Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

The Line Between Safety and Peril – (patched) “Supported Products”

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

Dan Goodin in NSA-leaking Shadow Brokers just dumped its most damaging release yet reports in part:

Friday’s release—which came as much of the computing world was planning a long weekend to observe the Easter holiday—contains close to 300 megabytes of materials the leakers said were stolen from the NSA. The contents (a convenient overview is here) included compiled binaries for exploits that targeted vulnerabilities in a long line of Windows operating systems, including Windows 8 and Windows 2012. It also included a framework dubbed Fuzzbunch, a tool that resembles the Metasploit hacking framework that loads the binaries into targeted networks.

Independent security experts who reviewed the contents said it was without question the most damaging Shadow Brokers release to date.
“It is by far the most powerful cache of exploits ever released,” Matthew Hickey, a security expert and co-founder of Hacker House, told Ars. “It is very significant as it effectively puts cyber weapons in the hands of anyone who downloads it. A number of these attacks appear to be 0-day exploits which have no patch and work completely from a remote network perspective.”

News of the release has been fanned by non-technical outlets, such as CNN Tech, NSA’s powerful Windows hacking tools leaked online by Selena Larson.

Microsoft has responded with: Protecting customers and evaluating risk:

Today, Microsoft triaged a large release of exploits made publicly available by Shadow Brokers. Understandingly, customers have expressed concerns around the risk this disclosure potentially creates. Our engineers have investigated the disclosed exploits, and most of the exploits are already patched. Below is our update on the investigation.

Code Name Solution
EternalBlue Addressed by MS17-010
EmeraldThread Addressed by MS10-061
EternalChampion Addressed by CVE-2017-0146 & CVE-2017-0147
“ErraticGopher” Addressed prior to the release of Windows Vista
EsikmoRoll Addressed by MS14-068
EternalRomance Addressed by MS17-010
EducatedScholar Addressed by MS09-050
EternalSynergy Addressed by MS17-010
EclipsedWing Addressed by MS08-067

Of the three remaining exploits, “EnglishmanDentist”, “EsteemAudit”, and “ExplodingCan”, none reproduces on supported platforms, which means that customers running Windows 7 and more recent versions of Windows or Exchange 2010 and newer versions of Exchange are not at risk. Customers still running prior versions of these products are encouraged to upgrade to a supported offering.
… (emphasis in original)

You are guaranteed to be in peril if you are not running patched, supported Microsoft products.

Even if you are running a supported product, know that 50% of all vulnerabilities are from failure to apply patches.

Unlike the hackers who may be in your system right now, liability of vendors for unreasonably poor coding practices or your company for data breaches caused by your practices, such as failure to apply patches, would be incentives for more secure software and better security practices.

If you are serious about cybersecurity, focus on people you can reach and not those you encounter at random (hackers).

Activists! Another Windows Vulnerability

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

If software vulnerabilities were the new it bleeds it leads, news organizations would report on little else.

Still, you have to credit The Hacker News with a great graphic for Google Discloses Windows Vulnerability That Microsoft Fails To Patch, Again! by Swati Khandelwal.

Microsoft is once again facing embarrassment for not patching a vulnerability on time.

Yes, Google’s Project Zero team has once again publicly disclosed a vulnerability (with POC exploit) affecting Microsoft’s Windows operating systems ranging from Windows Vista Service Pack 2 to the latest Windows 10 that had yet to be patched.
… (emphasis in original)

The Google report is more immediately useful but far less amusing that this post by Swati Khandelwal.

Swati reports that without an emergency patch from Microsoft this month, attackers have almost 30 days to exploit this vulnerability.

No rush considering the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report shows hacks known since before 1999 are still viable:

Taking that into account, plus the layering of insecure software on top of insecure software strategy of most potential targets:

According to the Cisco 2017 Security Capabilities Benchmark Study, most companies use more than five security vendors and more than five security products in their environment. Fifty-five percent of the security professionals use at least six vendors; 45 percent use anywhere from one to five vendors; and 65 percent use six or more products.
… (Cisco 2017 Annual Cybersecurity Report, page 5)

Small targets could be more secure by going bare and pointing potential attackers to bank, competitor and finance targets with a BetterTargetsREADME file. (Warning: That is an untested suggestion.)

Tooling Up: Adding Windows 10 to Ubuntu

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

In preparation for an exciting year, I have installed/upgraded several programs on Ubuntu but need to:

  • Generate OOXML files with MS Office
  • Run GIS software not otherwise available
  • Test IE/Office/Windows vulnerabilities
  • Use WebEx

That means a copy of Windows 10 to enable access to Office 365.

Abhishek Prakash’s How to Install Windows 10 in VirtualBox in Linux did the trick for me.

One caveat, my VirtualBox created by default an optical drive so when I added the Windows iso image as a second optical drive, starting the install reports no bootable media. Deleting the default optical drive, leaving only the Windows iso image fixed the problem.

The subscription/install of Office 365 went smoothly.

By default storing files on OneDrive. (1 TB)

Provocative name suggestions for encrypted core dumps?

Other than the glitch with the extra optical drive, it all went smoothly, albeit in Windows fashion, somewhat slowly at times.

Some traditions never change.


Microsoft Giveth, Microsoft Taketh Away

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Microsoft Revoking Free Fallout 4 Copies Grabbed Due to Xbox Store Error by Ron Witaker.

From the post:

Yesterday afternoon, Fallout 4‘s Deluxe Edition Bundle showed up on the Xbox Store for a very attractive price – $0.00. As you can imagine, word of the error spread quickly, and while no numbers are available, you can bet that many people took advantage of the deal to grab a copy for their Xbox One. That version of the game typically runs $109.99, and includes the Season Pass for all the DLC.

Ron goes on to point out that Microsoft is revoking all licenses obtained due to this error.

