workday, in a statement. “I am excited to welcome the Adaptive Insights team to Workday and look forward to coming together to continue delivering industry-leading products that equip finance organizations to make even faster, better business decisions to adapt to change and to drive growth.”

The two have been working together as partners since 2015.

In the case of Adaptive Insights, which says it has ‘thousands’ of customers, its growth mirrors that both of cloud services and specifically about how business intelligence has developed into a distinct software category of its own over the years, with not just the CFO but an army of in-house analysts relying on analytics of a business’ data to help make small and big decisions.

“The market opportunity here is huge as the CFO has become a power player in the C-Suite,” CEO Tom Bogan told TechCrunch when it raised $75 million in 2015, when it first passed the billion-dollar mark for its valuation. Bogan previously also held a role as chairman of Citrix. “As a former CFO myself, I have seen this first hand and it is accelerating.” Other examples of this force includes Twitter’s Anthony Noto catapulting from CFO to COO (and is now a CEO running SoFi). Around 25 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are former CFOs.

Adaptive Insights had raised $175 million prior to this.

Bogan will stay on and lead the business and report directly to Bhusri.

“Joining forces with Workday accelerates our vision to drive holistic business planning and digital transformation for our customers,” said Bogan, in a separate statement. “Most importantly, both Adaptive Insights and Workday have an employee-first and customer-centric approach to developing enterprise software that will only increase the power of the combined companies.”

More generally, while we have certainly seen a much wider opening of the door for tech IPOs this year, there is also an argument to be made for continuing consolidation it enterprise IT, in particular with regards to cloud services that might have small or potentially negative margins.

Adaptive Insights was not immune to that: the company in its public listing filing said that its previous fiscal year brough tin $106.5 million in revenues, up 30 percent from the year before, but it also posted a loss of $42.7 million in the same period. That was narrower than the $59.1 million it posted in 2016. Combined with the bigger trend of all-in-one platforms packing a bigger punch with businesses, it might have meant that Workday’s offer was too compelling to refuse. 

This looks like Workday’s biggest acquisition yet, but the company has been on a spree of sorts: just last week it announced the acquisition of RallyTeam to beef up its machine learning.

Jun
05
2018
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Microsoft program provides a decade of updates for Windows IoT devices

If you have an essential Internet of Things device running Windows 10 IoT Core Service, you don’t want to be worried about security and OS patches over a period of years. Microsoft wants to help customers running these kinds of devices with a new program that guarantees 10 years of updates.

The idea is that as third-party partners build applications on top of the Windows 10 IoT Core Services, these OEMs, who create the apps, can pay Microsoft to guarantee updates for these devices for a decade. This can help assure customers that they won’t be vulnerable to attack on these critical systems from unpatched applications.

The service does more than provide updates though. It also gives OEMs the ability to manage the updates and assess the device’s health.

“The Windows IoT Core service offering is enabling partners to commercialize secure IoT devices backed by industry-leading support. And so device makers will have the ability to manage updates for the OS, for the apps and for the settings for OEM-specific files,” Dinesh Narayanan, director of business development for emerging markets explained.

It gives OEMs creating Windows-powered applications on machines like healthcare devices or ATMs this ability to manage them over an extended period. That’s particularly important as these devices tend to have a more extended usage period than say a PC or tablet.”We want to extend support and commit to that support over the long haul for these devices that have a longer life cycle,” Narayanan said.

Beyond the longevity, the service also provides customers with access to the Device Update Center where they can control and customize how and when the devices get updated. It also includes another level of security called Device Health Attestation that allows the OEMs to evaluate the trustworthiness of the devices before they update them using a third party service.

All of this is designed to give Microsoft a foothold in the growing IoT space and to provide an operating system for these devices as they proliferate. While predictions vary dramatically, Gartner has predicted that at least 20 billion connected devices will be online in 2020.

While not all of these will be powered by Windows, or require advanced management capabilities, those that do can be assured if their vendor uses this program that they can manage the devices and keep them up-to-date. And when it comes to the Internet of Things, chances are that’s going to be critical.

Jun
04
2018
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Microsoft Azure will soon offer machines with up to 12 TB of memory

Do you have an application that needs a lot of memory? Maybe as much as 12 terabytes of memory? Well, you’re in luck because Microsoft Azure will soon offer virtual machines with just that much RAM, based on Intel’s Xeon Scalable servers.

The company made this announcement in concert with the launch of a number of other virtual machine (VM) types that are specifically geared toward running high-memory workloads — and the standard use cases for this is running the SAP Hana in-memory database service.

