The (near-term) future of computer technology – Microsoft versus Google

The crystal ball is still foggy, but here are my thoughts on Microsoft versus Google and (what I believe is) the battle for world domination.  (Microsoft sales are around $77B, primarily from Windows software (25%), business software (32%), and server software (25%); Google is about $55B with approximately 87% of its revenue from advertising.)

Notice, I did not include Apple:  The big play is between Microsoft and Google and it is occurring across multiple lines:

  • Google (search) versus Bing
  • Microsoft Office versus Google Apps
  • Google Android versus Microsoft Windows

Google (search) versus Bing

In the search-engine market, there is no comparison with Google (#1) capturing an average of 67% of monthly queries in the US while Bing (#2) captures only 17%.  In search, queries equate to advertising revenue, the heart of Google’s success.  (Search is currently not a significant part of Microsoft’s sales.)

Google’s familiar, plain-white background seems functional, but also trendy with the occasional changes to the GOOGLE moniker.  Bing’s full-screen, image-based background usually displays beautiful vistas or current events; the scrollable “Popular Now” bar across the bottom adds an items-of-interest aspect.

Bing (aka Microsoft) suggests comparing the two via www.BingItOn.com.

Winner (by a wide margin) is Google; Bing is interesting, but it will take some major work to break Google’s dominance in this area.

Microsoft Office versus Google Apps

When it comes to productivity applications; Microsoft Office 2013 owns the market at 92% while the newer Office 365, Microsoft’s Cloud-based answer to Google Apps, exceeds $1B per year.  (For details, please see the April 19, 2013Forbes article athttp://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2013/04/19/microsoft-shakes-off-pc-slump-as-office-and-servers-sales-swell/.)

Microsoft continues to focus on Office 365; pricing now starts at $96 per year, new features have been added, and partners can sell this service directly to users.

Although Microsoft productivity applications dominate on the desktop, Google Apps is a serious contender to Office 2013 and Office 365 with an estimated 33% to 50% share of Cloud-based productivity apps.  The primary difference: Google Apps was Cloud-based from the start; it doesn’t have all of the features of Microsoft Office, but is relevant on more platforms, is free to consumers, and costs just $50 per

year for users of Google Apps for Business.

So, Google Apps plays well in a heterogeneous, consumer/small-business world.  Also, Google has moved its popular Postini anti-spam service into Google Apps, a move that has angered and confused many of its (former) Postini clients, but one that makes sense from the perspective of beefing up Google Apps for Business to battle against Office 365.

For details, please see the 4/23/2013 article by Kurt Mackie of Redmond Magazineat http://redmondmag.com/articles/2013/04/23/gains-for-google-in-cloud-office.aspx?sc_lang=en.  To compare Office 365 to Google Apps, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBtYFM6Zy0o

Winner (by a strong, but potentially diminishing margin) is Microsoft; Microsoft dominates the desktop, but mobile users are changing the landscape.

Google Android versus Microsoft Windows

In terms of projected sales of mobile devices, Google’s Android (DROID) owns the market at 79% while Microsoft Windows is at just 3.3%.  However, if you include desktop computers, a declining market, Windows is still prevalent across organizations throughout the world.

Google introduced Android in 2007; it is a Linux-based, open-source operating system designed for touchscreen devices.  Its strength is its robustness and ease-of-use, which led to a brisk rate of adoption by users and application developers.

Windows 8 was introduced in October of 2012.  It was designed to be compatible with its predecessors (Windows XP and Windows 7) while introducing a touch-enabled, tile-based, user interface that has been more frustrating than enabling.  To date, it has failed to meet even modest expectations.  (Windows 8.1, a free, significant upgrade to Windows 8, will release on October 17th with the hope of changing this trend.)

Currently a draw if you include both mobile devices and desktop computers:  Microsoft owns the desktop while Google owns mobile devices; Windows 8.1 provides hope, but might be too little too late to penetrate the mobility market.

If nothing else, expect prices to decrease as the competition heats up.

