Billion dollar revenue or not, Microsoft Azure is growing fast

Is Microsoft Azure now a billion dollar business? Maybe, maybe not. The milestone was announced by Curt Anderson, CFO for Server and Tools at Microsoft, in this Bloomberg piece:

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)’s Windows Azure software and related programs have surpassed $1 billion in annual sales for the first time … Microsoft’s $1 billion sales figure includes Azure, as well as software provided to partners to create related Windows cloud services, Anderson said in an interview.

The remarks have prompted discussion of what exactly makes up this billion dollars of sales. In particular, what is this software sold to partners for “related Windows cloud services” and how much is it worth?

Timothy Prickett Morgan on the Register takes the most sceptical line:

It seems likely, however, that the bulk of that revenue figure comes from peddling Windows Server, Systems Center, SQL Server, and any other wares that service providers, telcos, and hosters have bought to build Windows-based clouds.

It’s hard to imagine it being even a 20-80 split for Azure proper versus Azure-alike, and the ratio is probably something on the order of 10-90 if you put a gun to our head and made us guess. And maybe more like 5-95.

He overstates the case though. Context: Server and Tools earned revenue of over $18bn in the Microsoft’s last financial year ending June 30 2012 and is set to exceed that in 2013. As Mary-Jo Foley reports here, System Center (which forms the basis for Microsoft’s “private cloud” offering) was already over $1bn last year, so it seems unlikely that Anderson would now lump System Center revenue in with Azure and call it Azure revenue.

At the same time, the qualification in Anderson’s statement does imply that Azure on its own, without this “software provided to partners” does not quite make it.

It matters little. It is clear to me that Azure is a rapidly growing business for Microsoft, and that the energy put in by Scott Guthrie and his team is paying off. Check his blog for a stream of strong announcements.

Server and Tools boss Brad Anderson told me that Azure is a “massive public cloud that doubles every six months.”

It makes sense too. If your business runs on Microsoft’s platform and you want to scale into the cloud, Azure is a strong contender now that its usability and features are maturing. Azure Virtual Machines, providing infrastructure as a service, are of key importance; note that while they have been available for a while they only came out of preview officially on April 16th, a couple of weeks ago. Azure Active Directory and the possibility of federation with on-premise AD is another critical feature, and so is virtual networking, which became generally available at the same time as the Virtual Machines.

On the other hand, Prickett Morgan’s response and other exclamations of surprise around the web (Say What? says Gigaom) show the extent to which Microsoft botched the Azure launch back in 2008 and 2009, and how far it has to go before it is perceived as a strong cloud platform contender beyond the circles of Microsoft partners.

Amazon Web Services on the other hand won its cloud reputation years ago and shows no sign of letting go of its lead, with energetic development of its platform that at least matches Microsoft’s efforts as well as commodity pricing.

Still, with both Office 365 and Azure now booming, it seems to me that the time when you could laugh off Microsoft’s cloud efforts has passed. Expect an unqualified $1bn revenue for Azure before too long.

HP ElitePad 900: a tablet that is easy to disassemble thanks to magnetic screen attachment

I saw the HP ElitePad Windows 8 slate at a trade show last week and was impressed by a feature I had not heard about before: easy serviceability.

Tablets are usually intimidating to disassemble, thanks to screens that are either glued in place or which require alarming force to prise away. The ElitePad is different. It is a slate which is actually easier to take apart than most laptops, thanks to magnetic attachment. HP supplies a  depolarising jig into which you slot the tablet, whereupon you can easily remove the screen with a suction handle. There are a couple of screws to undo first, but it looks like an easy job.

Here are a few screen grabs from the explanatory video (embedded at the end of this post) which show what is involved. This is the tablet in the jig with the screen about to be removed.


This is the screen coming away.


And here is the unit with screen removed.


Once opened up, HP says you can replace these parts:

  • Dock connector
  • speaker system
  • SD and Sim card connector
  • webcam
  • NFC (Near Field Communications) sensor
  • battery
  • wireless LAN
  • antennas
  • power board
  • motherboard
  • processor
  • memory card

According to the video, the motherboard “contains the SSD” which sounds disappointing, since one of the first things you might want to do is to replace the rather small 32GB or 64GB SSD with a larger one.