So in addition to this massive new 12 TB VM, Microsoft is also launching a new 192 GB machine that extends the lower end of Hana-optimized machines on Azure, as well as a number other Hana options that scale across multiple VMs and can offer combined memory sizes of up to 18 TB.

Another new feature of Azure launching today is Standards SSDs. These will offer Azure users a new option for running entry-level production workloads that require consistent disk performance and throughput without the full price of what are now called “premium SSD.” The Standard SSDs won’t offer the same kind of performance, though, but Microsoft promises that developers will still get improved latency, reliability and scalability as compared to standard hard disks in its cloud.

Jun
04
2018
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Microsoft promises to keep GitHub independent and open

Microsoft today announced its plans to acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion in stock. Unsurprisingly, that sent a few shock waves through the developer community, which still often eyes Microsoft with considerable unease. During a conference call this morning, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, incoming GitHub CEO (and Xamarin founder) Nat Friedman and GitHub co-founder and outgoing CEO Chris Wanstrath laid out the plans for GitHub’s future under Microsoft.

The core message everybody on today’s call stressed was that GitHub will continue to operate as an independent company. That’s very much the approach Microsoft took with its acquisition of LinkedIn, but to some degree, it’s also an admission that Microsoft is aware of its reputation among many of the developers who call GitHub their home. GitHub will remain an open platform that any developer can plug into and extend, Microsoft promises. It’ll support any cloud and any device.

Unsurprisingly, while the core of GitHub won’t change, Microsoft does plan to extend GitHub’s enterprise services and integrate them with its own sales and partner channels. And Nadella noted that the company will use GitHub to bring Microsoft’s developer tools and services “to new audiences.”

With Nat Friedman taking over as CEO, GitHub will have a respected technologist at the helm. Microsoft’s acquisition and integration of Xamarin has, at least from the outside, been a success (and Friedman himself always seems very happy about the outcome when I talk to him), so I think this bodes quite well for GitHub. After joining Microsoft, Friedman ran the developer services team at the company. Wanstrath, who only took over the CEO role again after its last CEO was ousted after harassment scandal at the company, had long said that he wanted to step down and take a more active product role. And that’s what’s happening now that Friedman is taking over. Wanstrath will become a technical fellow and work on “strategic software initiatives” at Microsoft.

Indeed, during an interview after the acquisition was announced, Friedman repeatedly noted that he thinks GitHub is the most important developer company today — and it turns out that he started advocating for a closer relationship between the two companies right after he joined Microsoft two years ago.

During today’s press call, Friedman also stressed Microsoft’s commitment to keeping GitHub as open as it is today — but he also plans to expand the service and its community. “We want to bring more developers and more capabilities to GitHub, he said. “Because as a network and as a group of people in a community, GitHub is stronger, the bigger it is.”

Friedman echoed that in our interview later in the day and noted that he expected the developer community to be skeptical of the mashup of these two companies. “There is always healthy skepticism in the developer community,” he told me. “I would ask developers to look at the last few years of Microsoft history and really honestly Microsoft’s transformation into an open source company.” He asked developers to judge Microsoft by that and noted that what really matters, of course, is that the company will follow through on the promises it made today.

As for the product itself, Friedman noted that everything GitHub does should be about making a developer’s life easier. And to get started, that’ll mean making developing in the cloud easier. “We think broadly about the new and compelling types of ways that we can integrate cloud services into GitHub,” he noted. “And this doesn’t just apply to our cloud. GitHub is an open platform. So we have the ability for anyone to plug their cloud services into GitHub, and make it easier for you to go from code to cloud. And it extends beyond the cloud as well. Code to cloud. code to mobile, code to edge device, code to IoT. Every workflow that a developer wants to pursue, we will support.”

Another area the company will work on is the GitHub Marketplace. Microsoft says that it will offer all of its developer tools and services in the GitHub Marketplace.

And unsurprisingly, VS Code, Microsoft’s free and open source code editor, will get deeply integrated GitHub support.

“Our vision is really all about empowering developers and creating a home where you can use any language, any operating system, any cloud, any device for every developer, whether your student, a hobbyist, a large company, a startup or anything in between. GitHub is the home for all developers,” said Friedman. In our interview, he also stressed that his focus will be on making “GitHub better at making GitHub” and that he plans to do so by bringing Microsoft’s resources and infrastructure to the code hosting service, while at the same time leaving it to operate independently. 

It’s unclear whether all of these commitments today will easy developers’ fears of losing GitHub as a relatively neutral third-party in the ecosystem.

