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Posted by Graham Keen on Tue 17th May 2011
Codenamed “Mango,” the update to the software giant’s mobile operating system will introduce features around Microsoft’s cloud and unified communications services.
 
The details were unveiled at Microsoft’s annual TechEd conference, held in Atlanta this week.
 
Paul Bryan, senior director of business experience for the Windows Phone team, wrote on the division’s blog: “Customers tell us they’re continually trying to stay on top of their busy schedules. With this in mind, Mango is designed to make you even more productive right out-of-the-box, helping you quickly and easily stay connected with the people and information that are most important to you.”
 
Features revealed today included the ability to share documents from Office Hub – the business suite on Windows Phone – through Microsoft’s 365 cloud service and Windows Live SkyDrive, alongside the introduction of a downloadable app to use Lync unified communications on the handsets.
 
Microsoft also confirmed a number of new email capabilities, such as server search – to locate older emails no longer on the handset – pinnable email folders and a new “conversation view” for email threads.
 
However, it wasn’t all just surface technology, with the company confirming new security measures would be brought in as well.
 
“With new features such as complex (alpha-numeric) password support, Information Rights Management support for protecting emails and Office documents, and support for access to hidden corporate Wi-Fi networks, your IT organisation can stay on top of its game – providing you access to information you need while meeting corporate requirements,” added Bryan.
 
No exact release date has been confirmed for the update but Microsoft did say it would be coming to phones in 2011.
 
“In the weeks and months ahead we'll have even more to share on new features coming in Mango,” concluded Bryan.
 
 
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Tue 17th May 2011
Mobile users are different to the home worker and they're all different to a branch worker, so how do you find out what they need and give it to them effectively?
 
Finding out what end users want from their desktop and comparing it to what you think they need can be a sobering experience. Performance, fast access to data and the latest software are likely to be high on their list of requirements, while security and minimal management overhead will be high on yours.
 
But then, they have to use the machine every day and, if they're happy with it, they're more likely to be productive. So you need to give them what they want as far as is feasible within the boundaries set by budgets, company policy and legislation.
 
Let's establish a baseline. You need to ensure that machines handed out to end users are secure, backed up and easily restorable. Ideally, they won't be able to access the corporate network unless they meet certain security requirements, with the minimum might be running an OS with the latest patches, and up-to-date AV software.
 
Gold standard
You're likely to have generated a gold image that can blown onto the disk so that, if the worst happens, the machine can be wiped and re-imaged, and the user's data restored from the server - that's where your desktops store user data, presumably.
 
For remote or branch office users, that may not be quite so simple. They want local access to data so that they can continue working while offline. In this case, Windows' offline files feature works well and is pretty seamless, even if, for example, your servers are running a Linux back-end with CIFS on top.
 
Users may also want to load new versions of their software but your policies are likely to maintain a list of approved software that's permanently out of date, simply because of the time it takes to change test and approve new software, and then update the gold image. There's not a whole lot you can do about this except to make that list public, maintain it rigorously so that end users know where they stand, and notify them when it changes.
 
After that, it's important for users to understand that there's a cost to the business when downloading and installing new software in the form of licence fees and support. You should set up a process for requesting new software that allows you to understand users' needs without having to deal with them individually. Once approved, the deployment of an application can be automated with using one of the many available tools.
 
Give 'em what they want
Sometimes giving people what they want and/or need can involve infrastructure upgrades -or sometimes you may be able to think laterally. For example, it may be possible to deploy WAN optimisation technology to distribute software upgrades to users in remote offices across a slow pipe, without going to the expense of paying the monthly fee for a faster link.
 
Alternatively, it might be possible to meet users' needs in a different way by deploying thin client and using a virtualised desktop approach. That way, users' systems can be kept current from the centre, while the tendency of remote users to be less secure than those based in central offices disappears. Note that some users are better served by a virtual desktop approach than others, with mobile users offering a particular challenge.
 