Unfortunately this feature is not aimed at home users wanting to modify or fix their own tablets; you need the jig and HP training. At least, that is the official line; but I imagine that the DIY community will also benefit from this approach.

The ElitePad has a 10″ 1280×800 screen, dual core Z2760 Atom processor, 2GB RAM, and 32GB or 64GB SSD. It also supports memory expansion via an SD card, and there an option for a SIM for mobile broadband. Battery life is around 8 hours.

HP is using expansion jackets to adapt the ElitePad for specialist tasks – a throwback to the iPaq (remember that?) handheld computer which used the same concept. This includes jackets with additional battery, a productivity jacket with a keyboard and stand, a jacket for medical use, a retail POS (point of sale) option, and a rugged case for outside use. I hated the iPaq jackets, which were horribly bulky, but these look like a better proposition, though it is still a shame to bulk up your nice slim slate with fat case.

According to HP, a key selling point of the ElitePad is enterprise manageability thanks to Active Directory support. Of course this is x86 Windows 8, not Windows RT which cannot be domain-joined.

I do get the impression that HP has put considerable effort into the ElitePad which is not just a me-too Windows 8 product. Good to see.

The main snag with the ElitePad is its high price. It starts at $699 in the US, or £520 + VAT in the UK, and considering the lowly specification in terms of processing power, and the extra cost of the accessories, it looks poor value, though if it is a perfect fit for your business it might still be worth it (and no doubt you will get a better price if you buy in quantity).

RAD Studio XE4 with Delphi for iOS is here. Who will use it?

Embarcadero has released RAD Studio XE4, its suite of development tools for Window, Web and for the first time, Apple iOS. iOS support first appeared in an earlier release, but in preview, and the current effort works using a new LLVM-based ARM compiler so is somewhat unlike the preview. Individual products such as Delphi XE4 are also available separately.

Looking at what’s new in Delphi and C++ Builder in XE4 it is apparent that iOS support is by far the main change since RAD Studio XE3, though there are two other significant changes:

  • Prism, a version of RemObjects Oxygene that compiles a Delphi-like language to .NET (and soon other targets) has been removed. Oxygene lives on at RemObjects.
  • FireDAC, a data access engine acquired from DA-SOFT, is now part of RAD Studio.

I ran up the new RAD Studio on a Parallels VM on a Mac, a VM on a Mac being the best way to try cross-platform development for OS X and iOS. The new IDE immediately presents you with instructions on setting up for iOS development (though I am not a fan of videos, preferring clear text instructions) but I no problems configuring the Mac agent (called PAServer) which makes this work. Start a new mobile app and you can pick a starter template or begin with a blank canvas.


I picked the Tabbed Application and was soon trying out my new app on the iOS simulator


So far so good, though the ability to run up a quick app is no proof of the quality of the development tool. Still, a few reflections.

As I noted earlier, it seems to me that Delphi developers are either Windows developers using the tried and trusted VCL (in which case there is very little for them in XE4), or developers who are targeting mobile platforms and using the cross-platform FireMonkey framework in order to share code between Windows, Mac and mobile. I guess it is also possible that developers targeting iOS alone will be so taken with Delphi or C++ Builder that they will come in as new users.

VCL developers now have 64-bit compilation and a mature framework, and given that the efforts of Embarcadero are now focused elsewhere, and that even Microsoft is going slow on new features for what it now calls “desktop Windows”, there is little reason for such developers to upgrade.

The key questions then are about the quality of the FireMonkey framework and the iOS support. It is hard for me to be objective, since I know Delphi from of old and it is a familiar environment. Delphi or C++ Builder for iOS has obvious attractions for such developers. I would be intrigued though to know what an Objective C or even a JavaScript developer would make of Delphi, coming to it fresh. I am sceptical whether an Xcode developer would find enough productivity benefit in Delphi and FireMonkey to want to move over, and suspect also that many would not be impressed by the FireMonkey approach to iOS controls, which are generally custom drawn rather than true native, or faked completely like the Segmented Control which you are meant to put together from SpeedButtons with segmented styling, as explained in the Delphi iOS tutorial:


Embarcadero is making a big play of being “true native” but native is not just about the executable code (I have written more about this elsewhere) and cross-platform always involves compromise.

