Tag Archives: microsoft

What does Ribbon Hero say about Microsoft Office?

Microsoft has released a tutorial game called Ribbon Hero in its Office Labs. This installs an Office add-in for Word and Excel which watches you work. It has several features. When you perform an action such as Copy and Paste for the first time, it awards you points. You get further points by performing “challenges”, where Ribbon Hero generates a document and sets you a task, like removing duplicates from a table. Finally, you can upload your score to Facebook to share with friends.

I gave it a go. It worked, though on the second challenge I got the right result in what the Ribbon Hero clearly considered to be the wrong way, which was annoying. Hint – use the Ribbon. Should have thought of that.

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Ribbon Hero is easily impressed, and on a quick look the tasks are mostly basic ones, though I guess they could be expanded if the idea proves popular.

Irritating and patronising, or a brilliant training tool? Well, learning by doing is a good principle so I don’t dismiss it, even if my own reaction is more the former one.

The interesting aspect is what the existence of this tool says about Office. Not everyone gets on with the Ribbon; some miss the old menus. Further, Office is so bloated feature-rich that knowing it in depth is a formidable task. I have often been told that the majority of wish-list requests are for features that already exist.

In consequence, a large part of the challenge for Microsoft’s Office team lies in enabling users to operate the product successfully. This is not a new problem; the notorious “it looks like you’re writing a letter” Office Assistant, or Clippy, was another attempt. The Ribbon itself was also meant to address it, though I am convinced that Microsoft also intended to differentiate itself from the competition and to devise a user interface it had some hope of protecting, if necessary, in the courts.

You could argue that the very existence of Ribbon Hero is an admission of failure. The perfect office suite would not need a game to teach it; it would work so much in accord with what the user expected that it would not be necessary.

I use Office all the time and respect it. That said, eventually Microsoft (or a competitor) will need to remove features rather than adding them, or to retire Office and deliver something better in its place, that achieves the same goals but with less complexity – if such a thing is possible. And if it is going to happen, it will happen on the Web; for some, it already has.

Government security advice is misguided; switching browsers will not make you safe

I have mixed feelings about the recent government recommendations from France and Germany to switch from Internet Explorer for security reasons.

Although raising security awareness seems on the face of it to be a good thing, this is naïve advice and may do more harm than good. Security is a complex and multi-faceted problem, and it does people no service if they believe it can be fixed by switching browsers. Another common illusion is that running anti-virus software, or even up-to-date anti-virus software, makes you safe. It does not. Anti-virus software does not detect all viruses, and in particular it frequently fails on those that are most dangerous, in other words, those which are newest.

Another factor is that many of the most successful malware attacks come via social engineering. That’s not browser-specific, though there are attempts to maintain bad site lists, which don’t in my experience work very well.

The danger is that people think they are safe, and take fewer other precautions, ending up less safe than before.

Is FireFox, Chrome or Opera safer than IE? I’m not even sure about that. The latest versions of each are massively safer than IE6, for sure. But how does a fully-patched IE8 compare to the latest fully-patched versions of the other browsers? At least one test [pdf] says that IE8 is actually safer, though unfortunately it dates from March last year and does not cover drive-by downloads:

Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 (RC1) was the standout in our tests, achieving a best-in-class 69% catch rate against Malware. It is clear that Microsoft is making an effort to provide security to their customers with IE8.

Know a better one? I’d be interested in more recent tests.

Microsoft is not always competent; read this blog for evidence. But it has made genuine efforts to improve security and has a comprehensive update mechanism that mostly works. IE now has protected mode on Vista or Windows 7, which is no panacea but helps a little.

But what about the known zero-day vulnerability in IE? Isn’t that enough to make switching browsers necessary, if only temporarily?

I’m not so sure. Frankly, it would surprise me if there are not known multiple vulnerabilities in all the major browsers, if you move in the right (or wrong) circles.

How then do you do secure computing? Don’t connect to the internet. OK, how else? The risk cannot be eliminated but it can be reduced … don’t run with local admin rights, don’t run unknown executables, only enable plug-ins and scripting for web sites you know to be safe, keep your operating system patched and up-to-date, and so on.

Another thing you can do is to browse the web in a virtual machine – a sort of super protected mode – not perfect, but would prevent some attacks at the expense of convenience.

If you are really serious you can use AppLocker, or another whitelisting technique, to control what can run on your box.

