Archive for Ina Fried

Another Longtime Windows Exec Heads for the Exit as 2013 Draws to a Close

Grant George, a longtime head of software testing at Microsoft, is leaving the company, AllThingsD has learned.

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Like Jon DeVaan, who announced Monday he was retiring from Microsoft, George was left without a clear role following a September reorganization of the Windows unit. That reorg followed the departure of Windows head Steven Sinofsky.

George joined Microsoft in 1994 as a tester in the then-newly formed Office unit following 14 years in testing at Tandem Computer.

Sinofsky, who worked with George on both Office and Windows, praised the contributions George made at Microsoft.

“Grant always represented the pinnacle of customer focus,” Sinofsky said. “His contributions to both Windows and Office were without parallel in the engineering discipline of testing, automation and quality.”

A Microsoft representative confirmed George’s departure, which he announced earlier Tuesday in a memo to colleagues, saying, “We thank him for his contributions to the company and wish him all the best.”

Veteran Microsoft Engineer Jon DeVaan Leaving After Almost 30 Years

Jon DeVaan, a Microsoft engineer and executive who has spent the better part of three decades at the company, is set to leave the software giant on Tuesday.

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DeVaan is one of several longtime technical folks at Microsoft whose future has been unclear since a September reorganization of the Windows unit. That shuffling left DeVaan, testing lead Grant George and services head Antoine Leblond without clear roles at the company.

“Jon DeVaan has chosen to leave Microsoft to spend more time with his family,” Microsoft said in a statement on Monday. “Since he joined Microsoft in 1984, Jon contributed to important products and services across the company. We thank him and wish him and his family all the best.”
Of course, there have been some other big exits this year, including Windows unit head Steven Sinofsky and the impending retirement of CEO Steve Ballmer once his replacement has been hired.

DeVaan’s departure was reported earlier Monday by Seattle-area tech site GeekWire after DeVaan posted a goodbye letter on Facebook.

In that note, he reflected on his long tenure and some of the products he worked on including some of Microsoft’s early Mac products and the first Windows version of Excel. DeVaan also worked on the company’s TV efforts before being tapped to overhaul companywide engineering processes before his most recent work on Windows 7 and Windows 8.

We’re checking into whether any other execs from the Windows unit or elsewhere at Microsoft have decided that Jan. 1 would be a good time to start spending more time with their families.

BlackBerry’s John Chen on What He Is Doing to Shake Up the Phone Maker

BlackBerry CEO John Chen insists that he has put in place much-needed changes that will help turn around the struggling phone maker.

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“It was important to make swift and impactful changes to ensure that our customers’ investments in BlackBerry’s infrastructure and solutions are secure,” Chen wrote in an op-ed for CNBC that posted on Monday.

Chen has made some key changes, most notably outsourcing a chunk of device manufacturing to Foxconn and reorganizing the company around a few key areas, including services for businesses, the BBM messaging product, the handset business and the world of non-phone devices that use the QNX operating system BlackBerry acquired a couple years back.

He’s also committed the company to being profitable by fiscal 2016, canceled some planned products and spiked plans for a major customer conference for 2014.

However, the bigger challenges remain those that BlackBerry has faced for several years now. While some BlackBerry-dependent businesses have remained loyal, many other corporations have opened up to iPhones and Android. Meanwhile, demand for new BlackBerry 10 phones has been anemic, leading BlackBerry to take huge charges reflecting the large volumes of unsold inventory for those products.

In his piece, Chen points out that BlackBerry remains the leader in the business of managing mobile devices, larger than upstarts Mobile Iron, Good and AirWatch combined.

“When it comes to enterprise, we’re still the leader,” Chen said. “Don’t be fooled by the competition’s rhetoric claiming to be more secure or having more experience than BlackBerry.”

Again, that’s true, but much of BlackBerry’s strength is tied to its past, with plenty of stock brokers and government workers carrying around devices running the older BlackBerry operating system (and many of those also carry an iPhone or Android for their personal stuff.)

BlackBerry has made some moves to transition its server software to manage those rival devices, in addition to BlackBerry phones. It has also, for the first time, allowed BBM to run on non-BlackBerry devices.

Chen also promised to continue to use QNX, which BlackBerry bought to form the basis of BB10, for non-phone devices.

“Already the dominant machine-to-machine technology of the automotive industry, new capabilities and cloud services are being unveiled at CES in January, and we’re looking toward adjacent verticals for expansion,” Chen said. There QNX is ahead of rivals, but faces increasing competition as Apple lands automakers for its iOS in the Car initiative and Google is reportedly aiming to do something similar with Android.

Bringing Inexpensive Mobile Access to Researchers in Antarctica

While cellphone networks have managed to cover large swaths of the six most-populated continents, making a call from Antarctica isn’t so easy.

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Now, though, researchers in parts of Antarctica have a mobile communication option that goes beyond pricey satellite phones. A new system from Range Networks allows researchers to use ordinary cellphones to connect with one another, and even to the rest of the world, thanks to a satellite connection located at the base station.

The system replaces what essentially were walkie-talkies that were used by researchers when away from their desks. And, unlike a satellite-only approach, the Range Networks system keeps the researchers connected to one another, regardless of whether there is a satellite signal.

“If there is any loss of connectivity to the outside world, the group can still talk to one another,” said Jacob Winkler, who heads sales and business development for Range Networks.

The system, which can handle 400 mobile phones (along with 800 desktop-based IP phones), is also designed to handle data traffic from various sensors.

While Antarctica presents some unique challenges, Range Networks is using basically the same approach it has gone with to connect other remote corners of the globe, including Oaxaca, Mexico; Papua, Indonesia; and parts of southern Zambia. Among the hallmarks of the Range Networks approach is its use of off-the-shelf GSM cellphones and the open-source software known as OpenBTS that runs on its base stations.

The Antarctic project began roughly a year ago on Macquarie Island, with plans now in place to expand to the Antarctic mainland as well as to those aboard a steel-hulled research vessel.