There is also some disquiet in the developer community about the cost of keeping up to date with RAD Studio. The full RAD Studio XE4 Architect edition currently costs £2,892.60 ex VAT for a new user, or £1,927.80 to upgrade. If you just want basic Delphi, Delphi XE4 Pro is a more reasonable £642.60 for a new user, or £352.80 to upgrade – but you do not get iOS support for that, that is another £320.40 for the Mobile Add-on, and FireDAC if you need it a further £285.00. When XE3 came out, Embarcadero promised that iOS and Android support would be available later at a “low cost”; of course that is a relative and subjective term, but I can understand if some feel that the price is on the high side. Or you can buy software assurance and get upgrades free; I don’t have prices for that but the cost is significant.

It is unfortunate for Embarcadero that there is intense competition in the iOS tools space, not only from Apple’s excellent and free tools, but also from the likes of Xamarin and Titanium.

None of the above is intended to detract from the achievement of bringing Delphi to iOS, with Android promised, which is considerable.

Changes in the Delphi language for ARM and mobile support

Delphi developers should note changes in the Delphi language coming as a result of the move towards the LLVM compiler for mobile support. Embarcadero has released a paper describing these in detail. The just-released RAD Studio XE4 includes the ARM compiler for iOS, with an Android compiler to follow later this year.

It seems to me that Delphi developers will now fall into two broad camps:

1. Windows VCL developers for whom the new FireMonkey cross-platform framework is of little interest, either because they are not developing for Mac or mobile, or because they prefer other tools for those platforms.

2. Developers who are embracing the new platform targets, migrating code to FireMonkey or starting new projects there, and planning to share code across all platforms as far as possible.

If you are in the first camp, you need not worry too much about language changes yet. I believe it is Embarcadero’s long-term intention to unify Delphi’s compilers around LLVM on all platforms, but when or whether this will happen for Win32 and Win64 is moot; my guess is that what the company now calls the “classic compiler” will be around for a long time yet. However the Mac compiler may migrate to LLVM sooner. (I am speculating).

Currently, RAD Studio XE4 includes five compilers:

  • The Win32 compiler (DCC32)
  • The Win64 compiler (DCC64)
  • The Mac compiler (DCCOSX)
  • The iOS Simulator compiler (DCCIOS32)
  • The iOS ARM compiler (DCCIOSARM)

Of these, only the last one currently uses LLVM, though the iOS Simulator compiler behaves as closely as possible like its ARM cousin. In general the language changes are currently only applicable by default for the LLVM and Simulator compilers as far as I can tell.

What are the language changes? My quick summary of the biggest changes is as follows:

  • One string type only: UTF16, reference counted, immutable (though this is a point of confusion; reading the paper it seems it is not yet immutable as it describes modifying in place, but may become so).
  • 0-based strings. There is a compiler directive $ZEROBASEDSTRINGS, which is off for Delphi XE3 and Delphi XE4, but on for the mobile compiler in XE4.
  • Automatic reference counting. Objects are destroyed automatically when the reference count hits zero. MyObj.Free; does not destroy the object, only reduces the reference count (and destroys it if zero). You can create weak references (which do not increment the count) by using the [Weak] attribute. If you really want to destroy the object, use MyObj.DisposeOf;.

In addition, the With statement is now deprecated.

The language changes are described in detail in the paper The Delphi Language for Mobile Development, which you can find here.

Getting Windows 3.1 connected to the internet (in DOSBox of course)

What if, for historical reasons, you wanted to test early Windows internet software?

You would do well to run up DOSBox. Better still, the Megabuild version which includes an emulated NE2000 network card.

Then you install DOS and Windows 3.x. Not too difficult if you can find copies of the software.

What next? This is where I wasted a certain amount of time. I found this information:

Run 0x65 3 0x300 and winpkt 0x65 before starting Windows

I found from the above link, but where was winpkt? Eventually I found it in on

I still was not up and running. Then it dawned on me that I needed WinPcap on the host PC for the NE2000 emulation to work.

Next, I took a look at the DOSBox configuration file, which for this build is dosbox-SVN_MB6.conf. Nothing will work until you edit this file, since you need to specify which real NIC DOSBox should use. By default it is set to “list”, which means you get a list of candidates when you start up DOSBox.

I use Windows 8 with Hyper-V virtual networking installed, which complicates matters. It was not obvious which NIC to use, since three of mine are distinguished in the list only by GUIDs. I got it right on the second attempt.