And passwords … one thing I do hold against Microsoft is that the company has a brilliant authentication mechanism called InfoCard that is almost never used, even by Microsoft. Unfortunately that’s not something any individual can change; but it is possible at least to use more complex passwords and not to pass them over the internet in plain text.

I’m not sure, even today, that many people realise that when they use Twitter on an airport or hotel or conference wi-fi, or collect email via POP3, that they are likely passing their credentials in plain text over the internet for any smart hacker to read.

I am also depressed how often I see “security questions” on registration forms, asking for things like mother’s maiden name to be used in case of lost password. It is obvious that these are actually insecurity questions; they lower security while easing the burden on support desks. All too often, these organisations then lower it further by emailing your password back to you in plain text. It also sometimes turns out that the password itself is stored in plain text on their web-connected databases, accessible to hackers.

Overall the IT industry is desperately bad at security, and by and large convenience has won. Yes, I think that should change. No, after years of reporting on IT I am not optimistic that it will, certainly not soon. And knee-jerk instructions to switch browsers may please Mozilla and Google, and web developers for whom Internet Explorer is a constant irritation especially in old versions, but will do little else to improve the situation.

SharePoint Explorer View hassles show benefits of cloud storage

Many of us want access to our documents from anywhere these days, and if you are still storing documents on a Windows server then remote access to documents usually means either VPN or SharePoint. VPN is heavy on bandwidth and not great for security, so SharePoint seems the obvious solution.

SharePoint is a mixed bag of course, but once it is up and running the browser user interface seems reliable as a means of getting at your documents over the internet. That said, it is inconvenient to run up the browser and navigate to a web site whenever you want a document. A user recently highlighted another issue. Their company uses a web application that frequently requires documents to be uploaded. This is straightforward if the document is on a local hard drive or network share, but not if it is in SharePoint. The workaround is to save the document out of SharePoint to the local drive, then upload it.

Fortunately there is another option. SharePoint Explorer View lets you access documents through Windows Explorer; you can even map SharePoint as a network drive. Now you can browse documents without a web browser, and upload directly to a web application.

Sounds great; and when it works, it is great. Troubleshooting though is a world of pain. If you have looked into this, you will know that there are really two Explorer Views, one using Internet Explorer and ancient FrontPage protocols, and the other using WebDav and Explorer. It’s the second of these that you most likely want. However, achieving this is notoriously troublesome, raising uninformative messages such as “Your client does not support opening this list with Windows Explorer", or from the command line System Error 67, or System Error 53 “The network path was not found”.

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Another common complaint is incessant login dialogs.

I discovered a few useful resources.

This white paper on Understanding and Troubleshooting the SharePoint Explorer View is essential reading.

From this you will discover that if you are using Windows XP, the WebDav SharePoint Explorer view will not work over SSL or on any port other than 80. You are stuck with the FrontPage view, which is less useful. Apparently Microsoft has no intention of fixing this. Upgrade to Vista or Windows 7.

In addition, many XP and even Vista users find this update essential before anything starts working. It is necessary on Windows 2003 since the web client is not installed by default. It does not apply to Windows 7 though.

A good resource on the repeated login issue is here. It can be tamed.

Windows 7 is better, though I experienced an odd issue. One Windows 7 machine cheerfully opened the Explorer view to a remote site on port 444. I could engage Explorer View from the SharePoint web site, or from Network in Explorer, and it just worked.

On another machine, same network, also Windows 7, same web client settings, I could not get it working. I was on the point of giving up when I happened on the right incantation from a command prompt:

net use s: https://your.domain.name:444\shared%20documents /user:domain\username password

In this example S is the drive letter for a mapped drive, your.domain.name is the URL for SharePoint, 444 is the port number, shared documents is the folder name. For some reason this worked instantly.

Well, SharePoint is an option. Before leaving this subject though, I would like to mention Gladinet, a third-party utility which is able to mount a variety of cloud storage providers as network drives, including Amazon S3, Google Docs, Windows Live SkyDrive, and in the latest version Windows Azure.  It works on XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 2003, comes in 32-bit and 64-bit editions, and worked immediately in my quick test. The ability to mount drives in Explorer itself, as opposed to an Explorer-like application, makes a big difference in usability.

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Gladinet does not support SharePoint, sadly. Still, before you roll out SharePoint it is worth considering that something like an Amazon S3 account requires no CALs (though third-party clients like Gladinet may do), is maintained by a cloud provider rather than on your premises, is not hooked in any way to Windows clients, and might be a lot less hassle to deploy.

