Microsoft’s Revolution deal is the latest proof the company is serious about open source

On the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., on Jan. 21.

A significant percentage of Microsoft’s revenue comes from the sale of proprietary software like Office and a little thing called Windows. Despite that legacy, though, the technology giant in the past year has made a point of championing free, open-source software, and yesterday’s acquisition of Revolutions Analytics shows the strategy is still firmly in place.

Revolution touts the power of the open-source R programming language, which is popular among data scientists, statisticians, and researchers. Revolution also sells commercially supported distributions of R. And Microsoft will “continue to support and evolve both open source and commercial distributions of Revolution R across multiple operating systems,” a spokeswoman told VentureBeat in an email.

That commitment follows several announcements in recent months demonstrating an interest in supporting open-source tools, including Docker, Linux, and .NET.

The pattern at work here might fit nicely with the narrative Microsoft has lately tried to carve out about itself: that things are different in Redmond, Wash., now that Satya Nadella is the chief executive. But really, it’s something the company arguably had to do.

“It’s existential for Microsoft to embrace open-source software,” Mike Driscoll, cofounder and chief executive of advertising analytics startup Metamarkets and founder of the Bay Area R Users Group, told VentureBeat in an interview today. “Whether or not they do, the rest of the world, you know, is.”

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella.

Above: Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella.

Image Credit: Microsoft

And even though Microsoft remains a juggernaut of commercial software for consumers and businesses, and therefore presumably a company to be feared, Driscoll, for one, is genuinely glad to see Microsoft today showing more love for R and not, say, a proprietary tool for analyzing data, like SAS, Wolfram’s Mathematica, MathWorks’ MATLAB, or IBM’s SPSS.

“Software will need to be open to win,” Driscoll said. “R is just another one of those. It has outcompeted other commercial frameworks, and I think it will continue to outcompete other commercial frameworks, because of the changing nature of software.”

Microsoft’s Revolution deal could lead other companies to wake up to that.

“It will be exciting to watch what Microsoft does in the analytics space and to see what moves it may trigger by the other major enterprise software players,” Jeff Erhardt, chief executive of machine learning startup Wise.io, told VentureBeat in an email.

And Erhardt, who previously was Revolution’s chief operating officer, believes the deal could lead to good things for the R ecosystem, which first came into being in the early 1990s.

“Net-net, I think applying the reach and resources of Microsoft to what Revolution has built will be a positive thing for the R community specifically and for enterprise analytics more broadly,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has incorporated Python, another programming language with data science capabilities, into software like Visual Studio. Perhaps Microsoft will do more in the future to pledge allegiance to the Python community, just as it has with the R world with the Revolutions acquisition. Or perhaps some other enterprise software seller will beat Microsoft to it.

In any case, it’s clear again today that Microsoft executives weren’t kidding around when they assured VentureBeat a few months ago that the company would do more with open-source software.

“I think what you should expect is you’re going to see us provide more and more on that open-source ecosystem,” as Jason Zander, corporate vice president of development for the Microsoft Azure public cloud, put it.


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Gillmor Gang: HoloCraft

Gillmor Gang Artcard The Gillmor Gang — Benedict Evans, Robert Scoble, Kevin Marks, Keith Teare, and Steve Gillmor. Topics include the future of sunglasses, why iWatch is the hub of the Notification OS, and the battle for the next 5 years is already over. And then, of course, what the Gang thinks. Plus, David Sifry joins the ladies of G3 to launch the new Handle priority mail/todo/scheduling app. Read More

This week on VentureBeat: Profanities, HoloLens, 4chan, & more

Microsoft's HoloLens, in action.

Every week, the news team at VentureBeat brings you a blitz of news day after day, but even for our most dedicated readers it can be a challenge to catch every single story.

So, we’ve decided to pull together a handful of the best stories from VentureBeat this week, just in case you missed them, or want to read them again.