Security concern with popular, home-based, Internet routers

Independent Security Evaluators, a Baltimore-based security firm, stated that 13 Internet routers sold for home use were vulnerable to attack if the hacker had network access and could obtain the username and password of the router.  These routers include:

  • Linksys WRT310v2
  • Netgear’s WNDR4700
  • TP-Link’s WR1043N
  • Verizon’s FiOS Actiontec MI424WR-GEN3I
  • D-Link’s DIR865L
  • Belkin’s N300, N900 and F5D8236-4 v2 models

Basic suggestions:

  • Check to see if your home-based Internet modem/router is named above.  If so, check with the manufacturer to ensure that all security updates have been applied.
  • Change the login credentials using a complex password.  (Please review the article “Simple passwords = disaster” in our January 2013 Bryley Tips and Information.)

 

ComputerWorld.com — Popular Home Routers Contain Critical Security Vulnerabilities has the full story by Jeremy Kirk at ComputerWorld.

The (near-term) future of computer technology – Part 1

The crystal ball is somewhat cloudy, but here are my thoughts on user interfaces and their adoption.

User interfaces on computing devices

Alphabetically, these are the practical computer-interface options we know today:

  • Heads-up Display (HUD) – Military displays have been based on HUD technology for decades.  Basic concept is to provide see-through information that is available within the area of vision without the need to look around.
  • Motion sensing – Motion allows the user to direct through body motions; you can lump the joystick and mouse in this category, but, preferably, Motion is done without manipulating a physical device.
  • Projection – A key component of HUD, it could enhance or replace displays, especially on mobile devices that can be difficult to read due to their small size.  Projection, combined with Motion, will get interesting when you can gesture within a larger image projected onto a nearby surface.
  • Speech recognition with text-to-speech or TTS – Older technologies (a blind friend has had both since the late-80s), but computer processing is now robust enough to support Speech for mainstream use.
  • Touch displays – Touch has been around since the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that manufacturing costs of touch displays decreased to assist with the widespread adoption of mobile devices.  Touch simplifies the user interface by removing the need for separate keyboards (and mice), but generally mimics the function of a keyboard when inputting significant amounts of text.
  • Type – I’d define this as old-school typing on a separate keyboard, usually with a mouse to assist; can’t seem to get rid of this one since it is so inexpensive and since most (all?) computers still support its use.

Some examples with their approximate costs:

  • Google Glass – Combines HUD with Speech in an eye-glass format; $1,500.
  • Microsoft Table – Touch with Projection on a table-top surface; just $8,400.
  • Nitendo’s Wii – Maybe not so new, but Motion for game consoles that was revolutionary in the mid-2000s; about $130.
  • Keyboard plus mouse – Older than dirt, but you can get both for under $15.

Adoption of user interfaces within the generational divide

In terms of adopting new interfaces, I think that much depends on your age group:

  • Younger folk (less than 30 years old) take naturally to the newest and fastest; they’ll still Type via Touch (reluctantly, usually by abbreviating wherever possible), but HUD, Motion, and Projection, are their future.  (Not quite so sure about the use of Speech in this group; do people under 30 talk to others on their phone or do they only text one another?)
  • Mid-range (call it 30 to 55 years old) people can adapt, but it gets tougher as you advance (age-wise) within this group.  I figure these folk Speak, Type and Touch, but would be willing to migrate to other options if they are easy to deploy and inexpensive to own.  Full-size keyboards and mice will remain (and, hopefully, die) with this group.
  • Older (over 55) folk are less adaptable, but can cope with current technology.  Switching platforms is a challenge, even if the interface is conceptually easier to grasp and use.  Some can learn how to use other options, but I suspect most will stay with what they know: Touch and Type.

From my experience:

  • I have had computing experience since high school.  While training my dad on Microsoft Windows, I was struck by the amount of effort required to transfer knowledge; the concepts were tough for my dad, who had no computing background, to assimilate.
  • My son, who grew up with graphic-intensive video games, has a broad grasp of current technologies and flexible fingers; he always looks pained when demonstrating basic touch-screen usage to me on my mobile phone.  (It doesn’t help that I can barely see the screen and that my thumbs tend to stray away from their intended targets, especially in portrait mode.)

Basically; you can teach an aging human a new interface, but it takes some work.