I do also understand the attraction of SharePoint, if you don’t or can’t trust the cloud, and like the way it integrates with Active Directory or its other clever features such as versioning or workflow management. What I don’t get is why Microsoft makes basic features like Explorer View so hard to get working.

Finally, this aspect of SharePoint should get better in Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010, which includes SharePoint Workspace 2010. This will synchronize with SharePoint 2010 document lists, giving you an offline copy you can access in Explorer. Agnes Molnar has a summary with screenshots.

New HP and Microsoft agreement commits $50 million less than similar 2006 deal

I’ve held back comment on the much-hyped HP and Microsoft three-year deal announced on Wednesday mainly because I’ve been uncertain of its significance, if any. It didn’t help that the press release was particularly opaque, full of words with many syllables but little meaning. I received the release minutes before the conference call, during which most of us were asking the same thing: how is this any different from what HP and Microsoft have always done?

It’s fun to compare and contrast with this HP and Microsoft release from December 2006 – three years ago:

We’ve agreed to a three-year, US$300 million investment between our two companies, and a very aggressive go-to-market program on top of that. What you’ll see us do is bring these solutions to the marketplace in a very aggressive way, and go after our customers with something that we think is quite unique in what it can do to change the way people work.

$300 million for three years in 2006; $250 million for three years in 2010. Hmm, not exactly the new breakthrough partnership which has been billed. Look here for what the press release should have said: it’s mainly common-sense cooperation and joint marketing.

Still, I did have a question for CEOs Mark Hurd and Steve Ballmer which was what level of cloud focus was in this new partnership, drawing these remarks from Ballmer:

The fact that our two companies are very directed at the cloud is the driving force behind this deal at this time. The cloud really means a modern architecture for how you build and deploy applications. If you build and deploy them to our service that we operate that’s called Windows Azure. If a customer deploys them inside their own data centre or some other hosted environment, they need a stack on which to build, hardware software and services, that instances the same application model that we’ll have on Windows Azure. I think of it as the private cloud version of Windows Azure.

That thing is going to be an integrated stack from the hardware, the virtualization layer, the management layer and the app model. It’s on that that we are focusing the technical collaboration here … we at Microsoft need to evangelize that same application model whether you choose to host in the the cloud or on your own premises. So in a sense this is entirely cloud motivated.

Hurd added his insistence that this is not just more of the same:

I would not want you to write that it sounds a lot like what Microsoft and HP have been talking about for years. This is the deepest level of collaboration and integration and technical work we’ve done that I’m aware of … it’s a different thing that what you’ve seen before. I guarantee Steve and I would not be on this phone call if this was just another press release from HP and Microsoft.

Well, you be the judge.

I did think Ballmer’s answer was interesting though, in that it shows how much Microsoft (and no doubt HP) are pinning their hopes on the private cloud concept. The term “private cloud” is a dubious one, in that some of the defining characteristics of cloud – exporting your infrastructure, multi-tenancy, shifting the maintenance burden to a third-party – are simply not delivered by a private cloud. That said, in a large organisation they might look similar to most users.

I can’t shake off the thought that since HP wants to carry on selling us servers, and Microsoft wants to carry on selling us licences for Windows and Office, the two are engaged in disguised cloud avoidance. Take Office Web Apps in Office 2010 for example: good enough to claim the online document editing feature; bad enough to keep us using locally installed Office.

That will not work long-term and we will see increasing emphasis on Microsoft’s hosted offerings, which means HP will sell fewer servers. Maybe that’s why the new deal is for a few dollars less than the old one.

Crazy Microsoft stuff

I have a theory that Microsoft’s Small Business Server (SBS), which is meant to be easy to manage, is actually more complex than a full-blown multiple server setup – though you can now emulate the latter nicely using virtual machines.

Yesterday I spotted a post from Paul Culmsee which makes the point well:

A former colleague called me up because he knew of my dim, dark past in the world of Cisco, Active Directory and SharePoint. He asked me to help put in SBS2008 for him, configuring Exchange/AD/SharePoint and migrating his environment over to it.