Now I was getting somewhere. I had already added the driver initialisation into autoexec.bat. I installed Trumpet winsock which is still for sale though you get 30 days trial.  You just have to configure it. No DHCP but not too difficult:


Note that the values here are examples; yours will be different.

IP address: a valid, unused IP address on your internal network

DNS server: the same as used by the host PC

Domain suffix: optional, your internal domain

Vector: this must match the first argument you gave to, without the 0x

Netmask: same as you use on the host PC

Gateway: same as you use on the host PC

The other values I left at the default. Then you can try a ping to check that it works:


Happy retro computing!

Review: Plantronics Voyager Legend UC B235 Bluetooth Headset

A high quality wireless headset is a valuable accessory for frequent phone users. The Plantronics Voyager Legend UC (87670) is a high-end device suitable for softphones like Skype as well as smartphones and tablets, and replaces the Voyager Pro UC. The UC means Unified Communications and means it comes with a USB Bluetooth adapter for wireless desktop connections; it is also bundled with a dock and charger case.

If you want to use Microsoft Lync, look out for the special B235–M (Microsoft) version (87680). If you only want to use it with mobile devices, look for the Voyager Legend (without the UC).

I have been impressed by Plantronics headsets in the past, and this one too is an excellent device though I encountered a few niggles getting started.


In the box is the headset and USB adapter within a dual-purpose case/charger, a USB power adaptor, a desktop dock, a USB cable, and a few different sizes of ear gels and foam covers.


The headset itself has a similar basic design to the earlier Voyager Pro, though the call/answer button has been repositioned and there is an additional button on the microphone boom.


I am happy to see the call/answer button repositioned, since I found it awkward on the Pro. The ease of use of the buttons is critical, since you will often be operating them with the headset fitted, which means by feel alone. It takes practice of course, but the buttons on the Legend are well designed in this respect.

Another difference between the Pro and the Legend is the USB connection, for charging or wired connection to a PC. Whereas the Pro had a standard micro USB port, the Legend has a recessed magnetic connector. There is an adaptor supplied which converts this to a micro USB

The magnetic connector also enables the Legend to connect when in the case. The case has an external micro USB port so you can charge it in the case.

Note that the case also has a battery. According to Plantronics, if the case is fully charged, it can charge the headset twice before needing its own recharge, greatly increasing the effective talk time of the headset.

If that is not enough, you can also charge by sitting the Legend in a small desktop dock.


The buttons on the Legend Pro are as follows:


On/Off: self explanatory

Volume: a rocker switch which lets you increase or decrease volume to one of 9 positions. A tone sounds when you adjust the volume, and a voice announces when you reach maximum or minimum. Maximum volume is not that loud, perhaps to protect your hearing. It is fine provided the input volume from your device is reasonably loud, so check that if you have problems.

Call/Answer: Multi-function button. If there is an incoming call, tap to answer. During a call, tap to end call. Press and long hold to enter Bluetooth pairing mode. Press and hold for 2 seconds (indicated by a tone) to enter voice dial mode, or on iPhone, Siri. Double tap for redial of last inbound or outbound call.

Voice: Multi-function button, new in the Legend. Tap to use voice commands. During a call, tap to mute or unmute microphone. During music streaming, press and hold to play or pause.

The multi functions take a little bit of learning, but this does not take long.

Using the Voyager Legend Pro

There are apparently three microphones, nose-cancelling digital signal processing, and stainless steel windscreens in the Legend, and it shows in good voice quality; the results I got were consistently clear.

Pairing with the devices I tried – two phones and a PC – was straightforward. I used voice control (other than with the PC which is pre-paired using the supplied USB receiver). Tap voice, say “Pair mode”, go to Bluetooth devices on the phone and connect.

You can pair with two phones simultaneously. If you are making a call using voice control, and two phones are connected, it seems to default to whatever it thinks is “phone 1”.

I got good results both with the smartphones and with Skype on the PC. On the PC, the only thing that caught me out initially was that I had to press the Call button to enable Skype audio, even though Skype thought it was connected to the headset.

The incoming sound quality is fine for voice but disappointing for music. You cannot expect a mono headset to compete with high-end ear buds for audio, but I recall the Pro being a little better in this respect.