System Builders Await Surface’s Impact

Gavin Livingstone, President of Bryley Systems, talks to Channel Pro Networkabout Microsoft’s Surface tablet.  Read the full article System Builders Await Surface’s Impact

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Protect your mobile device – Part 3: Enforcement, Tools, and First Steps

We have explored the importance of setting policies and training users on mobile device security and management; now, we wrap-up with how to enforce these policies, recommended tools, and first steps to mobile device security.

 

Enforcement

 

Enforcement is usually assisted through a Mobile Device Management (MDM) tool; typically a software-based application that requires an agent be installed to the mobile device.  Once installed, this agent connects back (remotely) to a central console from which an administrator can monitor, manage, and secure the mobile device and also support its user.

 

MDM features typically include:

  • Enforce user security policy:

o   Require complex password with frequent changes

o   Permit remote access only via SSL or VPN

o   Lock-down browser settings

o   Enable encryption

  • Recover lost or stolen devices:

o   Activate alarm (set off an audible alarm on the device)

o   Enable track and locate (track and locate the device via GPS)

o   Permit remote wipe (complete erasure of the device as a last resort)

  • Control mobile device applications:

o   Recognize and prevent installation of unauthorized applications

o   Permit whitelisting and blacklisting of application

o   Restrict or block application stores

  • Remotely deploy and configure applications (email, etc.)
  • Audit the mobile device for installed software, configuration, and capacity

 

ComputerWorld has a comprehensive article on the challenges of MDM. View it at

Mobile device management: Getting started.

 

To support our mobile device clients, we use the MDM capabilities built intoKaseya, our Remote Monitoring and Management tool.  Other MDM providers include:

  • AirWatch
  • LabTech
  • MobileIron
  • Symantec
  • Zenprise

 

While MDM provides a comprehensive tool, it can be costly to procure and support.  Many companies utilize a trusted business partner (like Bryley) to provide MDM tooling, monitoring, and support for their mobile devices on an ongoing basis with pricing that ranges from $15 (in quantity) to $75 per device per month.

 

Non-MDM Tools

 

Alternatively, Microsoft Exchange 2010 offers many MDM-type features through Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), an included protocol that licenses by end-user or end-device Client Access License (CAL).  The Exchange 2010 Standard CAL licenses:

  • Password security policies
  • Encryption required
  • Remote wipe

 

The Exchange 2010 Enterprise Add-On CAL licenses advanced features including:

  • Allow/disallow Internet browser, consumer email, unsigned installation, etc.
  • Allow/disallow removable storage, Wi-Fi, Internet sharing, etc.
  • Allow/block specific applications
  • Per-user journaling
  • Integrated archive

 

Exchange Server Standard 2010 is $709; Standard CALs are $68 each while the Enterprise Add-On CAL is an additional $42 each (based on list prices for business).

 

Main difference between MDM and EAS: Most MDM tools provide greater control over the mobile device during its lifecycle and can provide control over the device even before email is configured.

 

Other recommended tools include:

  • Anti-malware: AVG Mobilation – From free to $9.99 for Pro version
  • Protect and find phone via key-case fob – Kensington Bungee Air at $79.99

 

First step suggestions

 

These are our minimum, first-step suggestions:

  • Deploy anti-malware software immediately and manage it continuously
  • Require password to activate the device with a low auto-lock time
  • Update mobile devices through vendor-approved patching
  • Enable on-board encryption if handling sensitive data

 

Visit 10 Steps to Secure Your Mobile Device for detailed recommendations on securing your mobile device.

Protect your mobile device – Part 2: Training

Training is an important, early step in any process; informing end-users of the need to secure their mobile devices is critical. Recommended training topics:

● Why we need to authenticate and encrypt

● How to reduce the risk of loss or theft

● How to safely deploy new applications

● How to securely backup your data

 

Authenticate and encrypt

 

Authentication is the process of confirming that the end-user is authorized to use the mobile device in a prescribed manner. It is typically handled through a username with a complex password that is changed frequently.  (A complex password requires at least three of four character options – capital letter, lower-case letter, numeric, and special character – with at least eight characters.)

 

Increasingly, biometrics (fingerprint verification, eye-scans, etc.) are playing a role in authentication.

 

Sensitive data should be encrypted to make it unreadable if the device is lost or stolen. (Encryption scrambles the content, making it unreadable to anyone without the capability to unencrypt.) Authentication is required to unencrypt and access the data.