“Sure”, I say, “it’ll be a snap” (famous last words)

Culmsee is a SharePoint expert. His mistake was to attempt installing Search Server Express (built on SharePoint) into SBS 2008:

Search Server 2008 Express, uses SQL Server Express edition when performing a basic install. As a result, an additional SQL Server Express instance (SERVERNAME\OFFICESERVERS) gets installed onto the Small Business 2008 server. Then, to make matters worse, the installer gets mixed up and installs some Search Server express databases into the new instance (a Shared Service Provider), but then uses the SQL Embedded Edition instance to install other databases (like the searchDB). Then later during the configuration wizard, it cannot find the databases that it needs because it searches the wrong instance!

The problem: there is too much installed on that box, and SBS comes way down low on Microsoft’s priorities, so it issues products and patches that ought to work on SBS as well as on mainstream Microsoft servers, but do not. Culmsee apparently gave up on Search Server Express.

Evidence 2: Exchange 2007 Service Pack 2. Released in August 2009. Does not work on SBS 2008 without daunting manual steps. Six months later, Microsoft releases a special Exchange Server 2007 SP2 Installation Tool for SBS. Even with the tool, the install may be problematic.

In some ways it would not be so bad if SBS were a totally locked-down product with its own patches and no possibility of installing generic Microsoft products – though third parties might scream. As it is, it falls betwixt and between.

You can make it work. You can make it work very well, if you have patience, read SBS blogs like that of Susan Bradley and David Overton, and maintain it carefully. But … don’t pretend it is not complex.

Note also the hassles Culmsee had configuring his HP server. Google Apps anyone?

Windows Presentation Foundation now ready, too late

The immortal film The Railway Children has a scene in which a band plays during an award presentation. Unfortunately a series of false starts delay the performance, until finally it all comes together and the music begins. The camera pans – the audience has already departed.

Is it like that for WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation), Microsoft’s user interface framework which is built on .NET and DirectX and was intended to replace the ancient GDI (Graphics Device Interface) and GDI+?

In this new post I make the case that with WPF 4.0 is the framework is now truly ready to use, not least because Microsoft itself is using it in Visual Studio and the interaction between these two teams has solved a number of problems in WPF.

But who now wants to develop just for Windows? Well, it makes sense in some contexts, though I note that in the Thoughtworks paper on emerging technology and trends about which I wrote yesterday, neither Windows nor WPF gets a mention. Nor for that matter does the Mac, Linux, or OS X, though iPhone and Android feature strongly. The only emerging desktop technology that interests Thoughtworks is the browser.

Technology trends: Silverlight, Flex little use says Thoughtworks as it Goes Google

Today Martin Fowler at Thoughtworks tweeted a link to the just-published Thoughtworks Technology Radar [pdf] paper, which aims to “help decision makers understand emerging technologies and trends that affect the market today”.

It is a good read, as you would expect from Thoughtworks, a software development company with a bias towards Agile methodology and a formidable reputation.

The authors divide technology into four segments, from Hold – which means steer clear for the time being – to Adopt, ready for prime time. In between are Assess and Trial.

I was interested to see that Thoughtworks is ready to stop supporting IE6 and that ASP.NET MVC is regarded as ready to use now. So is Apple iPhone as a client platform, with Android not far behind (Trial).

Thoughtworks is also now contemplating Java language end of life (Assess), but remains enthusiastic about the JVM as a platform (Adopt), and about Javascript as a first class language (also Adopt). C# 4.0 wins praise for its new dynamic features and pace of development in general.

Losers? I was struck by how cool Thoughtworks is towards Rich Internet Applications (Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight):

Our position on Rich Internet Applications has changed over the past year. Experience has shown that platforms such as Silverlight, Flex and JavaFX may be useful for rich visualizations of data but provide few benefits over simpler web applications.

The team has even less interest in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer – even IE8 is a concern with regard to web standards – whereas Firefox lies at the heart of the Adopt bullet.

In the tools area, Thoughtworks is moving away from Subversion and towards distributed version control systems (Git, Mercurial).

Finally, Thoughtworks is Going Google:

At the start of October, ThoughtWorks became a customer of Google Apps. Although we have heard a wide range of opinions about the user experience offered by Google Mail, Calendar and Documents, the general consensus is that our largely consultant workforce is happy with the move. The next step that we as a company are looking to embrace is Google as a corporate platform beyond the standard Google Apps; in particular we are evaluating the use of Google App Engine for a number of internal systems initiatives.

A thought-provoking paper which makes more sense to me than the innumerable Gartner Magic Quadrants; I’d encourage you to read the whole paper (only 8 pages) and not to be content with my highlights.