When I first connected to an Android phone, some features did not work properly. The basics worked, but voice dialling always seemed to call the wrong person, and pause/resume of music did not work. I connected to a Windows Phone 8 device, which proved more reliable. Then I reconnected to the Android phone, and everything now worked there too. The reason, I suspect, for some unpredictable behaviour is that many of the clever features of the Legend depend on the Bluetooth stack on the mobile device, hardware and software. Note that the things you can do with voice dialling and how well it works depend mainly on your mobile, not on the headset, though a good microphone like this one helps.

The headset is comfortable and I can happily wear it for long periods. As mentioned above, the button placement is better than on the Pro, and for this reason alone I prefer it.

Smart features

The Legend has a few smart tricks which distinguish it:

1. Voice commands. There are 9 voice commands you can use after tapping the voice button, such as “Pair mode”, “Check battery”, “Am I connected”, and “Redial”. Since the number of commands is limited, accuracy of recognition I found good. Note that voice dialling is engaged using the Call button, not the voice button, which is confusing. The reason is that voice dialling is more a feature of whatever mobile you are connected to, than it is of the headset itself.

2. Sensors. The Legend recognises when you put it on or take it off. Putting on the headset will answer a call, taking it off will pause streaming audio, for example. The call button is locked when the headset is not being worn.

3. Vocalyst is a subscription service you can use with the headset. A code for a year of basic service is included in the box.  You can connect to email, Twitter or Facebook, check news and sports, and so on. I did not try this; it does not look business-ready with limited Exchange support, for example.

4. Headset update. If you download the MyHeadset updater you can customise the Legend. I used this to replace the US voice with a UK voice, a nice feature.

5. Apps. I installed a couple of Android apps, MyHeadset which shows battery life, and FindMyHeadset which plays a tone if you have lost your headset but it is within range. The Spokes PC app also shows battery life and enables UC presence features and other settings.


This headset is excellent. The charger case is a great idea, but note that it does not hold all the accessories; I would like to keep the USB adaptor in there.

The new voice button is on the whole successful, within its limited goals.

I liked the ability to pair with two phones, the option for a UK voice, and the improved call button placement over the Voyager Pro.

There is still scope for improvement in usability and features, but much of the experience is down to how well Bluetooth is implemented in your particular mobile device, and how up to date is its specification.

On the desktop this is ideal for Skype and other softphones.


Bluetooth version: 3.0 with A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution), AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control), HFP (Wideband Hands-free) 1.6, HSP (Headset) 1.2, Phone Book access (PBAP), SSP2 (Secure Simple Pairing).

Headset weight: 18g.

Battery life: 7 hours talk time, 11 days standby.

Charge time: 90 minutes.

Operating distance: 10m.


Key Easy Assist feature of Microsoft InTune disabled on Windows 8, when will it return?

Microsoft’s cloud PC management service, InTune, is aimed at smaller businesses and the resellers who support them. It brings some of the features of System Center to organisations who are too small to justify deploying it, or who want a simpler solution.

One of the features of InTune is remote assistance. End users click a link on their InTune Center and it fires off an alert to an administrator.


When the adminstrator responds they can open up a chat session with the user, with other features including the ability to transfer files and (crucially) to view and control their desktop to troubleshoot problems.

This feature is not the same as the Remote Assistance built into Windows 7. Rather, it is based on Office Live Meeting 2007 (yes, 2007). It is tailor made for remote support, and easier for the end user to initiate.

Those who have tried to use the standard Remote Assistance (which is fine when it works) will be familiar with an intricate dance that starts with helping the user to find it, then talks them through trying Easy Connect, then when that doesn’t work, emailing an invitation file, then quoting the secret password, then verifying it when it doesn’t work, then giving up and blaming firewall issues.

Easy Assist by contrast is straightforward. At least, unless you have Windows 8 on either end. If the administrator is running Microsoft’s latest and greatest they get this message from InTune:


It says, “Launching Remote Assistance is not available on this operating system.”

Bewildered admins turned to the forums for assistance. The answer from Microsoft is a classic piece of support doublespeak:

Your account was likely upgraded to our latest release last week, which includes some changes for users on Windows 8. We made some changes to ensure the best experience when supporting customers.  To ensure the best experience on Windows 8 it was necessary to disable support for providing and receiving remote assistance.  This is a feature we want to implement in a future release as we know how valuable it is.

Note that the admin in question says “I often use this feature several times a day.”