With some exceptions, a sale is a completed act and not subject to revocation by only one of the parties.

Would be a stronger case if Fallout 4‘s Deluxe Edition Bundle had listed a price of at least $0.01. Can you say why?

Would costing $0.01 when purchased with other games make a difference?

Keep an eye out for litigation!

Universal Windows Hack, Going Once – $95K, Going Twice – $90K, Free at

Saturday, June 4th, 2016

Swati Khandelwal reports a universal Windows hack in Hackers Selling Unpatched Microsoft Windows Zero-Day Exploit for $90,000.

John McAfee tweeted today the hack is free on


I know John is busy, running for U.S. president and all that stuff, but how long does it take to paste in a link?

I visited today and paged back to 01 May 2016 (the original report was 11 May 2016).

Nothing that I could identify as the hack, free or otherwise.


PS: If you make factual claims on Twitter (read anywhere), include a link/citation. It will save everyone time and effort.

Unless your purpose is to waste the time/effort of others.

PPS: I nearly posted without including the image of John’s post. Including the image saves you from searching Twitter to see if John really posted such a claim. At least if you are willing to accept its not faked in some way (it’s not).

Took an extra minute or two but multiple that by the number of users who might otherwise search. That’s how much time including the image has saved.

Asking the Impossible, Avoiding the Obvious – MS on Ransom:Win32/ZCryptor.A.

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

Link (.lnk) to Ransom.

From the post:

We are alerting Windows users of a new type of ransomware that exhibits worm-like behavior. This ransom leverages removable and network drives to propagate itself and affect more users. We detect this ransomware as Ransom:Win32/ZCryptor.A.

The post goes onto note these avenues of infection:

Ransom:Win32/ZCryptor.A is distributed through the spam email infection vector. It also gets installed in your machine through other macro malware*, or fake installers (Flash Player setup).

If you think that sounds bad, consider one of the recommended means for avoiding Ransom:Win32/ZCryptor.A:

Avoid browsing web sites that are known for being malware breeding grounds (illegal download sites, porn sites, etc.)

And the other reasons for using the Internet would be? 😉

BTW, the bulletin avoids the most obvious solution to Ransom:Win32/ZCryptor.A:

Don’t run Windows.


Something to bear in mind when the GAO wants agencies to upgrade from pre-Windows software to “modern,” but insecure software.

“Ethical” Botmakers Censor Offensive Content

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

There are almost 500,000 “hits” from “tay ai” in one popular search engine today.

Against that background, I ran into: How to Make a Bot That Isn’t Racist by Sarah Jeong.

From the post:

…I talked to some creators of Twitter bots about @TayandYou, and the consensus was that Microsoft had fallen far below the baseline of ethical botmaking.

“The makers of @TayandYou absolutely 10000 percent should have known better,” thricedotted, a veteran Twitter botmaker and natural language processing researcher, told me via email. “It seems like the makers of @TayandYou attempted to account for a few specific mishaps, but sorely underestimated the vast potential for people to be assholes on the internet.”

Thricedotted and others belong to an established community of botmakers on Twitter that have been creating and experimenting for years. There’s a Bot Summit. There’s a hashtag (#botALLY).

As I spoke to each botmaker, it became increasingly clear that the community at large was tied together by crisscrossing lines of influence. There is a well-known body of talks, essays, and blog posts that form a common ethical code. The botmakers have even created open source blacklists of slurs that have become Step 0 in keeping their bots in line.

Not researching prior art is as bad as not Reading The Fine Manual (RTFM) before posting help queries to heavy traffic developer forums.

Tricedotted claims a prior obligation of TayandYou’s creators to block offensive content:

For thricedotted, TayandYou failed from the start. “You absolutely do NOT let an algorithm mindlessly devour a whole bunch of data that you haven’t vetted even a little bit,” they said. “It blows my mind, because surely they’ve been working on this for a while, surely they’ve been working with Twitter data, surely they knew this shit existed. And yet they put in absolutely no safeguards against it?!” (emphasis in original)

No doubt Microsoft wishes that it had blocked offensive content in hindsight, but I don’t see a general ethical obligation to block or censor offensive content.

For example:

  • A bot created to follow public and private accounts of elected officials and it only re-tweeted posts that did contain racial slurs? With @news-organization handles in the tweets.
  • A bot based on matching FEC (Federal Election Commission) donation records + Twitter accounts and it re-tweets racist/offensive tweets along with campaign donation identifiers and the candidate in question.
  • A bot that follows accounts known for racist/offensive tweets for the purpose of building archives of those tweets, publicly accessible, to prevent the sanitizing of tweet archives in the future. (like with TayandYou)

Any of those strike you as “unethical?”

I wish the Georgia legislature and the U.S. Congress would openly used racist and offensive language.

They act in racist and offensive ways so they should be openly racist and offensive. Makes it easier to whip up effective opposition against known racists, etc.

Which is, of course, why they self-censor to not use racist language.

The world is full of offensive people and we should make they own their statements.

Creating a false, sanitized view that doesn’t offend some n+1 sensitivities, is just that, a false view of the world.

If you are looking for an ethical issue, creating views of the world that help conceal racism, sexism, etc., is a better starting place than offensive ephemera.

Internet Explorer 8, 9, and 10 – “Really Most Sincerely Dead”

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

Web developers rejoice; Internet Explorer 8, 9 and 10 die on Tuesday by Owen Williams.

From the post:

Internet Explorer has long been the bane of many Web developers’ existence, but here’s some news to brighten your day: Internet Explorer 8, 9 and 10 are reaching ‘end of life’ on Tuesday, meaning they’re no longer supported by Microsoft.

Three down and one to go, IE 11, if I’m reading Owen’s post correctly. Past IE 11, users will be on Edge in Windows 10.

