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Date: Wednesday, 01 Oct 2014 16:11

Microsoft introduced on Wednesday Office Sway, a design and presentation app for Office.

Sway allows users to search a variety of sources from within the app -- everything from a user's devices to OneDrive, social networks and the web -- and to drag and drop content from those sources onto what Microsoft is calling the Sway canvas. The app then creates a layout as the user is working, continually adjusting it as the user adds more content. The user can also modify the design along the way.

Sway is "built from the ground up for the web and devices," according to an official Office blog post. "A Sway adapts to fit the device that it’s viewed on, large or small, so your ideas always get the best treatment. A Sway is cloud native: you just drop in your content from your cloud storage, your devices or your social networks."

Sway is currently in (invitation-only) preview mode, with Microsoft aiming to get feedback from users as it builds Sway. Invitations can be requested at Sway.com. The company plans to slowly issue invitations over the next several months to those on the preview waitlist.

Here's a Microsoft video showing what the company is aiming for with Sway:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jw-g6IuBVJE

 

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Date: Tuesday, 30 Sep 2014 19:30

Update 11:10 a.m.:

Microsoft, at an event in San Francisco Tuesday, revealed an early look at Windows 10, the official name it's giving to the next release of its operating system.

Here's my colleague Brier Dudley's live blog post on the event. He writes:

With Windows 10, Microsoft will offer a single platform on which to develop applications for phones, tablets, laptops, desktops and wall-sized PCs. It’s not one size fits all, and instead will vary depending on the hardware on which it’s running.

Among the changes, Windows 10 will indeed bring back a more traditional Start menu, though the menu will also include the newer-style live tiles introduced with Windows 8.

And Windows Store apps  that, with Windows 8, had taken up the entire screen, will now launch in windows the same way that traditional desktop programs do. Those apps can be resized and moved around, and will have title bars at the top, like traditional windows.

Microsoft, in a bid to woo corporate customers turned off by Windows 8, emphasized features important to enterprises. Security, identity and information features are built into Windows 10, the company said in a blog post, and management and deployment has been simplified.

A technical preview of Windows 10 will be available to early testers on Oct. 1. The broader release will probably take place in mid-2015, after Microsoft's Build developer conference in April, according to Dudley.

 

From earlier:

Microsoft is hosting an event Tuesday in San Francisco giving an early look at its next version of Windows.

The company has not yet said what the official name of this next Windows release will be but media oulets and blogs have been referring to it as "Windows 9."

My colleague, Brier Dudley, is at the event in San Francisco and will be blogging about it starting at about 10 a.m.

Here's my earlier story on what's at stake with the release.

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Date: Tuesday, 30 Sep 2014 13:26

Microsoft opened a temporary store in Times Square for the 2012 launch of Windows 8 and Surface, and subsequently set up a couple of smaller stores, offering a limited selection of products, in two New York City locations.

But it's never had a permanent, full-line retail store in the city -- until now.

The company said today that it's signed a lease to open a flagship store at 677 Fifth Avenue in New York City. 

"As our first flagship store, it will serve as the centerpiece of our Microsoft Stores experience," David Porter, Microsoft's corporate vice president for retail stores, said in a blog post. "This is a goal we’ve had since day one – we were only waiting for the right location. And now we have it. Our Fifth Avenue location will be much more than just a Microsoft Store. In addition to retail, there will be experiential space for Microsoft as a company to further engage with our customers and partners in new and innovative ways."

The location currently houses a Fendi shop, according to The Wall Street Journal, which also notes that the new Microsoft flagship store has some of the city's highest retail rents and will be several blocks south of Apple's store.

Microsoft currently has 104 brick-and-mortar retail store locations (including both full-line stores and the smaller specialty shops that offer a more limited selection). It plans to open 10 more by this holiday season, Porter wrote.

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Date: Friday, 26 Sep 2014 05:18

Whitman College in Walla Walla is establishing a computer science program, and a computer science chair, thanks in large part to a gift from Microsoft.

The college has offered computer science courses since the 1970s but has not had a formal computer science program until now.

A $2.5 million gift from private donors, including Microsoft, changed that.

Microsoft contributed a significant portion of that $2.5 million, allowing the college to establish the chair, said Michelle Ma, a Whitman spokeswoman.

The search to fill the new Microsoft Chair of Computer Science is underway, and there will be expanded course offerings beginning in the fall of 2015, according to the college.

"Computer science drives innovation that touches every aspect of our daily lives – business, government, education, health care and the arts," Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel, said in a statement. "Students at colleges throughout the state should have the opportunity to discover the exciting opportunities that it can create for their futures."

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Date: Friday, 26 Sep 2014 05:18

Former Microsoft CEO and current Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has always been one of the biggest cheerleaders for Microsoft products.