Apple Snow Leopard and Exchange: the real story

Apple’s Snow Leopard (OS 10.6) came out last week, and one of its most hyped features is native support for Microsoft Exchange. Here’s what Apple says:

With Snow Leopard, the Mac is the only computer with built-in support for the latest version of Microsoft Exchange Server. So you can use your Mac — with all the features and applications you love — at home and at work and have all your messages, meetings, and contacts in one place.

What this means is that eager Mac users will be upgrading to Snow Leopard and expecting to be able to connect to Exchange at work with Apple-style “it just works” ease of configuration.

The truth is more complex; and I’m disappointed with both Apple’s publicity and the number of reviews that have simply reported its claims without investigation. That said, it is a tricky subject, and I have some sympathy with Apple, which is doing more or less the right thing at a technical level.

Configuring Snow Leopard Mail to use Exchange

The first thing to understand is that there are myriad ways of connecting to Exchange, including:

  • MAPI, which is Microsoft’s proprietary API
  • IMAP, which is a standard protocol for server-based email
  • ActiveSync, which is a Microsoft protocol used for mobile devices
  • RPC over HTTPS, effectively MAPI over SSL, enabling Outlook to connect from outside the network without VPN
  • Outlook Web Access, a web UI for Outlook
  • WebDAV, now deprecated
  • Exchange Web Services, which communicate using SOAP XML messages

Which of these protocols are actually enabled, and whether they are published beyond the internal network, is a matter for Exchange admins to configure.

The usual generic method to connect to Exchange from a miscellaneous client is IMAP, and this is exactly what Apple supported in Mail before Snow Leopard, and still supports. IMAP works pretty well in my experience, but it is only for email and does not expose any Exchange-specific features.

Snow Leopard adds support for Exchange Web Services (EWS), giving a much richer level of access to Exchange. First snag: EWS is only supported in Exchange 2007, which is why Apple says in its small print:

requires Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 1 Update Rollup 4

Second snag: even EWS does not all the features of MAPI, and some features (notably public folder support) were only added in Exchange 2007 SP2, which has just been released. This probably explains why Mail does not (as far as I can tell) support public folders.

The key thing to understand is that Snow Leopard is not using the same protocol as Outlook and therefore does not have access to the same set of features.

What works and what doesn’t

Let’s assume that you have Snow Leopard and Exchange 2007 SP1. What works and what doesn’t? Based on my experience so far:

  • You will be able to connect on an internal network or VPN, provided that EWS is enabled, which it usually is. You may need to install a digital certificate to avoid warning messages.
  • Mail, Calendar (iCal), tasks and notes in your Exchange mailbox all appear nicely.
  • When outside the network, you will only be able to connect over the Internet if EWS is published externally, which it often is not. You cannot use RPC over HTTPS.
  • There is no access to public folders (note that these are deprecated, but still widely used).
  • It is not possible to send from an email address other than the default.
  • You cannot use Exchange delegation features, such as accessing other mailboxes.
  • Mail will download the entire mailbox; you cannot set it only to download recent items. There is no “online mode” as there is with Outlook.
  • When offline, you can access existing items, but new messages have to be saved as drafts. This is unlike Outlook, which gives you full access to send mail, delete etc, and synchronises on re-connect.

Snow Leopard vs Entourage

You might imagine that Microsoft’s own Entourage product would do a better job than Apple Mail at connecting to Exchange. This is not necessarily the case. The problem is that Entourage 2008 doesn’t use MAPI either. In its first incarnation it uses WebDAV. This proved so problematic that Microsoft quietly released a new Web Services Edition that uses EWS, like Snow Leopard. Even this is a temporary expedient, as the Mac Business Unit has announced Outlook for the Mac. The implication is that it will be closer to feature-parity with Outlook on Windows, though it’s not clear to me whether this means MAPI, or EWS, or who knows what?

My view is that unless you need some specific feature of Entourage, or find that Entourage mysteriously works where Snow Leopard does not, you are likely better off without it. This presumes Exchange 2007, of course. The fundamental reason is that Mail and iCal are nicely integrated with the operating system, whereas Entourage is not so good in this respect; there have also been quality issues with Entourage.

It would be good to see a detailed technical note from Apple and/or Microsoft on Snow Leopard’s Exchange support, how to configure Exchange for it, and any implications for security etc. In the meantime, there is an interesting discussion on Apple’s forums which highlights the issues.

For all its (many) faults, Outlook on Windows remains a better Exchange client than either Snow Leopard or Entourage.