Whatever your approach, care needs to be taken that the idea of the personal computer - one that's suited to the job each user is performing and which can be personalised even if only to a limited degree - doesn't vanish entirely.
 
Giving users what they want is never easy, especially in today's economic climate. But give them bandwidth, give them enough storage space and make it snappy, and give them access to the applications they need, and you're most of the way there
 
Manek Dubash
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Tue 17th May 2011
4G technology will bring over three times more mobile broadband capacity to the UK from 2013, Ofcom said on Thursday.
 
 
According to research conducted by the telecoms regulator, LTE (long-term evolution) is 230 per cent more spectrally efficient than HSPA, the 3G technology that currently provides cellular data connectivity to the country. However, LTE was not the only 4G technology considered in the research - Ofcom also looked at emerging and later generations of LTE's big rival, WiMax.
 
Stephen Unger, Ofcom's chief technology officer, said the efficiency of 4G spectrum use would increase even more by the end of the decade, by which point technologies such as the future LTE Advanced standard should be in place.
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Mon 16th May 2011
The revelation that US commandos who stormed Osama bin Laden's Pakistan bolthole unearthed a "massive smut stash" didn't much surprise those who'd been expecting news that the terrorist wasn't quite the paragon of Islamic virtue he claimed to be.
 
 
Of course, the "extensive" collection of "modern, electronically recorded video" may not have belonged to the al Qaeda leader - his son and two couriers also lived in the Abbottabad compound - and there's no evidence he ever viewed it.
 
Reuters' cautious initial report into the discovery stresses as much, but fails to address a critical question: does the porn repository actually exist?
 
Another report from "American-owned" Associated Press raised an eyebrow down at the UK's Independent on Sunday.
 
AP wrote: "The disclosure that US investigators found pornography... fuels the US narrative that Bin Laden was not the respectable or noble figure that his supporters embraced."*
 
Robert Strang, "former co-chair of the New York state Legislature 9/11 task force", expressed a similar sentiment down at the New York Post, saying: "He was inspirational to them [his adherents] in a big way. And the more that comes out about him, the more it shows that he's not the man they thought he was."
 
The Independent claims AP's words bear "the imprint of a spin doctor", and there's a certain legitimacy in suggesting that "fuelling the US narrative" is a euphemism for "feeding the US black propaganda machine".
 
Let's face it, the only way the US administration could have got more column inches out of the outrage was if bin Laden had been caught in bed with a Las Vegas hooker and a bottle of Scotch, toking on a post-coital spliff while reading The Satanic Verses.
 
Among the coverage highlights is a splendid News of the World piece (registration required), which insists that Bin Laden was "obsessed with US singer Whitney Houston - and especially enjoyed porn videos starring women who look like her".
 
The paper reckons CIA operatives are now staring drop-jawed at vids of "unnatural acts involving black, white and Asian women", which may have been used to carry "subliminal messages".
 
Whether al Qaeda really did use pneumatic Whitney Houston-alikes to disseminate information remains to be seen, as in fact does whether Bin Laden's penchant for porn was real or an invention of the CIA's dark imagination.
 
Roderick T Long, professor of philosophy at Alabama's Auburn Uni, refused to be drawn on Friday, when he blogged: "I have no problem believing that Bin Laden was a hypocrite. But I also have no problem believing that the US government is a liar. Hence I have no opinion one way or 'tother as to the existence of bin Laden's alleged porn collection."
 
Lester Haines
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Mon 16th May 2011
The Prime Minister has said the government is considering scrapping a multibillion-pound project to install a patient records system across the NHS.
 
 
Speaking during Prime Minister's Questions this week, David Cameron said the government was considering "terminating some of, or indeed all of" CSC's contract with the Department of Health to install the Lorenzo electronic patient records system.
 
CSC is due to install the system at health trusts across the Midlands and the north and east of England. However, work on delivering the systems is running years behind schedule.
 