This is Microsoft at its worst. It is not just that an important feature was removed without notice. It is also that there is no indication of when it might return, or any guarantee that it will return. The support company now has to explain to its clients why they now have to struggle with the standard Remote Assistance, or else pay extra for a third-party solution like the excellent but expensive LogMeIn. This, of course, will no longer be integrated with InTune.

One might also ask: why does the relatively new InTune product still rely on a feature of Office Live Meeting 2007 for this key functionality? Why is it not part of Lync, which is its replacement now in its second version?

I guess this will eventually be fixed. In the meantime, pleas like this go unanswered.

Easy Assist fix it for Windows 8 Already!!! This is ridiculous Windows 8 was available on Intune back in September of 2012. It more than six months and only the agent works correctly now. Easy Assist is a big selling point for clients to get the Intune Service. I also have a large number of existing Windows 7 customers on Intune who refuse to go to Windows 8 because they will lose functionality.

Linn music downloads: is the Studio Master worth the extra cost?

I was interested to note from this feature in the Financial Times that more than half of the music downloads sold by Linn, a UK audio company, are of the “Studio Master” at 24 bit, 192kHz, rather than the cheaper MP3 or 16 bit, 44.1kHz as used for CDs. Apparently the MD Gilad Tiefenbrun had projected that the Studio Masters would only be 5% of sales, but in fact:

Even though Studio Master albums cost £18 compared with £5 for an MP3 version, these highest-quality recordings account for more than half of all downloads. That proportion rises to 90 per cent for classical recordings.

The question: why? Here are sample prices, in this case for Claire Martin’s Too Much in Love to Care:


The prices range from £8.00 in 320k MP3 to £18.00 for the Studio Master. CD quality is £10.00. These are substantial differences. You could have more than twice as much music for the same money in MP3, and 80% more music in CD quality.

Linn says of the Studio Master:

If absolute sound quality is what you want then this file is best for you.

However, whether a Studio Master is audibly different from CD quality, if mastered to sound the same, is disputed. A well-known study, which has never been disproved as far as I am aware, found that music could be played through a 16/44.1 analog to digital to analog loop without listeners being aware of the difference. Science bears this out, to the extent that for music at normal listening levels the Shannon/Nyquist theorem indicates that the entire original music signal can be recovered up to half the sampling frequency, in this case 22kHz which is beyond the range of human hearing.

MP3 uses lossy compression, making the choice of CD quality over MP3 understandable (especially for only 25% extra cost), but even here most people struggle to hear the difference between MP3 at 320k and its original source. The folks at Hydrogen Audio have studied this obsessively; there is plenty of objective evidence.

Why then do people buy the Studio Master? Here are a few contenders.

1. Ignorance. Linn says (or strongly implies) that it sounds better, and Linn should know.

2. Anxiety. The buyer wants the best sound and is not sure whether or not the Studio Master might sound better, so rather than take a chance decides to cover herself with the premium download.

3. For further processing. When you process digital audio, the quality degrades. Studios therefore work with high resolution audio as they may process the audio multiple times. Given that most listeners are not running studios, I think we can dismiss this for most purchasers.

4. The Studio Master is mastered to sound better. This is an interesting possibility. Here is a comment from Linn’s forums:

When I converted the original 24bit FLAC file into an MP3 myself I was unable to hear any differences between them. But When comparing the Linn MP3 and 24bit FLAC versions I can hear a difference. This suggests to me that the difference I hear is due to Linn using two differently masterered versions for their MP3 and 24bit FLAC files.

The implication is that the MP3 and lossless versions could sound the same, for practical purposes, as the Studio Master; but either by accident or design it does not.

5. Is it possible that contrary to the evidence referenced above, high resolution audio (ie more than CD quality) does sound better? Certainly many people believe this. However, in my experience the number falls dramatically if you include only those who have done objective blind listening tests to verify it. Further, those who do experiment with objective tests invariably discover that the audible differences (if they exist) are very small.

The frustrating aspect of this is that in practice most CDs that you can buy, or MP3s you can download, sound worse than they should. There are many reasons for this, of which the biggest is probably the “loudness wars”, in which the dynamic range of 16/44.1 audio is squandered for the sake of the overall loudness of the audio, using compression and clipping to reduce the difference between the loudest and quietest passages.