Oh, the “…really most sincerely dead…” is from the 1939 movie, Wizard of Oz.

Windows 10 covertly sends your disk-encryption keys to Microsoft

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

Windows 10 covertly sends your disk-encryption keys to Microsoft by Cory Doctorow.

Cory gives a harrowing list of “unprecedented anti-user features” in Windows 10.

It is a must read for anyone trying to build support for a move to an open source OS.

Given the public reception of the Snowden revelations, are the “unprecedented anti-user features” a deliberate strategy by Microsoft to escape the clutches of both US and other governments demanding invasion of user privacy?

There has to be a sufficient market for MS to transition to application and OS support for enterprise level open source software and weaning enterprises off of Windows 10 would be one way to establish that market.

After all, GM isn’t going to call your local IT shop for support, even with an open source OS. Much more likely to call Microsoft, which has the staff and historical expertise to manage enterprise systems.

Sure, MS may lose the thin-margin projects at the bottom if it becomes entirely an open source organization but imagine the impact it will have on big data startups.

The high end/high profit markets in software will remain whether the income is from licensing or support/customization services.

That would certainly explain the recent trend towards open source projects at MS. And driving customers away from Windows 10 is probably easier than spiking the Windows/Office teams embedded at MS.

Corporate politics, don’t you just love it? 😉

If management talks about switching to Windows 10, you know the sign to give your co-workers from Helix:


For non-Helix fans: RUN LIKE HELL!

Microsoft open sources Distributed Machine Learning Toolkit…

Friday, November 13th, 2015

Microsoft open sources Distributed Machine Learning Toolkit for more efficient big data research by George Thomas Jr.

From the post:

Researchers at the Microsoft Asia research lab this week made the Microsoft Distributed Machine Learning Toolkit openly available to the developer community.

The toolkit, available now on GitHub, is designed for distributed machine learning — using multiple computers in parallel to solve a complex problem. It contains a parameter server-based programing framework, which makes machine learning tasks on big data highly scalable, efficient and flexible. It also contains two distributed machine learning algorithms, which can be used to train the fastest and largest topic model and the largest word-embedding model in the world.

The toolkit offers rich and easy-to-use APIs to reduce the barrier of distributed machine learning, so researchers and developers can focus on core machine learning tasks like data, model and training.

The toolkit is unique because its features transcend system innovations by also offering machine learning advances, the researchers said. With the toolkit, the researchers said developers can tackle big-data, big-model machine learning problems much faster and with smaller clusters of computers than previously required.

For example, using the toolkit one can train a topic model with one million topics and a 20-million word vocabulary, or a word-embedding model with 1000 dimensions and a 20-million word vocabulary, on a web document collection with 200 billion tokens utilizing a cluster of just 24 machines. That workload would previously have required thousands of machines.

This has been a banner week for machine learning!

On November 9th, Google open sourced TensorFlow.

On November 12th, Single Artificial Neuron Taught to Recognize Hundreds of Patterns (why neurons have thousands of synapses) is published.

On November 12th, Microsoft open sources its Distributed Machine Learning Toolkit.

Not every week is like that for machine learning but it is impressive when that many major stories drop in a week!

I do like the line from the Microsoft announcement:

For example, using the toolkit one can train a topic model with one million topics and a 20-million word vocabulary, or a word-embedding model with 1000 dimensions and a 20-million word vocabulary, on a web document collection with 200 billion tokens utilizing a cluster of just 24 machines. (emphasis added)

Prices are falling all the time and a 24 machine cluster should be within the reach of most startups if not most individuals now. Next year? Possibly within the reach of a large number of individuals.

What are your machine learning plans for 2016?

More DMTK information.

It’s Official! Hell Has Frozen Over!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Microsoft and Red Hat to deliver new standard for enterprise cloud experiences

From the news release:

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq “MSFT”) and Red Hat Inc. (NYSE: RHT) on Wednesday announced a partnership that will help customers embrace hybrid cloud computing by providing greater choice and flexibility deploying Red Hat solutions on Microsoft Azure. As a key component of today’s announcement, Microsoft is offering Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the preferred choice for enterprise Linux workloads on Microsoft Azure. In addition, Microsoft and Red Hat are also working together to address common enterprise, ISV and developer needs for building, deploying and managing applications on Red Hat software across private and public clouds.

I can’t report on the webcast because it requires Flash 10 and I don’t have that on a VM at the moment. Good cyber hygiene counsels against running even “patched” Adobe Flash.

The news release has the key points anyway:

Red Hat solutions available natively to Microsoft Azure customers. In the coming weeks, Microsoft Azure will become a Red Hat Certified Cloud and Service Provider, enabling customers to run their Red Hat Enterprise Linux applications and workloads on Microsoft Azure. Red Hat Cloud Access subscribers will be able to bring their own virtual machine images to run in Microsoft Azure. Microsoft Azure customers can also take advantage of the full value of Red Hat’s application platform, including Red Hat JBoss Enterprise Application Platform, Red Hat JBoss Web Server, Red Hat Gluster Storage and OpenShift, Red Hat’s platform-as-a-service offering. In the coming months, Microsoft and Red Hat plan to provide Red Hat On-Demand — “pay-as-you-go” Red Hat Enterprise Linux images available in the Azure Marketplace, supported by Red Hat.

Integrated enterprise-grade support spanning hybrid environments. Customers will be offered cross-platform, cross-company support spanning the Microsoft and Red Hat offerings in an integrated way, unlike any previous partnership in the public cloud. By co-locating support teams on the same premises, the experience will be simple and seamless, at cloud speed.