Cameron was speaking in response to a question by Richard Bacon MP, member of parliamentary spending watchdog the Public Accounts Committee and long-time critic of the project.
 
Cameron said: "The Department of Health and the Cabinet Office will examine all the available options under the current contract, including the option of terminating some of, or indeed all of, the contract."
 
The Department of Health has been negotiating the terms of a revised contract for the project with CSC for months, and Cameron said, "We are absolutely determined to achieve better value for money."
 
The project to install the electronic patient records system is one of a series of IT projects that fall under the National Programme for IT (NPfIT).
 
Cameron said no revised contract would be signed until a National Audit Office report on the NPfIT - due next week - has been studied, and reviews by the Public Accounts Committee and the Cabinet Office's Major Projects Authority have taken place.
 
Responding to Cameron's comments, a CSC spokeswoman said: "CSC is in the final stages of negotiating a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the NHS.
 
"The MOU for the realigned NHS programme is designed to offer the government greater value and flexibility, while achieving desired saving in healthcare," she said. "Completion of the MOU has always been dependent on final NHS and other government reviews."
 
"No existing CSC UK government contracts are impacted by the NHS reviews and CSC continues to support the NHS and other public sector contracts during these reviews," the spokeswoman said.
 
Last month, Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, one of four trusts chosen to pilot the system before it is more widely rolled out, decided to abandon the system blaming "delays" in implementing functionality.
 
The Department of Health has previously stated that it is considering terminating the contract with CSC, after it missed a key milestone for rolling out the system.
 
The Lorenzo system is being installed by CSC under the terms of its Local Service Provider (LSP) contract, which is worth just over £3bn but the DoH has said it expects negotiations with CSC will reduce the contract's value by about £500m.
 
CSC is one of only two LSP suppliers to the DoH that are left, after previous suppliers Accenture and Fujitsu pulled out of contracts.
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Mon 16th May 2011
BT says it expects to double the speeds offered by its fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) superfast broadband network next year.
 
 
The company is in the process of rolling out FTTC broadband as part of a £2.5bn fibre broadband network that will extend access to faster broadband speeds to two-thirds of the UK.
 
At present, FTTC offers download speeds of up to 40Mbps but BT believes it will be able to double this to up to 80Mbps in 2012. The upload speeds supported by the tech would also improve, with the current limit of up to 10Mbps "likely" to rise to up to 20Mbps, according to a BT spokesman.
 
Existing FTTC customers should expect a speed lift next year, according to BT. "Most customers within the existing footprint will get a higher speed," said the spokesman. "There will be a very small number of customers who have very long lines who won't benefit as the additional speed is generated by using higher frequencies and those frequencies do not work on long lines."
 
BT also reckons it could squeeze even higher speeds out of FTTC - suggesting download speeds could exceed 100Mbps in future.
 
The firm's announcement comes after Japanese company Fujitsu last month revealed plans to roll out a 1Gbps broadband network to five million UK homes. BT's network does not currently support 1Gbps broadband speeds. It said it will be testing a 1Gbps fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) service next year. Its current FTTH service supports download speeds of up to 100Mbps.
 
FTTC is BT's preferred technology for its next-generation broadband rollout, with about 75 per cent of the planned footprint to consist of FTTC versus 25 per cent of the faster, and more costly to install, FTTH technology.
 
While FTTC involves laying fibre-optic cable from the exchange to the street cabinet - with data then being carried into a customer's premises along the existing copper telephone lines - FTTH eliminates the bottleneck of copper as fibre cable is laid all the way inside a customer's premises.
 
So far, BT has spent £600m of its next-gen broadband pot and is putting 80,000 new premises within reach of fibre each week. BT said it expects to have fibre access for five million homes in the next few weeks and aims to ramp this up to 10 million by 2012.
 
