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“Bing is a money-losing flop”
This one stems from a fundamental misconception, that Bing (the search engine) is a direct competitor to Google (the search engine).
That might be the most obvious manifestation of these incredibly rich data-driven services to a casual observer (which accurately describes most of the pundits thumping the table for a Bing spinoff). But there’s a helluva lot more to Bing than just web search.
My colleague Mary Branscombe has done a much better job of explaining the role of Bing than I could. She explains, “At heart, Bing (like Google) is a huge machine learning system.” And key to that system is Bing’s engine for understanding what information is about, called Satori. She then goes on to list all the things that Satori powers:
Satori is a huge collection of entities: People, places, events, businesses, objects and the relationships between them. A movie is an entity; so is are the actors who are in the movie, so you can see that James Spader was in Stargate, and then jump to a list of his other movies. Bing knows that Yosemite is a place, so it has weather, and a national park, so it has opening times. Satori is what Bing can use to find tweets and Facebook posts from your friends about the movie you're searching for when you look at show times. If you want to show the right information to the right person at the right time, understanding that information is vital.
Satori and Bing are behind the new Smart Search in Windows 8.1 that shows you your own files next to results from the Web. Looking for the contract you need to sign this week with a partner might be a good time to see their share price and any recent news stories about them. Imagine all the other information that could include in future; search for the document you need on SharePoint and see what colleagues have said about it on Yammer without having to remember to go look on Yammer.
Bing drives the new version of the Windows Store in Windows 8.1. It’s behind Kinect and the amazingly accurate predictive keyboard in Windows Phone.
But more important than any of that, Bing is a counterweight to Google. In the present and even more so in the future, being able to combine, collate, and present information is a core feature of any computing device. If Microsoft gets out of the search business, it effectively hands over monopoly power to Google. That will not end well.
“Windows is fundamentally insecure and unreliable”
The early parts of the first decade of this century were a nightmare for Microsoft and its customers. The combination of a monopoly share of the market, minimal security awareness, and a criminal community that had discovered the Internet with a vengeance meant that malware was a fact of life for every Windows user, at home and in the office.
That all began to change in 2002, when Bill Gates basically slammed on the brakes at Microsoft and forced a fundamental reassessment of how security issues are handled. Allow me to quote myself:
As a result of the Trustworthy Computing initiative, Microsoft introduced a massive change in the way it develops software. The Security Development Lifecycle has paid off hugely over the last 10 years and has been widely praised and copied.
In addition to building a more disciplined process for writing secure code, Microsoft has improved its update infrastructure and worked closely with outside security experts and third-party developers to improve the way their products work. Over time, Microsoft has built its own antivirus and network intrusion software; now that the 2001 antitrust agreement has officially ended, that software will finally appear in Windows itself.
These days, most successful exploits come through vulnerabilities in third-party software. A brand-new report from Secunia, for example, notes that Microsoft has two-thirds of the software in the top 50 list on the average PC, but only 24 percent of the vulnerabilities. And even when those vulnerabilities occur, Microsoft customers are generally well protected:
It is one thing that third-party programs are responsible for the majority of vulnerabilities on a typical PC, rather than Microsoft programs. However, another very important security factor is how easy it is to update Microsoft programs compared to third-party programs. Quite simply, the automation with which Microsoft security updates are made available to end users – through auto-updates, Configuration Management systems and update services – ensures that it is a reasonably simple task to protect private PCs and corporate infrastructures from the vulnerabilities discovered in Microsoft products. This is not so with the large number of third-party vendors, many of whom lack either the capabilities, resources or security focus to make security updates automatically and easily available,” said Secunia CTO, Morten R. Stengaard.
Thanks to its massive footprint, Microsoft software is still a massive target. It’s a well-protected target, fortunately. And if you think otherwise, you might be living in 1998. Coincidentally, it’s a 1998-era PC (shown above) that Apple uses to illustrate a PC in Finder. I guess they’re too busy fixing horrifying SSL bugs to actually replace that icon with a modern Windows PC.
“Xbox should be spun off into a separate business”
One influential financial analyst has been pounding the table for this change for the past year or so, all in the interest of “unlocking shareholder value.”
While it’s true that Xbox had a string of losses in its early years, those are sunk costs. The platform today is at least break-even and probably profitable. It spawns games that can bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. More important, it is a well-loved Microsoft brand that is widely available in hundreds of millions of living rooms, where it has the potential to tie into other Microsoft services and expand Microsoft’s reach into the consumer market. Do you really want to give those all up if you’re a Microsoft shareholder? I didn’t think so.
And finally, there’s the pure technical side. The technology that drives Xbox, both as a gaming platform and as an entertainment hub (that’s a big growth business, by the way), comes straight out of the same groups that build Windows. If you sell the company, how do you expect the Xbox developers to extend their platform?
No, Xbox belongs in Redmond. The only people who would applaud a spinoff are vulture capitalists who skim off profits as they drive a once-proud company into the ground.
Make them go away.