Andreessen Horowitz shares the 16 tech trends it’s most excited about

Most of us will never be in an Andreessen Horowitz meeting, and even fewer of us will get a chance to work with the famed VC firm. But today, we’re all equals when it comes to getting a peek at the 16 tech trends that a16z, as it’s known, is most excited about right now. In a post this morning, Andreessen Horowitz, perhaps Silicon Valley’s most revered group of investors, shared its “16 Things” list, a breakdown of the hottest tech trends in the world right now. And while few of those things would individually surprise anyone with any tech savvy, it’s fascinating to see a16z codify the trends that it clearly believes are most changing the world today. Read more

The creator of 4chan tells us why he’s leaving the site for good (interview)

This morning Christopher Poole, better known to some as “Moot,”announced plans to step back from the site he created 11 years ago. That site is 4chan, a mega-popular message board known as the birthplace of everything from Lolcats to the Anonymous hacktivist group. Poole created 4chan when he was 15. Since then, it’s amassed over 42 billion total pageviews, nearly 2 billion posts, and over a billion visitors. Read more

Everything Microsoft announced at its Windows 10 event, including that crazy HoloLens

Today Microsoft unveiled the future of Windows, from the cross-platform Windows 10 to a brand new virtual reality headset. We’ve summed up the biggest stories from the event below. Many of Microsoft’s announcements simply expanded on what we already knew, but the presentation packed a few surprises, including Microsoft’s HoloLens. Even if you’re an Apple fan, you’re going to want to see that. Read more

I tried Minecraft with Microsoft HoloLens, and now I don’t want to work anymore

REDMOND, Wash. — I’m not a gaming guy. But now I kind of want to be one. After trying out the latest augmented reality system, the Windows Holographic, at an event on the Microsoft campus today, I realized that it’d be pretty freakin’ cool to make my ordinary environment into a video game. Read more

FCC and Congress jockey for position in net neutrality fight

The House and Senate held hearings yesterday on a legislative proposal that would prevent Internet service providers from setting up for-pay Internet “fast lanes” without reclassifying the Internet as a public utility. The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) would do essentially everything net neutrality proponents have been asking for. Read more

’70 percent of CRM installs fail’ and other crappy stats you should ignore

Now and then, you’ll hear a statistic or fact that is so striking, it’s hard to ignore. “As many as 70 percent of CRM implementations fail,” one Butler Group analyst said, according to analyst Michael Krigsman, who quizzed The Butler Group about this very stat back in 2009. Read more

Why is messaging app Slack exploding? Founder: ‘I have no f–king idea’

We already knew that corporate messaging app Slack was one of the hottest startups around. What we didn’t necessarily know was why. As it turns out, Slack founder Stewart Butterfield isn’t so sure himself. Speaking on stage at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich, Germany, Butterfield said he didn’t know why Slack had taken off while his last two startups had fizzled. Read more


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13 TechCrunch Stories You Don’t Want To Miss This Week

TC-weekly-roundup1 Some of this week’s tech news consisted of Microsoft’s Windows 10 event and a $1B funding announcement from SpaceX. We got the chance to interview a few prominent figures in tech. TechCrunch sat down with Chris Poole, aka Moot from 4chan, the folks at TaskRabbit, and Paulina Raguimov, the teen designing games for JumpStart. These are our best stories from this week (1/17-1/23). Read More

Microsoft releases new Windows 10 preview with Cortana, revamped Start menu, and Xbox app

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella speaks at a Microsoft Windows press event at company headquarters in Redmond, Wash., on Jan. 21.

Although Microsoft originally said it would release its new Windows 10 preview next week, the company has launched it today. The January build, as the company is calling this version, includes almost everything the company revealed at its event on Wednesday, including Cortana on the desktop, the revamped Start menu, easier wireless audio and video connectivity, Windows Store beta, and new apps.

The update bumps the build number from 9879, released on November 12, to build 9926. “The gap between 9879 and 9926 is the longest you should expect to see with the program, because of the holidays and the need to add and stabilize feature payloads,” Microsoft explained. “We’ll get new builds out faster moving forward – thank you for being patient with us.”