Orders for BT Infinity, its fibre-based broadband service, are running at an average of about 5,000 per week, the company said. The total customer base for BT Infinity now stands at 144,000.
 
In separate news, research conducted by telecoms regulator Ofcom has suggested 4G, the next generation of mobile network technology, will be able to deliver more than 200 per cent of the capacity of existing 3G technologies using the same amount of spectrum. The capacity boost is down to 4G having higher rates of spectral efficiency.
 
"4G mobile technologies will be able to send more information than 3G, for a given amount of spectrum. This increased efficiency means that 4G networks will be able to support increased data rates and more users," said Dr Stephen Unger, chief technology officer at Ofcom, in a statement.
 
He noted that a user on a 4G mobile network will be able to download a video in about a third of the time it takes on a 3G network today - owing to rates of spectral efficiency that are more than three times higher.
 
It is expected that 4G spectral efficiency will increase to more than five times the efficiency of 3G by 2020, he added.
 
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Wed 11th May 2011
Microsoft has confirmed that it will buy Skype, the internet telephony company, for $8.5bn in cash.
  
The £5.2bn takeover has been agreed by the boards of both Microsoft and Silver Lake, the leading firm in the investor group that picked up a majority stake in Skype in 2009. Other members of that group include CPP Investment Board, Andreessen Horowitz, Skype founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis — via their company Joltid — and eBay, which bought Skype in 2005 for $2.6bn and retained a 30-percent stake when it sold the service off in 2009.
 
The online auctioneers failed to integrate the peer-to-peer service into their business model as was originally planned. Microsoft said in a statement on Tuesday that its acquisition of Skype would "increase the accessibility of real-time video and voice communications, bringing benefits to both consumers and enterprise users and generating significant new business and revenue opportunities".
 
"Skype is a phenomenal service that is loved by millions of people around the world," said Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer. "Together we will create the future of real-time communications so people can easily stay connected to family, friends, clients and colleagues anywhere in the world."
 
Microsoft Skype Division
Assuming it gains regulatory approval, which is hoped for by the end of 2011, Skype will become a Microsoft business division called the Microsoft Skype Division. It will be headed up by current Skype chief Tony Bates. According to Microsoft, Skype will "support" various Microsoft devices such as Xbox and Kinect — which already offers video-calling capabilities — as well as the Windows Phone platforms and "a wide array of Windows devices".
 
Skype users will also be able to connect with Lync, Outlook, Xbox Live and "other communities", Microsoft said, promising that the company would "continue to invest in and support" Skype clients that are available for non-Microsoft platforms. Apart from the Windows version, Skype can be downloaded for Mac, Linux, Android, iPhone and Symbian, and is also integrated with TV sets from manufacturers such as Panasonic and Samsung.
 
The market-leading service, which had until now been planning a public flotation, currently has around 170 million users and carried over 207 billion minutes of voice and video conversations in 2010. Those figures represent a 150-percent increase in monthly calling minutes during Silver Lake's ownership tenure, Microsoft said. Silver Lake managing director Egon Durban said in the statement that his investor group was "thrilled with Skype's transformation during the period of our ownership and grateful for the extraordinary commitment of its management team and employees".
 
"We are excited about Skype's long-term future with Microsoft, as it is poised to become one of the world's most dynamic and comprehensive communications platforms," Durban added.
 
Enterprise customers
However, the takeover of Skype will not necessarily be enough to attract enterprise customers to Microsoft's voice and unified communications services, Analysys Mason analyst Steve Hilton said in a statement.
 
"Skype, while having some nice communications features, is still a consumer-grade solution," Hilton said. "Enterprises don't want low-quality communications services when dealing with customers. While enterprises will trade off lower prices for lower quality, they could have purchased Skype solutions long ago had they wanted to save a few dollars (or pounds or Euros)."
 
Hilton also pointed out that Microsoft had had "plenty of voice-centric train wrecks over the years", such as the company's IP PBX play, Response Point.
 