And that apparently hasn't stopped, even though he stepped down as head of the company in February, and stepped off the board in August.

In an interview with Reuters Wednesday, Ballmer talked about switching those Clippers who are using iPads over to Windows tablets. According to the Reuters story:

"Most of the Clippers on are Windows, some of the players and coaches are not," Ballmer said.

"And Doc kind of knows that’s a project. It's one of the first things he said to me: 'We are probably going to get rid of these iPads, aren’t we?' And I said, 'Yeah, we probably are.' But I promised we would do it during the off season."

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Date: Wednesday, 24 Sep 2014 19:46

Microsoft will be launching Xbox One in China on Sept. 29, the company said Tuesday.

Microsoft had originally planned to launch the console there on Sept. 23 but had delayed it for unexplained reasons.

The company still did not offer an exact reason for the delay but alluded to the issues in a statement Tuesday:

Every new market launch is unique, but like in all markets where Xbox One is available, we take great care to ensure that we meet or exceed regulatory standards. After receiving government approval for the first wave of games, we've decided to launch with digital copies of the first 10 games now and will continue our work to bring more blockbuster games and a broad offering of entertainment and app experiences to the platform in the months to come.

The 10 games available at launch include digital versions of "Forza Motorsport 5," "Kinect Sports Rivals" and "Powerstar Golf," according to a Microsoft news release.

Another 70 games are in the pipeline, the company said.

The Sept. 29 launch will make the Xbox One the first game console to be sold in China in 14 years, according to Microsoft.

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Date: Monday, 22 Sep 2014 18:04

Microsoft is delaying the launch of its Xbox One console in China -- a launch that was supposed to take place this Tuesday but will now happen sometime before the end of the year.

The company didn't give a reason for the delay but issued the following statement:

Despite strong and steady progress, we are going to need a bit more time to deliver the best experiences possible for our fans in China. At Xbox, we pride ourselves on delivering first-rate gaming and entertainment experiences, and to allow us to deliver on that promise, we need to reschedule the launch of Xbox One. Working with our partner, BesTV, we look forward to launching in China by the end of this year. We're looking forward to hosting our fans and partners in China on Sept. 22 at the Oriental Pearl Tower as planned, and will have hands-on gameplay, entertainment and Xbox One giveaways.

Microsoft's efforts to launch the Xbox One in China follows the lifting earlier this year of a 13-year ban by the Chinese government on the sale of foreign consoles.

Microsoft, which  has partnered with China-based BesTV, for the venture, is selling the console starting at ¥3,699 CNY (about $603 USD).

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is set to visit China, along with Japan, Korea and India, on a trip this month. The trip comes amidst an antitrust investigation of Microsoft conducted by the Chinese government — one of several such probes the government has launched against foreign companies. Antitrust authorities there have raised questions about compatibility issues related to Windows and Office, as well as Microsoft’s use of verification codes.

Microsoft has not said whether Nadella will be meeting with Chinese officials about the investigation, or whether Xbox One issues are on his trip agenda.

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Date: Friday, 19 Sep 2014 02:02

Microsoft is notifying approximately 2,100 employees Thursday that they're being laid off in the second round of layoffs since the company announced in July that it would be cutting 18,000 jobs.

Of the layoff notices going out Thursday, 747 are in the Puget Sound area.

The cuts are spread across multiple business units and countries, a Microsoft spokeswoman said.

The 747 local jobs being eliminated starting Thursday are in addition to the 1,351 Puget Sounda-area jobs the company already cut in July, bringing the total number of Puget Sound-area jobs that Microsoft has cut so far to 2,098. That's nearly 5 percent of the 43,351 workforce the company had in the Puget Sound region at the end of its last fiscal year on June 30.

The separation date for those losing their jobs locally begins Nov. 17, according to the state Employment Security Department.

[Update 11:58 a.m.: Microsoft is closing its Silicon Valley research lab, and laying off the employees there as part of a total 160 positions in California that the company is eliminating.

Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, located in Mountain View, has more than 75 researchers focusing on distributed computing, researching areas including privacy and security.

Microsoft Research is closing that lab as it consolidates its work. About 50 researchers are affected by the cut. A small number of them will remain to continue their work or are being offered positions in the company's other labs.

Microsoft Research has about 1,100 advanced researchers working in a dozen labs worldwide.

The company employs about 2,500 employees overall  in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area region.]

[Update 3:13 p.m.: Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing group, which works on cybersecurity and privacy issues, is being broken up.

Trustworthy Computing employees who work on the technical side will fall under the purview of  Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of cloud and enterprise.

Those who worked on policy issues will join those reporting to Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs.