Unified workload management across hybrid cloud deployments. Red Hat CloudForms will interoperate with Microsoft Azure and Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager, offering Red Hat CloudForms customers the ability to manage Red Hat Enterprise Linux on both Hyper-V and Microsoft Azure. Support for managing Azure workloads from Red Hat CloudForms is expected to be added in the next few months, extending the existing System Center capabilities for managing Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Collaboration on .NET for a new generation of application development capabilities. Expanding on the preview of .NET on Linux announced by Microsoft in April, developers will have access to .NET technologies across Red Hat offerings, including Red Hat OpenShift and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, jointly backed by Microsoft and Red Hat. Red Hat Enterprise Linux will be the primary development and reference operating system for .NET Core on Linux.

More details at: The Official Microsoft Blog and the Red Hat Blog.

I first saw this in The Power of Open Source… Microsoft .NET and OpenShift by Chris Morgan.

A small pebble in an ocean of influences and motivations but treating Microsoft fairly during the ISO process for ISO 29500 (I am the editor of the competing ISO 26300) wasn’t a bad idea.

Getting Rid of “Get Windows 10!” (Public Service Announcement)

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

There is a difference between commercial software and nagware. Or, there was once upon a time. To promote Window 10, a Microsoft ad has taken up residency in the system tray of Windows 7 and Windows 8 users.

To revert to a non-nagware version of Windows 7 or Windows 8, see: What is the “Get Windows 10” Tray Item and How Do You Remove It?

Bob Ducharme reports this worked for him.

I haven’t taken the Windows 10 plunge (onto a VM) but then I encountered this language in the Window 10 EULA:

Updates. The softwareperiodically checks for system and app updates, and downloads and installs them for you. You may obtain updates only from Microsoft or authorized sources, and Microsoft may need to update your system to provide you with those updates. By accepting this agreement, you agree to receive these types of automatic updates without any additional notice.
[emphasis added to last sentence]

If you are using Windows 10 to read email and surf the web, that may be ok.

If you are building mission-critical applications that rely on the stability of Windows system calls, that’s insane.

Ask you IT department about MS “updates” that have toasted applications in the past.

If Windows 10 becomes the dog that whatever came right after Windows XP did (I can’t even remember its name), perhaps Microsoft will adopt saner update policy for Windows (whatever).

Abandon All Hope Prior To IE 11

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Stay up-to-date with Internet Explorer

From the post:

As we shared in May, Microsoft is prioritizing helping users stay up-to-date with the latest version of Internet Explorer. Today we would like to share important information on migration resources, upgrade guidance, and details on support timelines to help you plan for moving to the latest Internet Explorer browser for your operating system.

Microsoft offers innovative and transformational services for a mobile-first and cloud-first world, so you can do more and achieve more; Internet Explorer is core to this vision. In today’s digital world, billions of people use Internet-connected devices, powered by cloud service-based applications, spanning both work and life experiences. Running a modern browser is more important than ever for the fastest, most secure experience on the latest Web sites and services, connecting anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Microsoft recommends enabling automatic updates to ensure an up-to-date computing experience—including the latest version of Internet Explorer—and most consumers use automatic updates today. Commercial customers are encouraged to test and accept updates quickly, especially security updates. Regular updates provide significant benefits, such as decreased security risk and increased reliability, and Windows Update can automatically install updates for Internet Explorer and Windows.

For customers not yet running the latest browser available for your operating system, we encourage you to upgrade and stay up-to-date for a faster, more secure browsing experience. Beginning January 12, 2016, the following operating systems and browser version combinations will be supported:

Windows Platform Internet Explorer Version
Windows Vista SP2 Internet Explorer 9
Windows Server 2008 SP2 Internet Explorer 9
Windows 7 SP1 Internet Explorer 11
Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Internet Explorer 11
Windows 8.1 Internet Explorer 11
Windows Server 2012 Internet Explorer 10
Windows Server 2012 R2 Internet Explorer 11

After January 12, 2016, only the most recent version of Internet Explorer available for a supported operating system will receive technical support and security updates. For example, customers using Internet Explorer 8, Internet Explorer 9, or Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 7 SP1 should migrate to Internet Explorer 11 to continue receiving security updates and technical support. For more details regarding support timelines on Windows and Windows Embedded, see the Microsoft Support Lifecycle site.

I can’t comment on the security of IE 11 but it will create a smaller footprint for support. Perhaps some hackers will be drawn away for easier pickings on earlier versions.

You are already late planning your migration path to IE 11.

What IE version are you going to be running on January 12, 2016?

Windows 10: Steady as you go

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Windows 10: You might be wise to wait before upgrading by Graham Cluley.

If Windows 10 isn’t your first Windows rodeo, you know the reasons for Graham’s advice on waiting a while to upgrade to Windows 10.

For example, Microsoft delivers a massive Windows 10 patch to fix early bugs by Jamie Hinks.

Doesn’t hurt to let someone else debug the early version. 😉

Migrate or Lose Control of Your Windows XP/Server 2003 System

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Microsoft words it:

Vulnerability in Microsoft Font Driver Could Allow Remote Code Execution (3079904).

But later makes the danger a little clearer:

A remote code execution vulnerability exists in Microsoft Windows when the Windows Adobe Type Manager Library improperly handles specially crafted OpenType fonts. An attacker who successfully exploited this vulnerability could take complete control of the affected system. An attacker could then install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights.

There are multiple ways an attacker could exploit this vulnerability, such as by convincing a user to open a specially crafted document, or by convincing a user to visit an untrusted webpage that contains embedded OpenType fonts. The update addresses the vulnerability by correcting how the Windows Adobe Type Manager Library handles OpenType fonts.

When this security bulletin was issued, Microsoft had information to indicate that this vulnerability was public but did not have any information to indicate this vulnerability had been used to attack customers. Our analysis has shown that exploit code could be created in such a way that an attacker could consistently exploit this vulnerability. (emphasis added)

Show of hands: How many of you visit untrusted sites with embedded OpenType fonts?

Microsoft rates this critical and for all versions of Windows.