Informa analyst Giles Cottle said Microsoft would prove a better home for Skype than other companies rumoured to have been interested in buying the service, such as Google and Facebook.
 
"Microsoft... has numerous ways in which it can make use of Skype: video calling for Windows 7 Phones (and a competitor to [Apple] FaceTime), offering a true PC-based VoIP service with Windows Live Messenger, voice chat in Xbox Live and, of course, strengthening its enterprise communications proposition," Cottle said in a statement. He added that Microsoft had "undoubtedly... over-paid for Skype in the short term, but potentially not in the long term.
 
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Wed 11th May 2011
Business social-networking site LinkedIn has valued itself at around $3bn for a planned flotation, according to an updated US Security and Exchange Commission filing.
 
The filing — updated on Monday — indicated that the company will be valued at around $3bn (£1.83bn) when it floats on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) later this month. LinkedIn announced its intention to make an initial public offering (IPO) in January.
 
LinkedIn expects to get a maximum of $35 per share, and to sell over 7.8 million shares.
 
The latest SEC filing revised the amount of cash that the company now expects to raise from the IPO to a maximum of $315.5m; up from $175m in its filing in January.
 
"In 2011, our philosophy is to continue to invest for long-term growth. We expect to continue to invest heavily in our product-development efforts to enable our members and customers to derive more value from our platform," the company said. "We expect to continue to make significant capital expenditures to upgrade our technology and network infrastructure to improve the ability of our website to handle expected increases in usage and to enable the release of new features and solutions."
 
During 2010 LinkedIn reported net revenue of $243.1m — an increase of 102 percent in comparison to 2009 — but generated just $15.4m of net income. Its current valuation is around 12 times its net revenue.
 
LinkedIn will be the first social network to publicly offer shares, despite previous rumours of social-network giants Twitter and Facebook gearing up for an IPO.
 
In March, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said the company had no plans to raise cash over the next 12 months. In January, Facebook announced that it had raised $1.5bn from private investors, giving it a total valuation of $50bn. Since then analysts have valued Facebook at closer to $100bn.
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Wed 11th May 2011
BT Wholesale has signed a Deed of Undertaking with the Cabinet Office to become one of the providers underpinning the Public Sector Network programme, the company said on Tuesday.
 
BT Wholesale has signed a Deed of Undertaking with the Cabinet Office to become one of the providers underpinning the Public Sector Network programme.
 
Following the agreement, BT becomes a provider of Government Conveyance Network (GCN) services, which will interconnect Public Service Network (PSN) Direct Network Service Providers (DNSPs), which in turn supply the government departments. The PSN is a 'network of networks', created from existing commercial networks, for the public sector.
 
"Today's signature of the DoU [Deed of Undertaking] underlines BT's commitment to the PSN, providing a full range of services including the GCN. Drawing on our experience of co-designing PSN, we can help public-sector organisations achieve both cost and service improvements as well as help them transition to PSN compliance," Neil Rogers, president of BT global services for government and health, said in a statement.
 
The GCN is intended to act as a secure common backbone to PSN service providers and will enable cloud-based and shared services between organisations. It will also deliver datacentre rationalisation benefits such as reduced cost and complexity, BT said.
 
The GCN service will be built on BT's core Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) network, which already has the Communications Electronics Security Group (CESG) 2.2.4 standard accreditation for security and performance.
 
BT said it expects there to be up to 20 DNSPs that will pay GCN providers to access to the interconnection service. BT's signing of the DoU represents a commitment to bring its GCN service to market within 12 months, the company said.
 
BT's DoU joins one signed by Virgin Media in November 2010; Virgin is already a major supplier to existing public-sector networks. Global Crossing and Cable & Wireless have also already signed up to provide GCN services.
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Tue 10th May 2011
Gadgets - our shiny little friends. Elegant wee status symbols that help us find our way, chat to our friends and play games when we are bored. Gadgets - cute little helpmates that take the rough edges off life and generally make things a bit nicer.
 