Some positions in Trustworthy Computing are also being eliminated, although Microsoft declined to say the number affected.]

The jobs being cut Thursday are part of the 18,000 jobs -- representing 14 percent of its worldwide workforce -- that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in July that he would be eliminating over the next year.

The cuts are partly related to Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s phone business, which brought in some 25,000 Nokia employees to Microsoft, and partly a reflection of Nadella’s vision of a Microsoft that's less management heavy and more agile.

Most of the cuts — about 12,500 professional and factory positions — are former Nokia positions, with some Microsoft positions also being eliminated because of job duplication related to the Nokia acquisition. The remaining 5,500 jobs cut across multiple functions, including marketing and engineering.

Of the 18,000 jobs, Microsoft had started in July to eliminate 13,000 of them. Taken together with Thursday's notifications, about 2,900 more positions remain to be eliminated. Microsoft had said in July that it was committed to notifying the vast majority of those who jobs are to be eliminated by the end of the year.

The company is also cutting contractors.

Last week, MSN cut a number of contractors, according to sources who asked not to be identified.

In July, Microsoft had imposed new restrictions on contractors -- a move many saw as aimed at decreasing the tens of thousands of contractors the company uses.

The new rules limit those who work for Microsoft through vendors and temp agencies to 18 months of access to Microsoft buildings and corporate networks, after which they will be required to take a 6-month break from access.

Microsoft on Thursday declined to confirm the contractor cuts at MSN or to comment on contractor cuts in general.

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Date: Wednesday, 17 Sep 2014 13:52

Longtime Microsoft board members Dave Marquardt and Dina Dublon are stepping down from the board, while Kraft Foods executive Teri List-Stoll and Visa executive Charles Scharf will be joining it.

List-Stoll, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Kraft Foods Group, and Scharf, CEO of Visa, will join the board effective Oct. 1, Microsoft announced Tuesday.

Marquardt and Dublon, meanwhile, have decided not to seek reelection to the board and will retire at the end of their current term following the annual shareholders meeting in December.

The board also declared a quarterly dividend of 31 cents per share, reflecting a 3-cent, or 11 percent, increase over the previous quarter’s dividend. The dividend is payable Dec. 11  to shareholders of record on Nov. 20, the company said. The ex-dividend date will be Nov. 18, 2014.

List-Stoll, 51, joined Kraft in September 2013 as senior vice president leading the business unit finance teams, and was appointed CFO in December, according to Kraft.  Prior to that, she spent nearly 20 years at Procter & Gamble, serving most recently as senior vice president and treasurer. She also serves on the board of Danaher Corp. and as a trustee of the Financial Accounting Foundation, according to the Microsoft news release.

Scharf, 49, CEO of Visa since November 2012, spent nine years before that at JPMorgan Chase as CEO of its retail financial services and managing director of One Equity Partners, the firm’s private investment arm.He has also served as CEO and CFO of BankOne Corp, and CFO of Salomon Smith Barney and the global corporate and investment bank division of Citigroup, according to Microsoft. He serves on the board of trustees of Johns Hopkins University and the board of directors of the Financial Services Roundtable.

“I’m excited to have both Teri and Charlie joining our board,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in the news release. “Teri brings exceptional financial and operational expertise, as well as great insights from her two decades of experience in consumer and retail industries. Charlie, as a sitting CEO of a large global business, brings additional strategic and operational depth to the Microsoft board, as well as a deep understanding of how commerce is changing globally.”

Marquardt, 65, a founding general partner of private venture capital firm August Capital, has served on Microsoft's board since 1981,

Dublon, 61, former CFO of JPMorgan Chase, has been on the board since 2005.

“As one of our earliest board members, Dave has played an indispensable role in Microsoft’s growth and development, providing sage counsel and invaluable industry insights,” Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and technology adviser, said in the news release. "Dina has also been a great board member for almost a decade, and we all appreciate her guidance and support.”

In addition to Gates, Dublon, Marquardt and Nadella, Microsoft's current board consists of John Thompson, board chairman and CEO of Virtual Instruments; Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College; G. Mason Morfit, president of ValueAct Capital; Charles Noski, former vice chairman of Bank of America; Dr. Helmut Panke, former chairman of the board of management at BMW AG; and John Stanton, chairman of Trilogy Equity Partners and Trilogy International Partners.

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Date: Tuesday, 16 Sep 2014 21:01

Add another item to Microsoft's growing list of cross-platform offerings.

 

Microsoft has come out with a mobile keyboard designed to work not just with Windows tablets, but also with iOS and Android devices.

According to a Microsoft blog post, the Universal Mobile Keyboard "works with iPad, iPhone, Android devices and Windows tablets. ... The Universal Mobile Keyboard has an OS switch that lets you change from one operating system to another while maintaining a fully functional keyboard."