Nadella, who is surely aware of this, addressed this directly today. “We recognize the responsibility we take on with this agreement,” he said. “We are committed to being stewards of the GitHub community, which will retain its developer-first ethos operate independently and remain an open platform. We will always listen to develop a feedback and invest in both fundamentals as well as new capability once the acquisition closes.

In his prepared remarks, Nadella also stressed Microsoft’s heritage as a developer-centric company and that is it already the most active organization on GitHub. But more importantly, he addressed Microsoft’s role in the open source community, too. “We have always loved developers, and we love open source developers,” he said. “We’ve been on a journey ourselves with open source and the open source community. Today, we are all in with open source. We are active in the open source ecosystem. We contribute to open source project and some of our most vibrant developer tools and frameworks are open-sourced when it comes to our commitment to all source judges, by the actions we have taken in the recent past our actions today and in the future.”

May
08
2018
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Microsoft and Red Hat now offer a jointly managed OpenShift service on Azure

Microsoft and Red Hat are deepening their existing alliance around cloud computing. The two companies will now offer a managed version of OpenShift, Red Hat’s container application platform, on Microsoft Azure. This service will be jointly developed and managed by Microsoft and Red Hat and will be integrated into the overall Azure experience.

Red Hat OpenShift on Azure is meant to make it easier for enterprises to create hybrid container solutions that can span their on-premise networks and the cloud. That’ll give these companies the flexibility to move workloads around as needed and will give those companies that have bet on OpenShift the option to move their workloads close to the rest of Azure’s managed services like Cosmos DB or Microsoft’s suite of machine learning tools.

Microsoft’s Brendan Burns, one of the co-creators of Kubernetes, told me that the companies decided that this shouldn’t just be a service that runs on top of Azure and consumes the Azure APIs. Instead, the companies made the decision to build a native integration of OpenShift into Azure — and specifically the Azure Portal. “This is a first in class fully enterprise-supported application platform for containers,” he said. “This is going to be an experience where enterprises can have all the experience and support they expect.”

Red Hat VP for business development and architecture Mike Ferris echoed this and added that his company is seeing a lot of demand for managed services around containers.

May
07
2018
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Watch the Microsoft Build 2018 keynote live right here

Microsoft is holding its annual Build developer conference this week and the company is kicking off the event with its inaugural keynote this morning. You can watch the live stream right here.

The keynote is scheduled to start at 8:30 am on the West Coast, 11:30 am on the East Coast, 4:30 pm in London and 5:30 pm in Paris.

This is a developer conference, so you shouldn’t expect new hardware devices. Build is usually focused on all things Windows 10, Azure and beyond. It’s a great way to see where Microsoft is heading. We have a team on the ground, so you can follow all of our coverage on TechCrunch.

May
07
2018
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Microsoft and DJI team up to bring smarter drones to the enterprise

At the Microsoft Build developer conference today, Microsoft and Chinese drone manufacturer DJI announced a new partnership that aims to bring more of Microsoft’s machine learning smarts to commercial drones. Given Microsoft’s current focus on bringing intelligence to the edge, this is almost a logical partnership, given that drones are essentially semi-autonomous edge computing devices.

DJI also today announced that Azure is now its preferred cloud computing partner and that it will use the platform to analyze video data, for example. The two companies also plan to offer new commercial drone solutions using Azure IoT Edge and related AI technologies for verticals like agriculture, construction and public safety. Indeed, the companies are already working together on Microsoft’s FarmBeats solution, an AI and IoT platform for farmers.

As part of this partnership, DJI is launching a software development kit (SDK) for Windows that will allow Windows developers to build native apps to control DJI drones. Using the SDK, developers can also integrate third-party tools for managing payloads or accessing sensors and robotics components on their drones. DJI already offers a Windows-based ground station.

“DJI is excited to form this unique partnership with Microsoft to bring the power of DJI aerial platforms to the Microsoft developer ecosystem,” said Roger Luo, DJI president, in today’s announcement. “Using our new SDK, Windows developers will soon be able to employ drones, AI and machine learning technologies to create intelligent flying robots that will save businesses time and money and help make drone technology a mainstay in the workplace.”

Interestingly, Microsoft also stresses that this partnership gives DJI access to its Azure IP Advantage program. “For Microsoft, the partnership is an example of the important role IP plays in ensuring a healthy and vibrant technology ecosystem and builds upon existing partnerships in emerging sectors such as connected cars and personal wearables,” the company notes in today’s announcement.