 
Or, gadgets - robbing us of our common sense as we rely on them to do the most basic things, leaving us ignorant and helpless to the point that instead of lifting our heads, looking around and thinking for ourselves, we no longer see the world as human beings have for thousands of years and simply accept whatever our gadgets show us.
 
According to Robert Vamosi, author of When Gadgets Betray Us, our reliance on electronic trinkets is changing the human race - and not in a good way.
 
As gadgets develop the ability to multitask seemingly endless functions, Vamosi argues that people are increasingly unable to think for themselves. The Round-Up nods vigorously in blind agreement as it reads the article on its iPad. And then walks into a door.
 
Vamosi argues that our reliance on gadgets means we are increasingly abandoning our natural senses and indeed common sense, and living our lives through the lens of technology.
 
He cites the example of one woman who narrowly missed being hit by a train after she followed sat-nav directions over a railway track: when she got out of her car to open the level-crossing gate, a speeding train drove straight through her vehicle.
 
He claims we are developing a culture of dependence on technology to the detriment of our common sense, assuming we had any common sense to start with.
 
For thousands of years we relied on our senses and instincts as hunters and gatherers; these days there's an app for that.
 
As Vamosi says: "We no longer read the manual before powering on. We demand intuitive interfaces that appear up and running right away, while often masking important security settings."
 
So superior usability does have its downsides - it turns us into a nation of unthinking drones entrusting our identities, locations and most personal data to vast multinational behemoths that make shiny things.
 
So should you dump your BlackBerry in a canal, hurl your iPhone into the sea and live life in a cave rocking back and forth and whimpering? Hell no.
 
Just take a few precautions, and remember who is in charge. That's you, by the way.
 
And on the plus side, while your gadgets might be robbing you of your common sense, we're not living in a Minority Report world of constant surveillance just yet.
 
In terms of how our personal data is treated, Vamosi reckons we're still in the realms of another Hollywood blockbuster: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
 
This is because data is likely to be filed away and forgotten, just like the end of the movie (antique spoiler alert!) "where you've got this vast warehouse of data and they're taking the Ark to be in some row in some queue way back in the far corner where it will probably get lost".
 
Phew, when he said Raiders of the Lost Ark the Round-Up had visions of being chased down the street by giant boulders. Then again, at least that would make the journey to work more fun.
 
 
Text your taxi fare
The Royal Wedding has come and gone and we’re left with memories, commemorative DVDs and a fridge full of uneaten sausage rolls.
 
But just when you thought we'd all had enough of Union Jacks for a while, telecoms giant Vodafone is branding London cabs with the red, white and blue to promote its latest initiative.
 
The company's customers can now pay for London taxi fares using their phones through a new mobile payment scheme.
 
The scheme lets customers send a text with the taxi's registration number and the cost of the taxi fare. The cost of the ride is then added to the user’s phone bill or deducted from their pay-as-you-go tariff.
 
The Union Jack-branded fleet will also be fitted with chargers for a range of handsets which are available to all mobile users regardless of their network. The first few cabs are now fitted with phone chargers, with all Vodafone taxis set to be equipped by August.
 
All very high tech. Whether it will persuade the average cabs to go south of the river after nine on a Saturday night remains to be seen...
 
 
And finally...
Elsewhere on silicon.com this week: BT is recruiting ex-forces personnel in an initiative to deploy the superfast network that will bring broadband speeds of up to 40Mbps to about two-thirds of the country by 2015.
 
The ex-forces men and women will begin working for BT's mobile engineering workforce this month after a fast-track recruitment and training programme.
 
But while many of us still wait for the broadband upgrade of our dreams, one UK city has already made it. Any idea which British city was the only one to be ranked in the world's top 100 for broadband speeds? Ok, so it might be in 99th place, but read the story to find out which it is
 
 
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