The Bluetooth the keyboard allows users to pair up to three different devices using different operating systems at the same time. The keyboard also allows access to each platform's unique keys on the keyboard.

The keyboard has a cover that works as a stand and that can be detached. It will sell for $79.95 starting in October.

Here's Microsoft video on the keyboard:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdPT-TzgU84

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Date: Tuesday, 16 Sep 2014 04:42

Microsoft is expected to announce some details of its next version of Windows -- referred to in news outlets and blogs as "Windows 9" -- at an event in San Francisco on Sept. 30.

Microsoft sent out invitations Monday, but declined to say whether the event will mark the official debut of Windows 9.

The company said only that the event is an update for press and analysts at which Microsoft will discussing "what's next for Windows and the enterprise."

The discussion will be led by Terry Myerson, head of Microsoft's Operating Systems Group, and Joe Belfiore, a corporate vice president in the group.

For Microsoft, much rides on the shoulders of the next version Windows. For one thing, the company needs to win back enterprise customers who didn't find Windows 8 particularly appealing for business use.

"The next major release of the Windows client system has to be suitable for corporate users," IDC analyst Al Gillen said in an earlier Seattle Times story on what's at stake with Windows 9.

“The problem with Windows 8 has been that initially it was such a radically different experience, especially for power users who really needed applications that lived in the Windows 7 [desktop] environment," Gillen said. "It was not inviting to business customers.”

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Date: Tuesday, 16 Sep 2014 04:41

It's official: Microsoft said Monday morning that it's buying Mojang, maker of the popular "Minecraft" video game, for $2.5 billion.

The Mojang team will join Microsoft Studios, maker of games such as the "Halo" and "Forza" franchises, according to a Microsoft news release.

"Microsoft’s investments in cloud and mobile technologies will enable 'Minecraft' players to benefit from richer and faster worlds, more powerful development tools, and more opportunities to connect across the 'Minecraft' community," the company said in the news release.

Microsoft said it expects the acquisition, which is expected to close in 2014, to be break even in fiscal year 2015.

"Minecraft" has had more than 100 million downloads on PCs alone since its launch in 2009, is the most popular online game on Xbox, and the top paid app on the iOS and Android platforms in the U.S., Microsoft said.

"The 'Minecraft' community is among the most active and passionate in the industry, with more than 2 billion hours played on Xbox 360 alone in the past two years," the company said in the news release. "Minecraft fans are loyal, with nearly 90 percent of paid customers on the PC having signed in within the past 12 months."

Microsoft also touted the appeal as "Minecraft" as as a platform rather than just a stand-alone game such as Angry Birds -- with the ability to build modifications to the game driving up user engagement.

"Minecraft is more than a great game franchise – it is an open world platform, driven by a vibrant community we care deeply about, and rich with new opportunities for that community and for Microsoft," CEO Satya Nadella said in the news release.

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox and Microsoft Studios, said in a blog post Monday morning:

We respect the brand and independent spirit that has made Minecraft great, and we’ll carry on the tradition of innovation to move the franchise forward. ... 

Minecraft adds diversity to our game portfolio and helps us reach new gamers across multiple platforms. Gaming is the top activity across devices and we see great potential to continue to grow the Minecraft community and nurture the franchise. That is why we plan to continue to make Minecraft available across platforms – including iOS, Android and PlayStation, in addition to Xbox and PC. 

Microsoft is also interested in seeing if "Minecraft" can reach new audiences in schools, according to someone with knowledge of the matter. There are already modifications to the game, at MinecraftEdu, that are currently in use in classrooms.

Mojang is a small, independent game developer studio based in Stockholm, Sweden. Last year, the company made a profit of 816 million Swedish kroner ($128 million) on 2.07 billion kroner in revenue ($360 million), according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported last week that Microsoft was considering the purchase.

"Change is scary, and this is a big change for all of us," the Mojang team wrote in a blog post Monday morning, seeking to reassure the community of "Minecraft" players. "It’s going to be good though. Everything is going to be OK."

Mojang agreed to be acquired, the game studio said in the blog post, because "Minecraft has grown from a simple game to a project of monumental significance. Though we’re massively proud of what Minecraft has become, it was never Notch’s intention for it to get this big."

Markus Persson -- known by gamers as "Notch" -- is the creator of "Minecraft" and is Mojang's majority shareholder. According to the Mojang blog post, Notch decided:

He doesn’t want the responsibility of owning a company of such global significance. Over the past few years he’s made attempts to work on smaller projects, but the pressure of owning Minecraft became too much for him to handle. The only option was to sell Mojang. ...