Apr
27
2018
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Microsoft makes managing and updating Windows 10 easier for its business users

With the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, Microsoft is launching a number of new features for its desktop operating system today. Most of those apply to all users, but in addition to all the regular feature updates, the company also today announced a couple of new features and tools specifically designed for its business users with Microsoft 365 subscriptions that combine a license for Windows 10 with an Office 365 subscription and device management tools.

According to Brad Anderson, Microsoft’s corporate VP for its enterprise and mobility services, the overall thinking behind all of these new features is make it easier for businesses to give their employees access to a “modern desktop.” In Microsoft’s parlance, that’s basically a desktop that’s part of a Microsoft 365 subscription. But in many ways, this so much about the employees but the IT departments that support them. For them, these updates will likely simplify their day-to-day lives.

The most headline-grabbing feature of today’s update is probably the addition of an S-mode to Windows 10. As the name implies, this allows admins to switch a Windows 10 Enterprise device into the more restricted and secure Windows 10 S mode, where users can only install applications from a centrally managed Microsoft Store. Until now, the only way to do this was to buy a Windows 10 S device, but now, admins can automatically configure any device that run Windows 10 Enterprise to go into S mode.

It’s no secret that Windows 10 S as a stand-alone operating system wasn’t exactly a hit (and launching itat an education-focused event with the Surface Laptop probably didn’t help). The overall idea is sound, though, and probably quite attractive to many an IT department.

“We built S mode as a way to enable IT to ensure what’s installed on a device,” Anderson told me. “It’s the most secure way to provision Windows.”

The main surprise here is actually that S mode is already available now, since it was only in March that Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore said that it would launch next year.

Another part of this update is what Microsoft calls ‘delivery optimization” for updates. With this, a single device can download an update and the distribute it to other Windows 10 devices over the local network. Downloads take a while and eat up a lot of bandwidth, after all. And to monitor those deployments, the Windows Analytics dashboard now includes a tab for keeping tabs on them.

Another new deployment feature Microsoft is launching today is an improvement to the AutoPilot service. AutoPilot allows IT to distribute laptops to employees without first setting them up to a company’s specifications. Once a user logs in, the system will check what needs to be done and then applies those settings, provisions policies and installs apps as necessary. With this update, AutoPilot now includes an enrollment status page that does all of this before the user ever gets to the desktop. That way, users can’t get in the way of the set-up process and IT knows that everything is up to spec.

A number of PC vendors are now also supporting AutoPilot out of the box, including Lenovo and Dell, with HP, Toshiba and Fujitsu planning to launch their AutoPilot-enabled PCs later this year.

To manage all of this, Microsoft is also launching a new Microsoft 365 admin center today that brings all the previously disparate configurations and monitoring tools of Office 365 and Microsoft 365 under a single roof.

One other aspect of this launch is an addition to Microsoft 365 for firstline workers. Windows 10 in S mode is one part of this, but the company is also updating the Office mobile apps licensing terms to add the company’s iOS and Android apps to the Office 365 E1, F1 and Business Essential licenses. For now, though, only access to Outlook for iOS and Android is available under these licenses. Support for Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote will launch in the next few months.

Apr
02
2018
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Microsoft launches 2 new Azure regions in Australia

Microsoft continues its steady pace of opening up new data centers and launching new regions for its Azure cloud. Today, the company announced the launch of two new regions in Australia. To deliver these new regions, Azure Australia Central and Central 2, Microsoft entered a strategic partnership with Canberra Data Centers and unsurprisingly, the regions are located in the country’s capital territory around Canberra. These new central regions complement Microsoft’s existing data center presence in Australia, which previously focused on the business centers of Sydney and Melbourne.

Given the location in Canberra, it’s also no surprise that Microsoft is putting an emphasis on its readiness for handling government workloads on its platform. Throughout its announcement, the company also emphasizes that all of its Australia data centers are also the right choice for its customers in New Zealand.

Julia White, Microsoft corporate VP for Azure, told me last month that the company’s strategy around its data center expansion has always been about offering a lot of small regions to allow it to be close to its customers (and, in return, to allow its customers to be close to their own customers, too). “The big distinction is the number of regions we have. “White said. “Microsoft started its infrastructure approach focused on enterprise organizations and built lots of regions because of that. We didn’t pick this regional approach because it’s easy or because it’s simple, but because we believe this is what our customers really want.”

Azure currently consists of 50 available or announced regions. Over time, more of these will also feature numerous availability zones inside every region, though for now, this recently announced feature is only present in two regions.

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