No patch has been issued for Windows XP or Windows Server 2003.

WorldWide Telescope to the Open Source .NET Universe

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Welcoming the WorldWide Telescope to the Open Source .NET Universe by Martin Woodward.

From the post:

At the .NET Foundation we strive to put code into the hands of those who use it, in an effort to create an innovative and exciting community. Today we’re excited to announce that we are doing just that in welcoming the WorldWide Telescope to the exciting universe of open source .NET.

I did my undergraduate degree in physics at a time when the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was a new thing. I remember very well my amazement when I could load up one of about 100 CD-ROM’s from the Digitized Sky Survey to get access to observations from the Palomar Observatory and then later the HST, and compare them with my own results to track changes in the night sky. CD-ROM’s were a new thing back then too, but I wrote some VB code to capture data out of the JPEG images in the Sky Survey and compare it with my own images from the CCD in the back of the telescope on the roof of the University of Durham Physics department.

Fast forward to 2008 and Microsoft Research moved Robert Scoble to tears and wowed the auidence at TED when it released the WorldWide Telescope, giving the public access to exactly the same type of raw astronomical data through an easy-to-use interface. The WorldWide Telescope application is great because it puts an incredible visualization engine together with some of the most interesting scientific data in the world into the hands of anyone. You can just explore the pretty pictures and zoom in as if you are seeing the universe on some of the best telescopes in the world – but you can also do real science with the same interface.  Astronomers and educators using WorldWide Telescope have come to appreciate and beauty and power of tooling that enables such rich data exploration – truly setting that data free.

Today, I am thrilled to announce that the .NET Foundation is working together with Microsoft Research and the WorldWide Telescope project team to set the application itself free. The code, written in .NET, is now available as an open source application under the MIT License on GitHub. We are very keen to help the team develop in the open and now that WorldWide Telescope is open source, any individual or organization will be able to adapt and extend the functionality of the application and services to meet their research or educational needs. Not only can they contribute those changes back to the wider community through a pull request, but they’ll allow others to build on their research and development. Extensions to the software will continuously enhance astronomical research, formal and informal learning, and public outreach, while also leveraging the power of the .NET ecosystem.

The WorldWide Telescope represents a new community coming to the Foundation. It’s also great that we now have representation within the foundation from a project that is a complex system that building on-top of the .NET Framework with both a desktop client, as well as extensive server based infrastructure. The WorldWide Telescope is an important tool and I’m glad the .NET Foundation can be of help as it begins its journey as an open source application with committers from inside and outside of Microsoft.  We’re thrilled to welcome the community of astronomers using and contributing to the WorldWide Telescope into the exciting universe of open source .NET.

You can read more about the WorldWide Telescope on the website and more about the move to open source on the Microsoft Research Connections blog. The WorldWide Telescope team also have a very cool video on YouTube showing the power of the WorldWide Telescope in action where you can also find a wealth of videos from the community.

Remind me to put a new version of Windows on a VM in my Ubuntu box. 😉

Very cool!

Malicious Microsoft Office versions are in the wild

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Malicious Microsoft Office versions are in the wild

At first I wondered why this was news? 😉

After reading the post I realized they meant hacked versions of Microsoft Office, which in addition to the standard bugs and vulnerabilities, come with additional vulnerabilities installed by the people who hacked the official version.

I am untroubled by the presence of additional vulnerabilities in hacked versions of Microsoft Office as you know the saying, “…you get what you pay for.”

If you want Microsoft Office, then buy a copy of Microsoft Office. You won’t get much sympathy for security problems created while trying to cheat others. At least not from me.

If you want or need alternatives to Microsoft Office, try Apache OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

Even with “free” software, you should always use official or reputable distribution sites. A little bit of caution on your part will present attackers with a much smaller attack surface. Staff that don’t exercise such caution should be recommended to your competitors.

GQL and SharePoint Online Search REST APIs

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Query the Office graph using GQL and SharePoint Online Search REST APIs

From the post:

Graph Query Language (GQL) is a preliminary query language designed to query the Office graph via the SharePoint Online Search REST API. By using GQL, you can query the Office graph to get items for an actor that satisfies a particular filter.

Note The features and APIs documented in this article are in preview and are subject to change. The current additions to the Search REST API are a preliminary solution to make it possible to query the Office graph, mainly intended for the Office Delve experience. Feel free to experiment with querying the Office graph but do not use these features, or other features and APIs documented in this article, in production. Your feedback about these features and APIs is important. Let us know what you think. Connect with us on Stack Overflow. Tag your questions with [office365].

An interesting development from Microsoft!

Early days so there is a long way to go before we are declaring relationships between entities inside objects and assigning the entities and their relationships properties.

Still, a promising development.

Turning the MS Battleship

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

Improving interoperability with DOM L3 XPath by Thomas Moore.

From the post:

As part of our ongoing focus on interoperability with the modern Web, we’ve been working on addressing an interoperability gap by writing an implementation of DOM L3 XPath in the Windows 10 Web platform. Today we’d like to share how we are closing this gap in Project Spartan’s new rendering engine with data from the modern Web.

Some History

Prior to IE’s support for DOM L3 Core and native XML documents in IE9, MSXML provided any XML handling and functionality to the Web as an ActiveX object. In addition to XMLHttpRequest, MSXML supported the XPath language through its own APIs, selectSingleNode and selectNodes. For applications based on and XML documents originating from MSXML, this works just fine. However, this doesn’t follow the W3C standards for interacting with XML documents or exposing XPath.

To accommodate a diversity of browsers, sites and libraries wrap XPath calls to switch to the right implementation. If you search for XPath examples or tutorials, you’ll immediately find results that check for IE-specific code to use MSXML for evaluating the query in a non-interoperable way:

It seems like a long time ago that a relatively senior Microsoft staffer told me that turning a battleship like MS takes time. No change, however important, is going to happen quickly. Just the way things are in a large organization.