There are only a handful of potential buyers with the resources to grow Minecraft on a scale that it deserves. We’ve worked closely with Microsoft since 2012, and have been impressed by their continued dedication to our game and its development. We’re confident that Minecraft will continue to grow in an awesome way.

The company said it expects most of Mojang's employees to remain there for the time being, though Mojang's three founders -- including Persson -- are leaving.

This is Nadella's first major acquisition since becoming Microsoft CEO in February.

In a July memo, in which Nadella outlined his vision for the company, he said the company would focus on "digital work and life experiences that are reinvented for the mobile-first and cloud-first world."

"The single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world is gaming," he said in the memo.

Given Nadella's vision, the "Minecraft"/Mojang acquisition is important to Microsoft's mobile strategy, IDC analyst Al Hilwa said in an email Monday morning.

Hilwa continued:

Microsoft is a mobile ecosystem owner and has no choice but to keep building it if it is to maintain its relevance in the long term. ... Minecraft strengthens Microsoft’s hand in the battle with Google, Apple and Amazon. ... Minecraft is a solid business with intense user loyalty. That it can be purchased with overseas cash is also a part of the attraction, but its strategic value is that it is another brick fortifying Microsoft’s consumer services, a key lever in its mobile relevance. Gamers on other platforms will demand Minecraft for some time to come...

Successful and sticky games like Minecraft are powerful strategic consumer services for their owners. Microsoft is wise to build up its services assets to make its mobile platform more compelling.

 

 

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Date: Tuesday, 16 Sep 2014 04:41

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made his big civic appearance debut Monday on the same day the company announced it was buying "Minecraft" maker Mojang for $2.5 billion -- Nadella's first major acquisition since he became CEO in February.

“We’re really excited about being the stewards of the community of 'Minecraft,' " Nadella told the crowd of about 1,100 people at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce annual meeting/luncheon.

Nadella spoke briefly of the success of "Minecraft," which has more than 100 million downloads on PCs and is the top paid app on the iOS and Android platforms in the U.S.

But "what Minecraft represents is more than a game franchise," Nadella said. "It's an open-world platform."

He also spoke of the possibility of getting kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields by playing "Minecraft."

“It’s the one game parents want their kids to play," he said.

Nadella's comments came as part of a "fireside chat" with Seattle Chamber President and CEO Maud Daudon, who noted that Nadella's appearance was a civic "coming out party" for him.

Their chat touched on a number of different areas, including company culture, Microsoft's plans in the mobile space, and a couple of more personal topics.

When asked by Daudon how he plans to increase Microsoft's mobile market share (the company currently has less than 5 percent market share worldwide in smartphones and tablets), Nadella said he wasn't focused on today's market share.

“When you define mobile in the marketplace, we don’t think of it by just today’s market share position on a given form factor," he said. "Devices sizes come and go."

Rather, he said, the vision for Microsoft is not of the devices as central, but of the individual user as the center of a host of digital memories and productivity experiences accessed through her devices.

And though Microsoft's share of mobile devices currently is small, "we're very grounded in the cross-platform world," said Nadella, referring to services such as Office and Skype, which are on multiple platforms.

And now, he added, laughing, Minecraft will be "on every 8-year-old's phone."

Nadella said he was focusing much attention on creating a company culture that "fosters constant renewal and learning."

Especially in the tech world, he said, if companies are not innovating and changing, they won't have longevity.

Daudon also asked Nadella what he would say to inspire young people and why he came to Microsoft.

Nadella said of his experiences to date: "It's pretty surreal."

Until he was 18, he said, he hadn't thought much of the world west of Bombay, India. (Nadella was born and grew up in India.)

"And here I am in Seattle," he said. "In fact, when I showed up in Wisconsin -- that was quite a culture shock for a kid who had not seen snow."

One thing he's learned, he said, is that "it’s not so much all the plans that you may have, but the choices you make with both the opportunities and challenges that come your way that perhaps shape you."

He made the choice to come to Microsoft because "I wanted to be part of a team, a company that could change the world" -- something he believes Microsoft can still do.

Daudon noted that many of Nadella's memos that he's issued in the past few months have been peppered with literary quotes.

"Reading great literature has been a source of inspiration," Nadella said. “Literature, in fact, captures the essence of what the human condition is.”

Now that his attention span has decreased, he joked, he's turned to poetry.

He didn't think many people would notice or make much of his references to literature, but, he noted with a laugh, people were quick to point out when he misquoted Oscar Wilde.

Nadella also said that in the next three weeks, he will be visiting China, Japan, Korea and India.

He didn't say what was on the agenda for the trip, other than to note that China is "somewhere we've been for many, many years. I’m enthusiastic about what opportunity there is to have real impact and business success with it."