The update should arrive overnight for Windows 10 preview users via Windows Update (your PC has to be plugged in, and be on or sleeping). If you want to get build 9926 now, head to PC Settings, select “Update and recovery,” then “Preview builds,” and click the “Check Now” button.

If you’re not signed up for the Windows Insider program, register now, check out the system requirements, and then follow the instructions. You can download the ISO in 32-bit and 64-bit flavors from this page (22 language variants).

cortana_desktop_preview

We say this build has “almost everything” that we saw earlier this week because Microsoft showed off a lot of features that aren’t yet ready even for a preview build, such as Xbox game streaming. That said, you can expect the following:

  • Cortana on the desktop (U.S. English only): The digital assistant is available on the taskbar, letting you search in Windows 10 for apps, settings, and files as well as search the web. You can access Cortana with your voice by clicking the microphone icon, and speak to set reminders or ask about weather, sports, finance, and other content from Bing. Cortana’s settings let you enable hands-free use so you can say “Hey Cortana” and don’t have to click on the microphone icon. Last but not least, you can also manage Cortana’s Notebook to add interests from Bing like news, sports, finance and weather so Cortana can proactively offer recommendations and information.
  • New Start menu: Big changes include the ability to expand to a full-screen experience and customize the menu’s color. The menu has been rebuilt in XAML, a programming language which developers will be able to use for building apps for Windows 10. Microsoft is promising more personalization features, drag and drop, Jump Lists, and the ability to resize the Start menu in future builds.
  • Wireless audio and video: It’s now easier to find and connect to wireless audio and video devices that support technologies like Bluetooth and Miracast. Click on the Connect button in the new Action Center or hit the Windows + P keyboard shortcut from anywhere. In the Connect panel, Windows will discover nearby devices and speakers, and pairing to devices happens right inline so you never have to navigate away to settings.
  • Windows Store Beta: The new Windows Store Beta is a gray tile while the old Windows Store remains available in this build as a green tile. The new Windows Store includes a visual design that will be common across PCs, tablets, phones, and the web. It can be updated independently from the OS (meaning more frequent updates). The app is quite limited, in terms of app selection, markets where it is available, and functionality. Yet it does the basics: you can browse, search, download, as well as pay for apps and games. Supported payment methods include credit card, gift cards, and PayPal. In-app purchase is not available.
  • New apps: The Settings app has been revamped for easier management of your device, display, network, and account. This “experience” is supposed to be consistent across all your Windows devices. The new Photos and Maps apps shown off earlier this week are also available. The Photos app shows your photos stored locally on your PC as well as in OneDrive, and includes basic editing features. The new Xbox app is also available; it brings your Xbox Live games, friends, messages, and activities to your Windows desktop — more details are here and in the video below.

Those are some of the big new features worth highlighting. Microsoft has also listed the changes it has made based on tester feedback:

  • The new Windows Update UX in the Settings app provides a progress bar for preview build downloads. When you navigate away after starting the download/install, it will know that the download and install is still in progress when you return (instead of looking like a blank slate). And progress is now determinate, instead of just a spinning circle.
  • After receiving feedback that ALT+TAB was too jarring (everything on screen changed), confusingly similar to Task View, and didn’t give access to Virtual Desktops, Microsoft fixed all that. The ALT+TAB design has been merged with the Task View.
  • Persian calendars support has been added. It will appear on your Lock screen, your taskbar clock, and on timestamps on files in File Explorer.
  • The option to pick the default folder when opening File Explorer is now available.
  • Issues with Xbox Live-connected games like Microsoft Solitaire Collection have been addressed.
  • A full-screen button has been added to the title bar for apps. The title bars for both desktop and modern apps are now “more harmonious.”
  • The bug where keyboard lights weren’t working when Caps Lock/Num Lock/Scroll Lock is toggled has been fixed.

What I find most interesting about this release is that Microsoft refers to it as the “January build.” Rumors have previously suggested the company would release new builds every month or so, and this seems to confirm that. In fact, we already know that Microsoft will release a Windows 10 preview for phones next month.