Apple Snow Leopard: why don’t we all use Macs?

Last Friday I attended Apple’s press briefing for Snow Leopard, and I’ll be a Mac (mostly) for the next few days as I put OS 10.6 through its paces. For as long as I can remember, I’ve set up my desktop so that I can easily switch between Mac and Windows, so it is no great hardship.

Snow Leopard is a relatively low-key release, timed by accident or design to appear not long before Windows 7 makes its full public debut in October – though many IT professionals are already using the final build. In the unlikely event that you’ve missed the many reports, the headline new features are:

  • Many small refinements and speed improvements
  • Major applications re-written in 64-bit
  • Grand Central Dispatch – OS-level support for easier concurrent programming
  • OpenCL – standard means of using the GPU (graphics processing unit) for general processing, not just graphics
  • Exchange support in Mail, iCal and Address Book

The Exchange support is welcome, though unfortunately it is limited to Exchange 2007. It was already possible to access Exchange in Mail, though the older support (which still exists for pre-2007 Exchange) was based on IMAP, whereas the new support is based on Exchange web services and has richer features.

I use Exchange 2007, and found it easy to set up my account in Mail. Unfortunately I’m missing some Outlook features, such as the ability to choose a different Sender  address, and I’ve found it prone to a few mysterious pauses –  once it went into a sulk for over a minute when I marked a message as junk – but this might be a problem with Exchange web services rather than Mail, who knows? I also have some public folders which appear to be inaccessible from Mail or iCal. Then again – Entourage isn’t as flexible as Outlook either.

Still, I  expect the Exchange support will be good enough for many users, and this will make it easier to integrate Macs into Windows-based networks.

So, here’s a thought experiment. Let’s make an assumption:

  • Most people prefer the Mac operating system over Windows, and prefer the Mac hardware over most PC or laptop hardware.

If that is the case, why do we not all use Macs?  There’s a host of reasons which come to mind, starting with price. I looked at macwarehouse.co.uk and pcworld.co.uk, which are owned by the same group. The cheapest Mac I can find (Mac Mini + keyboard, mouse and display) is currently £536.96, vs £260.86 for a PC; and the cheapest laptop is £645.99 + VAT for a MacBook vs £216.52 for a cheapie PC laptop with Vista Basic. These differences are not small.

Note I am not saying that the Mac is poorer value; that is an entirely different argument.

A second big issue is application compatibility. Although there is no problem that cannot be solved with finding alternatives, or dual boot, or a virtual machine, it is all friction that impedes Mac acceptance.

Third, there is the greater manageability of Windows in a corporate environment based on Windows. This is a form of incumbent advantage, which is hard to break unless the incumbent messes up badly. Arguably Microsoft has messed up badly, though less in the business context than in the consumer context, and Windows 7 will pull back some lost ground.

The above leads me to believe that Snow Leopard is not likely to change the status quo significantly – understanding that the status quo is that Apple is gradually increasing its market share – even granting the assumption I made, which is somewhat controversial. On balance, I consider it more likely that Windows 7 will stem the flow towards Apple, though without a high degree of confidence.

More significant than either factor is the continuing migration towards the Internet. In this respect I’ve argued that Apple is like Microsoft. The Internet is a great leveller; it will reduce the friction of changing operating systems (helping Apple) but also make Apple’s UI advantage less noticeable (helping Windows/Linux/Google), and make it harder to sell expensive desktop software (Microsoft is the bigger loser here I think).

It’s fun to speculate; but I must add that so far Snow Leopard has been a pleasure to install and use. Technically, Apple hasn’t missed a beat with OS X since the first release, and that’s an impressive achievement.

Silverlight 3 is out

Microsoft has released Silverlight 3, though some pieces of the platform are still not done – it seems there is always something to wait for.

There are links to the tools developers and designers need to install here:

http://silverlight.net/GetStarted/

Note that Expression Blend and Sketchflow are still at Release Candidate stage.

The .NET RIA services, a server-side piece that simplifies authentication and database operations, is available in a new July 2009 preview:

http://www.microsoft.com/DOWNLOADS/details.aspx?FamilyID=76bb3a07-3846-4564-b0c3-27972bcaabce&displaylang=en#filelist

See this excellent post by Nikhil Kothari for more on RIA Services – it’s from March but does a good job of explaining what they are about.

Using Silverlight 3, or plan to? I’d love to hear from you, along with your views on what is best and what is worst about Microsoft’s RIA efforts.