The important thing to remember is that once change starts, that too takes on a certain momentum and so is more likely to continue, even though it was hard to get started.

Yes, I am sure the present steps towards greater interoperability could have gone further, in another direction, etc. but they didn’t. Rather than complain about the present change for the better, why not use that as a wedge to push for greater support for more recent XML standards?

For my part, I guess I need to get a copy of Windows 10 on a VM so I can volunteer as a beta tester for full XPath (XQuery?/XSLT?) support in a future web browser. MS as a full XML competitor and possible source of open source software would generate some excitement in the XML community!

How to install Spark 1.2 on Azure HDInsight clusters

Friday, March 20th, 2015

How to install Spark 1.2 on Azure HDInsight clusters by Maxim Lukiyanov.

From the post:

Today we are pleased to announce the refresh of the Apache Spark support on Azure HDInsight clusters. Spark is available on HDInsight through custom script action and today we are updating it to support the latest version of Spark 1.2. The previous version supported version 1.0. This update also adds Spark SQL support to the package.

Spark 1.2 script action requires latest version of HDInsight clusters 3.2. Older HDInsight clusters will get previous version of Spark 1.0 when customized with Spark script action.

Follow the below steps to create Spark cluster using Azure Portal:

The only remaining questions are: How good are you with Spark? and How big of a Spark cluster do you neeed? (or can afford).


Cross Site Scripting zero-day bug [Or Feature?]

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

Internet Explorer has a Cross Site Scripting zero-day bug by Paul Ducklin.

From the post:

Another day, another zero-day.

This time, Microsoft Internet Explorer is attracting the sort of publicity a browser doesn’t want, following the public disclosure of what’s known as a Cross-Site Scripting, or XSS, bug.

With Microsoft apparently now investigating and looking at a patch, the timing of the disclosure certainly looks to be irresponsible.

There’s no suggestion that Microsoft failed to meet any sort of deadline to get a patch out, or even that the company was contacted in advance.

Nevertheless, details of the bug have been revealed, including some proof-of-concept JavaScript showing how to abuse the hole.

So, what is XSS, and what does this mean for security?

The bug violates the same origin policy (SOP) which Wikipedia describes as:

This mechanism bears a particular significance for modern web applications that extensively depend on HTTP cookies to maintain authenticated user sessions, as servers act based on the HTTP cookie information to reveal sensitive information or take state-changing actions. A strict separation between content provided by unrelated sites must be maintained on the client side to prevent the loss of data confidentiality or integrity.

While phrased in terms of “security,” take note that this includes content from other sites as well. As one post I read on to the topic suggested that content can be intermingled, but that isn’t the same as manipulation of content from another source.

If you think of SOP as preventing programmatic, creative and imaginative re-use of content from other sites, suddenly it sounds a lot less like a feature doesn’t it?

Only if you follow the “cookie, cookie, me want cookie” philosophy of browser interaction is SOP even necessary. Once I authenticate to a remote site, if state is maintained at all it could be maintained on the server side. Rendering SOP, how did Eve in the The Diaries of Adam and Eve put it?, ah, superfluous.

Curious how security became intertwined with the desire of content owners to prevent re-use of content. That doesn’t sound like a neutral choice to me. Perhaps we should make another choice and evolve a different security model for web browsers.

A different security model that puts security in the hands of those best able to maintain it, that is server side. And at the same time, empower users, script writers and others to re-use any content they can load into their browsers. Imagine the range of services and capabilities that would add!

Better security, better access to content from any site. Sounds like a win-win to me. You?

In the meantime, thinks with IE may not be as grim as reported. Sean Michael Kerner reports in: Researcher Discloses Potential Internet Explorer XSS Zero-Day Flaw, that Microsoft has known about the bug since October 13, 2014 and doesn’t seem to be all that excited about it.

I make that to be 115 days, including February 4, 2015, so zero-day + 115 days. Rather long in the tooth for a zero-day bug I would say. 😉 You do know that “zero-day” doesn’t mean the day you read about it. Yes?

The bug was reported on the Full Disclosure list, for which neither of the posts cited gave a URL.

PS: Is anyone working on a fork of JavaScript that enables cross site scripting by design? The advantages for content re-use would be enormous. Users in charge of content on their own screens. What a concept.

Creating Excel files with Python and XlsxWriter

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Creating Excel files with Python and XlsxWriter

From the post:

XlsxWriter is a Python module for creating Excel XLSX files.


(Sample code to create the above spreadsheet.)


XlsxWriter is a Python module that can be used to write text, numbers, formulas and hyperlinks to multiple worksheets in an Excel 2007+ XLSX file. It supports features such as formatting and many more, including:

  • 100% compatible Excel XLSX files.
  • Full formatting.
  • Merged cells.
  • Defined names.
  • Charts.
  • Autofilters.
  • Data validation and drop down lists.
  • Conditional formatting.
  • Worksheet PNG/JPEG images.
  • Rich multi-format strings.
  • Cell comments.
  • Memory optimisation mode for writing large files.

I know what you are thinking. If you are processing the data with Python, why the hell would you want to write data to XSL or XLSX?

Good question! But it also has an equally good answer.

Attend a workshop for mid-level managers and introduce one of the speakers saying:

We are going to give away copies of the data used in this presentation. By show of hands, how many people want it in R format? Now, how many people want it in Excel format?

Or you can reverse the questions so the glazed look from the audience on the R question doesn’t blind you. 😉

If your data need to transition to management, at least most management, spreadsheet formats are your friend.

If you don’t believe me, see any number of remarkable presentation by Felienne Hermans on the use of spreadsheets or check out my spreadsheets category.