Other common problems are that the best source tapes are not used, or that (in the case of older recordings) noise reduction damages the audio quality, or that the frequency response is adjusted for increased “boom and tizz” in the belief that this may sound more impressive.

High resolution recordings, such as those available on SACD, are generally (but not always) less prone to these problems, because they are designed for a more discriminating market. In other words, they sound better not because of high resolution itself, but for other reasons. Purchasers however may attribute the quality to the high resolution, making them inclined to purchase Studio Masters from Linn.

On the other hand, if Linn masters this music to sound the same in all formats, there is no reason the same logic should apply.

My suggestion: try one of Linn’s sample downloads. Do your own conversion of the Studio Master to CD quality or 320K MP3 and see if you can hear the difference using something like Foobar ABX. If you cannot tell the difference, there is no reason to buy the Studio Master unless Linn is deliberately making the other formats sound less good.

Microsoft shrugs off Windows 8 issues with record revenue

Yesterday Microsoft released its financial figures for the first three months of 2013.

Quarter ending March 31st 2013 vs quarter ending March 31st 2012, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 5703 +1070 3459 +480
Server and Tools 5039 +508 1979 +293
Online 832 +125 -262 +218
Business (Office) 6319 +477 4104 +307
Entertainment and devices 2531 +913 342 +570

Note that the figures for Windows and Office are boosted by deferred revenue from upgrade offers. The PC sales decline will be reflected in Windows client sales next time round.

CFO Peter Klein spoke of hoped-for improvements in Windows 8 device fortunes based on refinements coming in Windows “Blue” as well as more power-efficient CPUs coming from Intel. “We are confident we are moving in the right direction,” he said.

He also discussed the new subscription-based model for Office. Office 365 has added five times more subscribers this quarter than in the same period last year, he said, and revenue exceeds $1 billion.

Suh said that System Center revenue is up 22% and that Hyper-V has gained 4 points of market share in the year. Lync and SharePoint are also growing.

In answer to a question about Surface, Microsoft’s own-brand tablet, Klein spoke about a coming “broader array of Windows 8 devices including lower price points.” 

The deferred revenues disguise what would otherwise be a decline in Windows sales, but in other respects these figures are remarkable, particularly in a difficult economy.

Isn’t Windows 8 a failure, and won’t declining PC sales take Microsoft down too? It is possible, but so far the company has proved resilient. Perhaps the most significant positive here is that both Office 365 and Azure are working for the company, which means that cloud computing is not killing Microsoft’s business in the way that some speculated.

No more Delphi for .NET: Prism removed from RAD Studio XE4

Embarcadero is removing Prism from the next version of RAD Studio, XE4, expected later this month.

Prism is actually a third-party product, based on RemObjects Oxygene. Prism and Oxygene let you code in Delphi and compile to .NET or Mono.

Marc Hoffman from RemObjects explains the change here:

Starting with the upcoming release of XE4, Embarcadero Prism will no longer be part of the RAD Studio SKU, and there will be no “XE4″ branded edition of Prism.

But worry not. As you all know, Prism has been nothing more than a re-branded version of our Oxygene for .NET product — and Oxygene will keep going on, stronger than ever.

In fact, Oxygene has long outgrown its Prism-branded edition, first when we introduced full native support for Java and Android to the language over 18 months ago, and of course with our upcoming support for truly native iOS and Mac apps, shipping next month.

The disappearance of Prism is the final chapter in the story of Delphi for .NET. Borland’s Delphi was first released in 1995, and combined a visual interface builder superficially similar to Visual Basic with a native code compiler, enabling full access to the Windows API  as well as better performance than Microsoft’s VB.

Delphi built up a strong following, but in 2002 when Microsoft brought out the .NET Framework Borland worried that Delphi would be left behind. In 2002 it brought out CSharpBuilder, an IDE for C# targeting the .NET Framework, and in 2003 Delphi 8 which also targeted .NET.

Other .NET versions followed, but whereas native code Delphi was a compelling alternative to runtime-based platforms like VB and .NET, the .NET versions of Delphi were less distinctive. Developers coding for .NET preferred Microsoft’s Visual Studio, while Delphi developers preferred to stick with native code.

When Embarcadero acquired the Delphi tools from Borland in 2008, it dropped .NET support from Delphi itself and replaced it with Prism.

I doubt that the disappearance of Prism will cause much consternation. Prism developers will simply switch to Oxygene instead.