Microsoft is launching its Xbox One console in China Sept. 23 and, earlier this year, became the first multinational company to offer public cloud services in China with the launch there of Microsoft Azure. But in addition to opportunities, there have been challenges.

Chinese government officials are conducting an antitrust investigation of Microsoft -- one of several such probes the government has launched against foreign companies. Antitrust authorities there have questions  about compatibility issues related to Windows and Office, as well as Microsoft's use of verification codes.

It's unclear whether Nadella will be discussing the investigation with Chinese officials. Microsoft had issued a statement earlier saying Nadella's trip was planned before the Chinese government investigation began and that it's committed to complying with China's laws and addressing the government's concerns.

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Date: Wednesday, 10 Sep 2014 00:37

Microsoft is close to buying game studio Mojang, maker of the popular "Minecraft" video game, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The deal, estimated at more than $2 billion, could be signed as early as this week, the Journal reported, citing a person with knowledge of the matter.

Mojang is a small, independent game developer studio based in Stockholm, Sweden. Last year, the company made a profit of 816 Swedish kroner ($128 million)  on 2.07 billion kroner in revenue ($360 million), according to the Journal.

Adding "Minecraft" and the studio behind it could provide a boost for Xbox and for Microsoft's mobile efforts.

More than 50 million copies of the game have been sold since its release in 2011, according to The Associated Press, and it's among the top downloaded mobile apps.

While Xbox and video gaming may not be central to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's vision of a Microsoft that's focused on "productivity and platforms," Nadella has indicated his support for Xbox, calling it “one of the most-revered consumer brands."

He also indicated his support for gaming. "The single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world is gaming," he said in a July memo to employees that outlined his vision for the company. "We are fortunate to have Xbox in our family to go after this opportunity with unique and bold innovation. "

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company does not comment on rumors or speculation.

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Date: Tuesday, 09 Sep 2014 04:42

[This story ran in the print edition of The Seattle Times on Sept. 7, 2014.]

When Microsoft presents its first public glimpse of Windows 9 — it’s expected to happen late this month or early next — a lot more than just an operating system is at stake.

Smartphones and tablets are firmly entrenched as important, sometimes even primary, computing devices for many people. At the same time, a recent upsurge in PC sales notwithstanding, sales of desktops and laptops are declining.

With Microsoft’s share of the worldwide smartphone and tablet markets still under 5 percent, “really, what’s at stake is the continued dominance of Windows as a thing that people use every day,” said Wes Miller, an analyst with independent research firm Directions on Microsoft.

Windows 8 was supposed to be Microsoft’s solution to that challenge — an operating system, the company said, that worked equally well for mouse-and-keyboard PC users as for touch-centric tablet users.

Turned out, not all users agreed.

Windows 8, launched two years ago, jammed together two different user interfaces — a tile-based, touch-friendly mode that was radically different from any previous version of Windows, and the traditional desktop interface.

Many users found it jarring to go back and forth between the two.

“Certainly Windows 8 did not set the world on fire the way Microsoft had hoped,” said Stephen Kleynhans, an analyst at research firm Gartner. “They tried the big departure and it wasn’t quite what people were looking for.”

With Windows 9 — the name Microsoft presumably will give the operating system code named “Threshhold” — it’s anticipated that Microsoft will bring back some familiar features from Windows past.

In addition, the new OS is believed to be more specifically tailored to the type of input — whether touch or keyboard-and-mouse — the person is using at a given time.

The world is likely to know in late September or early October, when the company reportedly will have a technical preview of Windows 9 at a media event.

[Continue reading the story here.]

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Date: Tuesday, 09 Sep 2014 00:16

Update Sept. 8: Microsoft has removed the Bing Image Widget following Getty's filing of its lawsuit last week. Microsoft issued a statement, saying: "We have temporarily removed the Bing Image Widget beta so we can take time to talk with Getty Images and better understand its concerns."

From earlier:

Getty Images filed a lawsuit Thursday, claiming that Microsoft's recently launched Bing Image Widget infringes on, and facilitates the "massive infringement" of, copyrights.

Bing Image Widget, which Microsoft launched about Aug. 22, allows website owners to embed a panel on their sites that displays images brought up using the Bing search engine.

"Bing Image Widget enhances your website with the power of Bing Image Search and provides your users with beautiful, configurable image collages and slideshows," Microsoft says on the product's page.

The problem, according to Getty's lawsuit, is that the images that come up are typically copyrighted, including images whose copyrights are owned or controlled by Getty.