Don’t get me wrong, I prefer being closer to the metal but on the other hand, delivering data that users can use is more profitable than the alternatives.

I first saw this in a tweet by Scientific Python.

The next generation of Windows: Windows 10

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

The next generation of Windows: Windows 10 by Terry Myerson.

From the post:

Today I had the honor of sharing new information about Windows 10, the new generation of Windows.

Our team shared more Windows 10 experiences and how Windows 10 will inspire new scenarios across the broadest range of devices, from big screens to small screens to no screens at all. You can catch the video on-demand presentation here.

Windows 10 is the first step to an era of more personal computing. This vision framed our work on Windows 10, where we are moving Windows from its heritage of enabling a single device – the PC – to a world that is more mobile, natural and grounded in trust. We believe your experiences should be mobile – not just your devices. Technology should be out of the way and your apps, services and content should move with you across devices, seamlessly and easily. In our connected and transparent world, we know that people care deeply about privacy – and so do we. That’s why everything we do puts you in control – because you are our customer, not our product. We also believe that interacting with technology should be as natural as interacting with people – using voice, pen, gestures and even gaze for the right interaction, in the right way, at the right time. These concepts led our development and you saw them come to life today.

I had to find a text equivalent to the video. I was looking for specific information I saw mentioned in an email and watching the entire presentation (2+ hours) just wasn’t in the cards.

I will be watching the comment lists on Windows 10 for the answers to two questions:

First, will I be able to run Windows 10 within a VM on Ubuntu?

Second, for “sharing” of annotations to documents, is the “sharing” protocol open so that annotations can be shared by users not using Windows 10?

Actually I did see some of the video and assuming you have the skills of a graphic artist, you are going to be producing some rocking content with Windows 10. People who struggle to doodle, not so much.

The devil will be in the details but I can say this is the first version of Windows that has ever made me consider upgrading from Windows XP. Haven’t decided and may have to run it on a separate box (share monitors with Ubuntu) but I can definitely say I am interested.

New Open XML PowerTool Cmdlet simplifies retrieval of document metrics

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

New Open XML PowerTool Cmdlet simplifies retrieval of document metrics by Doug Mahugh.

From the post:

It’s been a good year for Open XML developers. The release of the Open XML SDK as an open source project back in June was well-received by the community, and enabled contributions such as the makefile to automate use of the SDK on Mono and a Visual Studio project for the SDK. Project leader Eric White has worked to refine and improve the testing process, and here at MS Open Tech we’ve been working with our China team to get the word out, starting with mirroring the repo to GitCafe for ease of access in China.

Today there’s another piece of good news for Open XML developers: Eric White has added a new Get-DocxMetrics Cmdlet to the Open XML PowerTools, the latest step in a developer-focused reengineering of the PowerTools to make them even more flexible and useful to Open XML developers. As Eric explains in his blog post on the Open XML Developer site:

My latest foray is a new Cmdlet, Get-DocxMetrics, which returns a lot of useful information about a WordprocessingML document. A summary of the information it returns for a document:

  • The style hierarchy – styles can inherit from other styles, and it is helpful to know what styles are defined in a document.
  • The content control hierarchy. We can examine the hierarchy, and design an XSD schema to validate them.
  • The list of languages used in a document, such as en-US, fr-FR, and so on.
  • Whether a document contains tracked revisions, text boxes, complex fields, simple fields, altChunk content, tables, hyperlinks, legacy frames, ActiveX controls, sub documents, references to null images, embedded spreadsheets, document protection, multi-font runs, the list of numbering formats used, and more.
  • Metrics on how large the document is, including element counts, average paragraph lengths, run count, zero length text elements, ASCII character counts, complex script character counts, East Asia character counts, and the count of runs of each of the variety of characters.

Get-DocxMetrics sounds like a viable way to generate statistics on a collection of OpenXML files to determine what features of OpenXML are actually in use by an enterprise or government. That would make creation of specialized tools for such entities a far more certain proposition.

Output from such analysis would be a nice input into a topic map for purposes of mapping usage to other formats. What maps?, what misses?, etc.

Looking forward to hearing more about this tool in the new year!

Orleans Goes Open Source

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Orleans Goes Open Source

From the post:

Since the release of the Project “Orleans” Public Preview at //build/ 2014 we have received a lot of positive feedback from the community. We took your suggestions and fixed a number of issues that you reported in the Refresh release in September.

Now we decided to take the next logical step, and do the thing many of you have been asking for – to open-source “Orleans”. The preparation work has already commenced, and we expect to be ready in early 2015. The code will be released by Microsoft Research under an MIT license and published on GitHub. We hope this will enable direct contribution by the community to the project. We thought we would share the decision to open-source “Orleans” ahead of the actual availability of the code, so that you can plan accordingly.

The real excitement for me comes from a post just below this announcement: A Framework for Cloud Computing,

To avoid these complexities, we built the Orleans programming model and runtime, which raises the level of the actor abstraction. Orleans targets developers who are not distributed system experts, although our expert customers have found it attractive too. It is actor-based, but differs from existing actor-based platforms by treating actors as virtual entities, not as physical ones. First, an Orleans actor always exists, virtually. It cannot be explicitly created or destroyed. Its existence transcends the lifetime of any of its in-memory instantiations, and thus transcends the lifetime of any particular server. Second, Orleans actors are automatically instantiated: if there is no in-memory instance of an actor, a message sent to the actor causes a new instance to be created on an available server. An unused actor instance is automatically reclaimed as part of runtime resource management. An actor never fails: if a server S crashes, the next message sent to an actor A that was running on S causes Orleans to automatically re-instantiate A on another server, eliminating the need for applications to supervise and explicitly re-create failed actors. Third, the location of the actor instance is transparent to the application code, which greatly simplifies programming. And fourth, Orleans can automatically create multiple instances of the same stateless actor, seamlessly scaling out hot actors.