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Microsoft Acquires Revolution Analytics To Bolster Its Analytics Services

6a010534b1db25970b01b8d0c62f08970c Microsoft today announced that it has acquired Revolution Analytics, an open-source analytics company with a strong focus on the highly popular R programming language for statistical computing. Microsoft says that it made this acquisition “to help more companies use the power of R and data science to unlock big data insights with advanced analytics.” The two companies did not… Read More

Holograms suddenly make Microsoft cool again

An onstage HoloLens demo.
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If Microsoft ever needed a dose of the cool, it’s now. Fortunately, the company seems to have gotten the message.

The company’s rollout yesterday of a slew of new features for Windows 10 includes some pretty nifty features — and at least one big surprise.

In addition to a bunch of expected features (such as a single operating system that unifies Windows on tablets and PCs with its phone and the expected addition of the virtual voice-activated assistant Cortana), Microsoft showed off one especially cool thing: Its HoloLens, an augmented-reality headset that superimposes virtual “holographs” over the real world.

Another sign of coolness and integration: Microsoft said yesterday that people who had bought Xbox games would be able to play them on their Windows 10 PCs and tablets, too. If you’re a gamer, that’s pretty cool — and it helps to better integrate Xbox into Microsoft’s overall ecosystem.

The HoloLens has multiple sensors and a custom Microsoft chip called a Holographic Processing Unit to help it understand what you’re looking at and where you are in space. It’s connected to a new Microsoft product called Windows Holographic, which extends that augmented-reality capability to all Windows users. Holographic application programming interfaces (APIs) will be embedded within Windows 10.

Rather than a virtual-reality headset like the Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR, which block out the real world and replace it with a virtual one, the HoloLens add things to the real world that only you can see: Virtual display screens on walls, 3D objects you can model on your desktop with hand gestures, or playful little sprites that dance around your furniture as part of a game you’re playing with them.

The videos demonstrating the system are impressive, even if they leave me wondering whether anyone would actually want to use an interface like this once the novelty wears off.

But more important, it shows that Microsoft under Satya Nadella is finally starting to figure out how to pull together its considerable assets into a single, more cohesive whole. That’s something the company has struggled with for years.

“We want to move from people needing Windows, to choosing Windows, to loving Windows,” Nadella said yesterday. “That is our bold goal with Windows.”

Now, Microsoft has never exactly been “cool.” Even Bill Gates became a lot cooler when he left the company he founded, and that’s saying a lot. But with a mature OS business, threats from gigantic competitors, and a lackluster reputation among techies, coolness might be just what Microsoft needs.

As I wrote in October, Microsoft’s last big OS launch wasn’t exactly spectacular. Windows 8 was an ambitious attempt to introduce a new, touch-centric interface while maintaining compatibility with the massive number of old, keyboard-and-mouse Windows applications out there. It didn’t quite flop, selling 200 million copies in its first 15 months, but Microsoft hasn’t released any sales figures for the OS since February, and this is never a good sign. (If sales were good, Microsoft would be bragging about them.)

Worse, Windows 8 (including its incremental upgrade, 8.1) barely shows up in a measure of what kinds of computers people are using to access the Internet. That’s one way of finding out what kinds of computers people are actually using, and the signs aren’t good. Windows 8 and 8.1 currently account for about 12.5 percent of the computers connecting to the Internet, according to NetMarketShare. Windows 7, by contrast, accounts for more than half of the browsing public — while Microsoft’s ancient and long-obsolete OS, Windows XP, still holds more than 24 percent.

Microsoft bet big on the tablet interface with Windows 8, hoping to cash in on the increasing coolness of tablets from 2010-2012, but its bet failed. The new interface was too confusing for people — and tablet sales have actually slackened a bit, suggesting that Microsoft’s bet was poorly timed.