"Rather than draw from a licensed collection of images, Defendant gathers these images by crawling as much of the Internet as it can, copying and indexing every image it finds, without regard to the copyright status of the images and without permission from copyright owners like Plaintiff," Getty Images said in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

Microsoft issued a statement Thursday, saying; "As a copyright owner ourselves we think the laws in this area are important. We'll take a close look at Getty's concerns."

Getty says in its complaint that the supply of images for Bing Image Widget numbers in the "billions -- essentially, the entire universe of images" Microsoft's search engine can find on the Internet, including Getty's "highly valuable copyrighted works."

Microsoft, the suit continues, has essentially "turned the entirety of the world's online images into little more than a vast, unlicensed 'clip art' collection for the benefit of those website publishers who implement the Bing Image Widget."

Getty made it clear that the lawsuit was not targeting Bing's image search function. Rather, it said in the complaint, Microsoft markets the widget as a "website enhancement tool" -- one that's designed to make websites using it to be more visually attractive and, therefore, of greater "economic value."

Getty contends that Microsoft also derives economic value from the fact that clicking an image in the widget display panels takes the user to Microsoft's Bing image search website. Microsoft could then benefit by being able to collect more information about users or by being able to charge advertisers more because of increased traffic or increased time that users spend on its site.

"This, more than being a search engine, is really a website tool,"  John Lapham, Getty's general counse, said in an interview Thursday. "Website owners, unbeknownst to them, are putting up great-looking websites with stolen copyright. ...  [The images that come up using the widget] belong to somebody else. And all of it is done without any permission from the photographers or copyright owners."

Lapham said his company in March launched a photo embedding tool of its own. It enables noncommercial websites and social media users to freely use any of about 50 million of Getty's copyrighted images.

"The difference is that we have all the contractual rights and relationships in order to represent the content we're distributing," Lapham said. "The difference for Microsoft is they don’t have any of those rights."

Getty is seeking both a preliminary and permanent injunction against the use and offering of the Bing Image Widget until Microsoft can satisfy the court that it's not infringing on Getty's copyrights. Getty is also seeking unspecified monetary damages "as may be proven at trial" for any violations by Microsoft of Getty Images' copyrights.

Getty Images, which used to be headquartered in Seattle, still has about 500 employees here. The company's headquarters is now in New York City.

 

Author: "--" Tags: "Microsoft Pri0"
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Date: Tuesday, 09 Sep 2014 00:16

Microsoft on Monday began rolling out Office Delve, an application that unearths information and connections, to Office 365 business customers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCbyer0Xupg

Office Delve "displays information that is most relevant for each person based on the work they are doing and the people with whom they are engaging," Julia White, a Microsoft Office general manager, wrote in a blog post. "With Delve, information finds you versus you having to find information."

Delve is powered by Office Graph, the name for Office's machine-learning capabilities that take in signals from how a person uses email, Yammer and other Office services, maps the relationships between the user's relationships and content, and adapts accordingly. For instance, it might show the email messages deemed most important, rather than just showing them in the order they arrive in the user’s inbox. Delve then displays that content in a card-based format.

Microsoft announced it was working on Delve, formerly codenamed "Oslo," at its SharePoint conference earlier this year.

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Date: Monday, 08 Sep 2014 21:16

Microsoft unveiled a remade MSN.com Sunday, emphasizing "premium" content from media partners, along with productivity and personalization capabilities -- and answering the question of what direction MSN would be taking after substantial job cuts last fall signaled that the web portal was getting out of providing original content.

The new MSN.com, which can been seen in preview at preview.msn.com, began its rollout Sunday night.

It includes content from media sources around the world; is integrated with services including OneDrive, Skype, Outlook, Facebook, and Twitter; and can be personalized to reflect the user's interests.

In addition, the company will be releasing MSN apps across iOS and Android devices in the coming months "to complement our corresponding Windows and Windows Phone apps," according to a a blog post by Brian MacDonald, Microsoft corporate vice president of information and content experiences.

The revamped MSN fits in with CEO Satya Nadella's "mobile first, cloud first" strategy, in which the company emphasizes services that can sync across users' multiple devices, even if those devices run on competitors' platforms.

With the new MSN website and apps, "you only need to set your favorites once, and your preferences will be connected across MSN, Cortana, Bing and other Microsoft experiences," MacDonald wrote. "Whether it is your watchlist of stocks in MSN Money, your favorite sports teams in MSN Sports, or your recipe collections in MSN Food & Drink, those things will always be with you at your PC at work, on your iPad in the living room, or on your Android phone when you are on the go."

The new MSN is also aiming to carry out Nadella's "productivity and platforms" vision for the company.

In addition to providing content, MSN will present "actionable information together with content and personal productivity tools like shopping lists, a savings calculator, a symptom checker," MacDonald wrote. "Every MSN experience includes features to make users more productive and efficient in what they’re trying to achieve."

