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Field Guide: Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft has a tremendous range of technology solutions that may be useful to you-and that you may not know about. Here's a look at what you need to know.

The company

Microsoft Corp. (Redmond, WA; www.microsoft.com) was founded in 1975 by two high school friends, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who focused on writing software for the computers now available for home users. This was several years before IBM introduced both the product and the name "personal computer" (PC) in August 1981. But when it appeared, the IBM PC was introduced with 16-bit MS-DOS-Microsoft Disk Operating System.

Development in command-line MS-DOS continued over the years. Eventually, eight major standalone versions came out until Microsoft stopped development in 2000. MS-DOS always faced competition, not only from the graphical user interface (GUI) in the Apple Macintosh computer, but also from Microsoft itself. In 1985, Microsoft introduced its first, albeit rudimentary (with limited GUI and multi-tasking), Windows OS-Windows 1.0. Windows 3.0 was launched in May 1990. Today, Windows XP, introduced in October 2001, runs on about 90% of the desktop and workstation computers worldwide. Windows Vista was introduced in January 2007.

With the OS as foundation, Microsoft branched out into "personal productivity" tools: Microsoft Works and Microsoft Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheet analysis, PowerPoint for slide presentations, and other applications. Many of these programs come bundled in Microsoft Office Suite(s). Other software products have followed: server-side OS and applications, development tools, information technology (IT) infrastructure tools-and more personal productivity applications for desktops, business workstations, mobile devices, and lately accessible on-line on the Web (also known as "cloud computing"). 

As of June 30, 2007, Microsoft employed approximately 78,500 people and has net revenues of $51.12 billion (15% over the previous year), with a net income of $14.07 billion (12% over the previous year).

 

Product information

The Microsoft product catalog includes dozens of individual applications and combinations of applications. Generally, Microsoft's product segments are Windows (client), office, mobile devices, business solutions, servers, developer tools, games and Xbox, hardware, and MSN. Many of these products, except obviously the entertainment products, come in versions suitable for individual PCs or for collaborative business environments involving multiple users at a single site or in multiple remote sites.

 

Windows (client)

Desktop OS. The Microsoft Windows OS, which include currently supported Windows XP and Vista, are the foundation for a range of applications, services, and hardware.

Embedded OS. Windows also comes as an embedded ("small footprint") OS. Microsoft Windows CE is a 32-bit, memory-protected OS kernel embedded in devices that require hard, real-time operation. CE 6.0 can run as many as 32,000 simultaneous processes, each with 2 GB of virtual memory space. Windows XP Embedded (XPe) is a "componentized" form of Windows XP Professional, which enables the OS to be as small as 40 MB. The .NET Micro Framework provides Microsoft .NET for inexpensive and resource-constrained devices. It requires a few hundred kilobytes of RAM, as little as 512K of flash memory, and an inexpensive 32-bit processor. Windows Embedded for Point of Service (WEPOS) is the Windows OS optimized for point-of-service (POS) systems used by retail and hospitality companies. WEPOS supports applications written to the Win32 APIs and .NET framework, and supports Java virtual machines.

 

Office

Microsoft desktop programs let individuals and organizations author, collect, transform, and display source data into useful information in a variety of formats for a broad range of activities. Applications include database, spreadsheet, Web site authoring and management tool (FrontPage), product information management (Outlook), product data management (OneNote), slide creation and presentation, project management, desktop publishing, business-related diagramming (Visio), and word processing. Many of these applications can be found bundled as Office suites, such as Office Home and Student, Office Professional, Office Small Business, Office Ultimate, and Office Enterprise.

Several Microsoft business products increase individual productivity by extending the desktop programs, such as Business Intelligence, Duet for Microsoft Office and SAP, Enterprise Project Management Solution, Office Live Meeting, Office Business Applications, Office Live, Windows SharePoint Services. Duet for Microsoft Office and SAP links users to SAP business processes and data through Microsoft Office. Office Live Meeting lets users participate in online meetings anywhere at a moment's notice. Office Live helps small businesses establish a Web presence.

 

Mobile devices

Windows embedded OS, Windows Mobile software, and applications such as MapPoint and Windows Automotive extend the Windows operating environment to devices beyond the traditional desktop. These devices include cell phones, personal digital assistant (PDA), data collection devices, and automobiles. Microsoft SmartPhones-mobile phones running Windows Mobile-lets users browse the Web, view Microsoft Office files, listen to music, and use Outlook for email, using their own contacts and calendar. Run Office Mobile and Office Outlook Mobile on a PDA and get all that minus the phone capability. Windows Live for Windows Mobile adds cloud computing to mobile phones and WiFi-enabled PDAs.

MapPoint helps users visualize, analyze, and communicate geographic and demographic data. This software has GPS functionality, and provides text and voice-prompted driving guidance for Windows XP users, among other features.