One cautionary note: People — including me — have been making dire predictions about Microsoft for years. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that more than 85 percent of the desktop computers people are using, according to that NetMarketShare data, are running Microsoft operating systems. (And desktop computers still account for more than 80 percent of overall browsing activity, while tablets and mobile phones have less than 20 percent.) With billions of Windows licenses out there, and robust businesses based on Office, Azure, Xbox, and more, Microsoft isn’t going to quietly fade away any time soon.

But if it can’t capture some of the cool factor, it will have a hard time inspiring employees and customers, and Microsoft will face a long, slow battle against companies like Google and Apple that don’t have such difficulties. That will, over time, erode the company’s dominance, no matter how much of a lead it has now.

Is this week’s news enough to save the company from a long, slow decline into irrelevance? Let’s be clear: The HoloLens alone won’t make the difference between Microsoft undergoing a renaissance and Microsoft fading into a comfortable obscurity.

But as a sign of the company’s more strategic, integrated thinking, it’s promising indeed. And a little cool factor doesn’t hurt at all.


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The HoloLens effect: Microsoft’s Build conference sells out in under an hour

Sold. Out.

Microsoft’s Build conference for developers is always popular, but this year, that’s especially so. Tickets for the multi-day event in San Francisco sold out in less than an hour.

Compare that with last year, when Microsoft ran out of tickets in 31 hours. (In 2012, it took just one hour to run out of tickets out — but that was three years ago. Last year that took more than 24 hours.

The celebrity-worthy sellout this time around might well have to do with the fact that so much of the tech press yesterday was dazzled by Microsoft’s augmented-reality creation, Windows Holographic, with its accompanying space-age headset, HoloLens, as well as the newest features in Windows 10.

Each ticket for the conference, which runs April 28-May 1, costs $2,095.

At the conference, developers will hear more about Windows 10, as well as Windows Holographic, among other topics.

At last year’s Build conference, Microsoft demonstrated its Cortana personal digital assistant and announced “universal Windows apps,” among other things.

A tweet from Microsoft’s Build account announcing that registration was open went out at 8:58 a.m. Pacific.

By 9:46 a.m., all the tickets were out.


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In addition to Project Spartan, Windows 10 will include Internet Explorer for enterprise sites

Microsoft-Windows-10-spartan-browser-780x439

After unveiling its new Project Spartan browser for Windows 10 yesterday, Microsoft today offered more details. The company confirmed that Windows 10 will also include Internet Explorer for legacy purposes, though it didn’t say how exactly this will work.

Spartan comes with a new rendering engine, but it also provides compatibility with the millions of existing enterprise websites specifically designed for Internet Explorer by loading the IE11 engine when needed. In this way, the browser uses the new rendering engine for modern websites and the old one for legacy purposes.

3644.psatwjpb-image3

That said, Microsoft also includes this note:

We recognize some enterprises have legacy web sites that use older technologies designed only for Internet Explorer, such as custom ActiveX controls and Browser Helper Objects. For these users, Internet Explorer will also be available on Windows 10. Internet Explorer will use the same dual rendering engines as Spartan, ensuring web developers can consistently target the latest web standards.

More to follow


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Minecraft fans get ready: Mojang COO tweets that MineCon news is coming ‘soon’

Minecraft bunnies

Minecraft fans, your suffering is almost at an end. For today, for it appears that an announcement about the next MineCon is at hand.

Just a short while ago, Vu Bui, the chief operating officer of Mojang, tweeted the following:

As all Minecraft fans know, the entire year of 2014 passed without a MineCon, the convention that’s about all things Minecraft. The last MineCon was way back in November 2013 in Orlando.

Last year, Mojang was acquired by Microsoft in September. But in a blog post last August, before the Microsoft deal was announced, Bui said that the next MineCon was being delayed because “we want to make sure we can give it the attention it needs.”

“I wanted to let everyone know that it won’t be until some time in 2015,” he wrote. “I’m shooting to have it in the spring in London!”

Will it be London? Hopeful fans everywhere were making last-minute pitches for their country on Twitter. But in any case, we should know for sure…”soon.”


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