Reduce the risk of loss or theft

 

Cell phones are easy targets for theft; they can be sold on-the-street and are (still) easily programmed to a new service on a cellular network.

 

To prevent theft:

● Be vigilant; know where your cell phone is at all times and keep it close to your body. (It doesn’t always help: One of our clients had his cellphone taken right from his hand by a man on a bike on a busy city street; the bicyclist also gave him a kick to discourage pursuit.)

● Install phone-tracking software

● Install a physical locking device

 

Safely deploy new applications

 

Mobile-device users download applications through app stores installed on the device. App stores are increasingly targeted areas for malware distribution; only trusted and approved applications should be downloaded and deployed. (Most app stores have responded by requiring additional security precautions from their customers.)

 

For company-owned devices, end-users should have specific guidelines on what applications can or cannot be deployed; ideally, an enforcement mechanism would be installed on the mobile device to ensure these policies are followed. For employee-owned devices, this policy may need to be recommended rather than required.

 

Securely backup your data

 

To prevent loss or inadvertent deletion, data stored on a mobile device (pictures, documents, contacts, etc.) should be backed-up in an encrypted format to a separate, secure location.

 

Backups should be required on devices owned by the organization and strongly recommended for individually owned devices. Backups should be scheduled periodically and verified.

 

Online, consumer-oriented backup and file-storage applications – spritemobile, DropBox, Mozy, SugarSync – are somewhat restricted by the mobile-device operating system in what type of data that they can backup; typically contacts, calendars, tunes, and photos. Full backups are usually done through tethering (attaching the phone to an external device).

 

Visit Enterprise Security Policies for Mobile Device Backup and Restore atDummies.com for an informative article on mobile-device backup.

 

Next month (part 3): We will discuss enforcement, review a few tools, and wrap-up with first-step suggestions.

Protect your mobile device – Part 1

The need to secure newer mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) has grown since they now meet the basic criteria for malicious, cyberspace-based attack:

  • Developer kits are readily available
  • Mobile devices are in widespread use throughout the world
  • Motivation is increasing since usable/saleable data live on these devices

 

In addition, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has introduced related, security-oriented concerns and complexities:

  • How can we accommodate personal equipment in the workplace, particularly when two-thirds of 20-something workers in a recent survey from research firm Vision Critical state that “they, not the company, should be responsible for the security of devices used for work purposes”?1
  • How do we manage the large variety of mobile devices, many with differing operating systems, processing capabilities, and user interfaces?
  • How do we structure our security offerings to permit broad access to low-risk functions while restricting high-risk activities on a need-to-have basis?

 

Protecting a smartphone (or tablet) gets easier if you take the perspective of Garin Livingstone, one of our technical staff, who pointed out: “It is just a small computer; all of the same security concerns and rules that apply to PCs also apply to smartphones.”

 

As described in a recent InformationWeek article2, corporate response from the IT department should consist of these three stages:

  • Set policy for mobile device use
  • Train users
  • Enforce

 

Mobile-device-use policies should protect company data, while enabling employees to do their jobs efficiently.  The policy should protect, but not inhibit, the use of data from a mobile device; this usually requires the protection of the device itself with a strong focus on what data is available and where it will reside.

 

Some policy suggestions:

  • Device:

o   Deploy an anti-malware utility set to scan automatically

o   Set continuous updates of operating system and anti-malware utility

o   Encrypt company data (if stored on the device itself)

o   Backup data to a secure site (preferably daily)

  • User:

o   Require passwords and make them complex

o   Set an auto-lock period of five minutes or less

o   Set browsers to high-security mode

  • Remote access:

o   Access data/applications securely via SSL, HTTPS, or VPN technologies

o   Provide virtualized access to data stored at the corporate site

In our next article, we will review training and enforcement, highlight some tools, and wrap-up with first-step suggestions.

 

 

References:

 

1. Visit Network World athttp://www.networkworld.com/news/2012/061912-byod-20somethings-260305.htmlto review the article “Young employees say BYOD a Right not Privilege” by Ellen Messmer.

 

2. Please review the May 12, 2012 InformationWorld article “Mobile Security Gaps Abound” by Michael Finneran.