 

Business Solutions

Microsoft Dynamics (formerly Microsoft Business Solutions). Microsoft Dynamics (www.microsoft.com/dynamics/default.mspx) offers a line of business management applications covering financial, supply chain (SCM), and customer relationship management (CRM), as well as enterprise resource planning (ERP), product and project portfolio management, distribution (including electronic data interchange and shipment control), operations performance (including manufacturing execution systems and quality initiatives), retail and sales management, human resource management, and customer service.

These software systems are delivered by independent software vendors and Microsoft Certified Solution Developers worldwide who provide software customizations (vertical industry and regional), technical computing, operations management, and other specialized services. These specialists cover a variety of industries including field service, industrial equipment and discrete manufacturing, oil and gas, process manufacturing, professional services, and retail sales.

Microsoft Automotive Business Unit. Since 1995, the Microsoft Automotive Business Unit (www.microsoft.com/industry/manufacturing/automotive/default.mspx) has worked with automakers, tier-one suppliers, systems integrators, and internal groups to design in-car technology for drivers and passengers. These efforts are just beginning to appear in vehicles.

Windows Automotive 5.0, based on the Windows CE, is an automotive-grade OS that supports high-end 3D graphics navigation systems as well as single-function devices. Microsoft Auto is a software and hardware system for in-car communications, entertainment, navigation, and related information systems. Microsoft Auto integrates vehicles with popular portable electronic devices, such as mobile phones and media players. The voice technology for hands-free operations is speaker independent.

To date, two automakers have incorporated Microsoft Auto in their vehicles. Sync, a joint development between Microsoft and Ford Motor Co., is a communications and entertainment system for the car. It uses voice commands and Bluetooth wireless technology to give users in-car, voice-activated, mobile communications (text messages are read aloud) and entertainment system access. Sync also has a USB port for plugging in devices, such as Microsoft Zune or Apple iPod music players, neither of which are Bluetooth-compatible. Similarly, "Blue & Me" has been available in Fiat vehicles across Europe since 2006. Blue & Me includes some vehicle diagnostics.

In telematics, Microsoft Tellme (an acquisition) demonstrated in August 2007 an alternative to the in-car navigation and assistance offered by General Motor Corp.'s OnStar service. Tellme uses voice-recognition software and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones to operate.

 

Servers

Microsoft server products have the singular goal of creating an integrated server infrastructure for supporting the needs of multiple users within and outside an enterprise. Dozens of tools, utilities, and products fall into the server category. Here are descriptions of just a handful of server products.

Microsoft Antigen detects viruses, worms, spam, and inappropriate content. BusinessTalk Server provides core business processes and process management technologies. Microsoft Exchange Server addresses the business needs of email messaging, security, noncompliance, and vulnerabilities (such as email tampering). Microsoft Forefront business security products enhance network protection. Microsoft SQL Server is a comprehensive, integrated data management and analysis system.

With Hyper-V Server, Microsoft's virtuali-zation technology, users can create and manage one or more virtual machines on a server. Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 combines several Microsoft and acquired products for enterprise-wide business intelligence (BI) visualization and analysis.

Windows Server is a multipurpose OS capable of handling diverse server functions in either a centralized or distributed mode. These functions include file and print server, Web application services, mail server, terminal server. remote access and virtual private network server, built-in virtualization for multiple OSs, streaming media server, and various directory services.

Built on Microsoft Windows Server, Windows SharePoint Services helps computers connect across organizations and remote, multi-site locations. It is a foundation for building Web-based business applications and for authoring, sharing, and controlling documents and information (including through blogs and wikis) within an enterprise.

Windows Small Business Server provides small- to mid-sized businesses with file and printer sharing, a secure Internet connection for all of the business's workstations, remote access to data, an intranet, and a messaging system that also lets employees access email from mobile devices.

For home enterprises, mostly home entertainment, there's Microsoft's Windows Home Server. This consumer server lets users store and stream media files, back up multiple PCs, connect remotely to the Web, play Xbox and Microsoft-label video games, and perform other functions involving personal productivity, home entertainment, and Web surfing.

 

 

 

Developer tools

Microsoft offers a variety of programming languages, standards, and tools for developing applications (msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/default.aspx). For instance, the Visual Basic language is for creating object-oriented applications. Visual C++ development environment is for creating Microsoft Windows-based and Microsoft .NET-based applications. C# is a simple, type-safe, object oriented, general-purpose programming language.

Win32 is the 32-bit application programming interface (API) for modern versions of Windows. COM is the object-oriented successor to Win32. Developers can use Win32 and COM to develop device drivers, utilities, and applications. (.NET will eventually provide all the functionality exposed by Win32 and COM APIs.) The Microsoft Component Object Model (COM) is a platform-independent, distributed, object-oriented system for creating interactive software components. COM is the foundation technology for Microsoft's OLE (compound documents), ActiveX (Internet-enabled components), and other software technologies.