There were rumblings about a new direction for MSN last fall, when Microsoft cut a substantial number of its MSN freelancers, contractors and vendors. It was seen by some as a move by the company to get MSN away from providing original content so as not to compete with partnerships MSN was forming with media companies that could provide their own content. (Indeed, Microsoft is now touting to advertisers the "premium" nature of the publications featured on MSN, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.)

The cuts were also seen by some as a move to steer the MSN team toward focusing on Bing apps, a collection of news, weather, sports and other apps, first created for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

Bing apps have now been rebranded MSN apps.

MSN currently has an audience of more than 425 million people across 50 countries, according to Microsoft.

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Date: Thursday, 04 Sep 2014 21:45

Microsoft announced three new Nokia Lumia phones Thursday -- the Lumia 830, Lumia 735 and Lumia 730 -- as well as a Lumia update.

The phones, which run the latest Windows Phone 8.1 operating system, will roll out globally this month, according to the news release. [Update 12:43 p.m.: It is unclear whether the phones will be sold in the U.S.  A Microsoft spokeswoman said only: "We’re announcing the products globally at this time, and will have more information on availability in each market at a later date."] (Paul Thurrott's Supersite for Windows notes: "The Lumia 830 begins shipping this month 'globally,' which is a code word for 'not in the United States.' Sadly that's true of all the phones Microsoft is announcing today: They're all international only.")

The Lumia 830  has a 10-megapixel camera, runs a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 16GB of memory which is expandable by 128GB via microSD and is priced at around 330 euros (about $430).

The Lumia 730 and 735 have  6.7-megapixel cameras and run on 1.2 GHz Snapdragon quad-core processors with 8GB of memory, which can be expanded with a 128GB microSD card. They're being geared toward people who love to take selfies, Skype and connect socially. The cameras have 5-megapixel front-facing cameras, come pre-loaded with a new Lumia Selfie app, two microphones and voice processing designed to clear out unwanted background noise. The Lumia 730 Dual SIM will be priced around 199 euros (about $259), and the Lumia 735 with LTE/4G and wireless charging support will be priced around 219 euros (about $285).

In addition, Microsoft announced Lumia Denim -- an update that combines Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 with new features exclusively for Lumia phones. Lumia Denim includes updates  intended to make the  camera work faster and more intuitively. Lumia Denim will ship with Lumia 830, 730 and 735. All other Lumia Windows Phone 8 smartphones will get over-the-air updates, which are scheduled to start rolling out in the fourth quarter this year, following partner testing and approvals, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft made those announcements at the IFA technology show in Berlin.

At IFA, the company also showed off some new Windows 8.1 devices from its manufacturing partners.

Among the new devices are 2-in-1s (notebook computers that can also turn into tablets) such as the Acer Aspire R13, the HP Pavilion X2 and Lenovo ThinkPad Helix; and small tablets such as the 7-inch Toshiba Encore Mini and the 5-inch rugged Panasonic ToughPad FZ-E1.

 

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Date: Tuesday, 02 Sep 2014 13:09

Chinese antitrust officials  have given Microsoft 20 days to respond to questions about compatibility issues related to Windows and Office, as well as its use of verification codes, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal and Reuters.

China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce [SAIC], which is conducting an antitrust investigation of Microsoft, is requiring Microsoft to explain "problems like incompatibility and other issues caused by a lack of released information about its Windows and Office software," according to The Wall Street Journal report.

In addition, the SAIC is requiring Microsoft to explain its use of verification codes -- a tool used by companies to combat piracy. Microsoft's use of such codes "may have violated China's anti-monopoly law", the official Xinhua news agency said, according to the Reuters report.

Microsoft said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal that: "We strictly adhere to the relevant laws and rules in China and we have been actively cooperating with the SAIC's investigation."

The SAIC opened its case in June, saying Microsoft improperly failed to publish all documentation regarding its Windows and Office software. The agency said investigators visited Microsoft’s China headquarters in Beijing and branches in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu in southwestern China in July, according to an Associated Press report.

The investigation is one of several antitrust probes China has launched against foreign companies.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is scheduled to visit China later this month, though it's unclear whether he will be discussing the investigation with Chinese officials. Microsoft issued a statement last Friday, saying: “Satya's trip was planned before the Chinese government investigation began. We’re committed to complying with China's laws and addressing SAIC's questions and concerns."

In addition to the antitrust investigation, there are a number of other issues Microsoft is dealing with in China, including widespread piracy of its software; mass layoffs of workers at its Nokia facilities in China — layoffs that have been greeted with protestsand efforts to increase sales of its Windows Phone handsets, Xbox One consoles, and cloud offerings.

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