.NET is the latest Windows programming technology (Win32, then COM, now .NET, which replaces what was called Windows Distributed InterNet Applications Architecture, DNA). .NET is both portable and cross-platform; the same codebase can be used on unrelated systems, such as Windows PCs, mobile, embedded, and smart devices (e.g., PocketPC and Smartphone), servers, and other OS such as Linux, Solaris, and Mac OS X (through open .NET runtimes like Mono).

Microsoft ASP.NET is a free technology for creating dynamic web applications. ASP.NET AJAX, also free, is for creating Web applications that work across all popular browsers. Microsoft ActiveX control is essentially a downloadable OLE object-based application that works in Microsoft's web browser, Internet Explorer. Microsoft Visual Studio has tools for all phases of software development-creation, testing, deployment, integration, and management (both software development and application lifecycle management). These tools include code editors, wizards, and multiple coding languages in one integrated development environment to support software development across all types of devices-PCs, servers, the Web, and mobile devices.

Another Microsoft development tool to note is Microsoft Expression Studio, which is used to create standards-based websites (intranet or worldwide Web) and to manage that content. Also included is an illustration and graphic design tool for building digital elements for both Web and desktop user interfaces, as well as an asset management tool to visually catalog and organize these digital elements.

 

Games and Xbox

The Microsoft Xbox 360 (www.xbox.com/) runs a variety of Microsoft and third-party games that range from elementary children's games, to "edutainment," to photorealistic action games. Xbox Live offers Xbox games online. Similarly, GamesforWindows.com provides about 50 Windows-branded games-no installation required; parental controls available-many of which work on both XP- and Vista-based PCs.

 

Hardware

Hardware products from Microsoft include pointing devices (mice) and keyboards (as well as mice, keyboards, and gaming controllers optimized for games) and hardware for Internet communications (webcams and headsets). For business use, for example, the Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse integrates cursor control, laser pointer, and remote media control in one device. Microsoft also has a line of wireless peripherals for desktop computers and media centers. The Microsoft Fingerprint Reader lets users log on to their PC and Web sites with the touch of a finger-memorizing usernames and passwords are no longer required.

 

MSN

MSN (www.msn.com) provides online services including email, instant messaging, and information services, such as MSN Search, MSN portals (e.g., Expedia for travel arrangements), and MSN directory, which has links to other data sources from "A-list" of popular searches to yellow pages information (and lots in between).

Microsoft's new Windows Live services (www.live.com) is a set of online applications for social networking, including email, instant messaging, computer security, photo sharing, and blogging. These only require a Web browser to use.

 

Other

Microsoft Research (research.microsoft.com) conducts both basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering, including language processing, speech recognition, and other more-intuitive ways of interacting with computers; machine learning; vision technology; telepresence (the merging of virtual reality with physical reality at the user level); computer development tools and programming; data mining, analysis, and management; cryptography; and collaboration (computer integration and user-to-user).

Part of Microsoft Research is Live Labs, which works with academia, and AdLab, an incubation lab in Beijing focused on improving advertising services. Microsoft also offers training in a variety of learning formats, including multi-day courses and one-day clinics both in classrooms and on-line. Microsoft Press publishes books and training materials for Microsoft products and technologies.

 

Competition

Even with 90% of the market in OS and applications, competitive threats to Microsoft abound in all the markets Microsoft participates. In 2007, the Apple Mac OS was rewritten to run on both Apple and traditional Windows-based computers. Linux OS is another competitor; Linux OS and applications are often free and freely created by thousands of volunteer developers worldwide.

A more immediate threat, particularly to Microsoft packaged software, comes from Web-based services and application, such as from Yahoo and Google. Salesforce.com, for example, has over 700 on-line offerings beyond CRM in its product line-up. Microsoft Windows Live is starting to respond to these competitors, as well as compete with Microsoft's own packaged software.

Microsoft holds nearly 90% of the web browser market with its Internet Explorer. Firefox, an open-source web browser from Mozilla, is probably Microsoft's biggest competitor here, with barely over 10% of the market. Competition in web browsers will heat up as cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) picks up.

In the area of IT infrastructure, Citrix Systems, Virtual Iron Software, VMware, and Oracle are well-established competitors in virtualization technology. With its SQL Server, Microsoft competes against IBM and Oracle (by one measure, Microsoft has passed Oracle in database sales), and way off in the distance, competes against open-source database such as MySQL and PostgreSQL. Many vendors compete against Microsoft in creating the architectural style SOA, including BEA Systems, IBM, Oracle, Red Hat, and Sun. In fact, SOA is associated more with Java and Linux than with Microsoft products. Java competes against Microsoft's ActiveX and .NET technologies.

In every category of business and enterprise management systems, Microsoft has competitors. In BI, Microsoft comes in forth according to IDC behind Business Objects, SAS, and Cognos.

Last, in entertainment, two heavyweight rivals of the Microsoft Xbox 360 are the Nintendo Wii console and the Sony Playstation.