Overall, Orleans gives developers a virtual “actor space” that, analogous to virtual memory, allows them to invoke any actor in the system, whether or not it is present in memory. Virtualization relies on indirection that maps from virtual actors to their physical instantiations that are currently running. This level of indirection provides the runtime with the opportunity to solve many hard distributed systems problems that must otherwise be addressed by the developer, such as actor placement and load balancing, deactivation of unused actors, and actor recovery after server failures, which are notoriously difficult for them to get right. Thus, the virtual actor approach significantly simplifies the programming model while allowing the runtime to balance load and recover from failures transparently. (emphasis added)

Not in a distributed computing context but the “look and its there” model is something I recall from HyTime. So nice to see good ideas resurface!

Just imagine doing that with topic maps, including having properties of a topic, should you choose to look for them. If you don’t need a topic, why carry the overhead around? Wait for someone to ask for it.

This week alone, Microsoft continues its fight for users, announces an open source project that will make me at least read about .Net, ;-), I think Microsoft merits a lot of kudos and good wishes for the holiday season!

I first say this at: Microsoft open sources cloud framework that powers Halo by Jonathan Vanian.

The Battleship Moves

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

A milestone moment for Microsoft: .NET is now an open-source project by Jonathan Vanian.

During the acrimonious debate about OOXML, a friend said that Microsoft was like a very large battleship, it could turn, but movement wasn’t ever sudden.

From what I read in Jonathan’s post, MS is in the process of making yet another turn, this time to make .NET an open source project.

A move that gives credence to the proposition that being open source isn’t inconsistent with being a commercial enterprise and a profitable one.

But just as important is commercial open source software as a bulwark against government surveillance. Consumers will have the choice of buying binary and possibly government surveillance infected software or they can use open source and the services of traditional vendors such as MS, IBM, HP, etc. to compile specific software packages for their use.

Opening up such a large package isn’t an overnight lark so I encourage everyone to be patient as MS eases .NET into the waters of open source. Continued good experiences with an open source .NET will further the open source agenda at Microsoft.

The more open source software in use, the fewer dark places for government surveillance to hide.

Fewer dark places for government surveillance to hide.” Yet another benefit from open source software!

Potentially catastrophic bug bites all versions of Windows. Patch now

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Potentially catastrophic bug bites all versions of Windows. Patch now by Dan Goodin.

From the post:

Microsoft has disclosed a potentially catastrophic vulnerability in virtually all versions of Windows. People operating Windows systems, particularly those who run websites, should immediately install a patch Microsoft released Tuesday morning.

The vulnerability resides in the Microsoft secure channel (schannel) security component that implements the secure sockets layer and transport layer security (TLS) protocols, according to a Microsoft advisory. A failure to properly filter specially formed packets makes it possible for attackers to execute attack code of their choosing by sending malicious traffic to a Windows-based server.

While the advisory makes reference to vulnerabilities targeting Windows servers, the vulnerability is rated critical for client and server versions of Windows alike, an indication the remote-code bug may threaten Windows desktops and laptop users as well. Amol Sarwate, director of engineering at Qualys, told Ars the flaw leaves client machines open if users run software that monitors Internet ports and accepts encrypted connections.

This sort of security announcement makes you nostalgic for the Black Screen and Blue Screen of Death doesn’t it? While looking up the reference on the Blue Screen of Death, I discovered that Windows still has that feature. I was thinking about the Blue Screen of Death from Windows NT days. I haven’t seen a blue screen on Windows XP so assumed they had fixed those issues. My bad.

Danger, Danger!

This security update is rated Critical for all supported releases of Microsoft Windows. (emphasis added)

The earliest versions of Windows listed are Vista and Windows Server 2003.

Which excludes Windows XP, whose security support ended on April 8, 2014.

I mention that because 95% of bank ATMs face end of security support by Jose Pagliery.

Yes, 95% of bank ATMs were running Windows XP (est.). Some banks were reported to have made arrangements with MS for continued support but who and for how long isn’t known.

The support bulletin doesn’t say if the vulnerability exists in Windows XP but you could start looking with: Vulnerability in the Windows Schannel Security Package Could Allow Remote Code Execution (935840) Published: June 12, 2007. A different security issue with Schannel.

If you confirm issue in MS14-066 with Windows XP, please post a comment. Thanks!

PS: Better organization of the Windows documentation would help security researchers. Being able to navigate from releases to specific files for a particular problem and thence backward to other versions and their files and thence to the files, would be quite helpful. Even if packages are needed for updates due to dependencies between files.

Update: November 16, 2014.

On November 14, 2014, Sara Peters posted: Microsoft Fixes Critical SChannel & OLE Bugs, But No Patches For XP and writes in part:

Joe Barrett, senior security consultant of Foreground Security says that Winshock “will most likely be the first true ‘forever-day’ vulnerability for Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Windows XP. As Microsoft has ceased all support and publicly stated they will no longer release security patches, enterprises who still have Windows 2000 and Windows XP machines will find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of having an exploitable-but-unpatchable system on their network,” he says.

“Security researchers and blackhats alike are most likely racing to get the first workable exploit against this vulnerability, and the bad guys will begin immediately using it to compromise as much as they can,” he says. “As a result, enterprises need to immediately deploy the patch to every system they can and also begin isolating and removing the unpatchable systems to prevent serious compromise of their networks.”

I guess that removes all doubt about XP based ATMs being vulnerable.

Microsoft Garage

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Microsoft Garage

From the webpage:

Hackers, makers, artists, tinkerers, musicians, inventors — on any given day you’ll find them in The Microsoft Garage.

We are a community of interns, employees, and teams from everywhere in the company who come together to turn our wild ideas into real projects. This site gives you early access to projects as they come to life.

Tell us what rocks, and what doesn’t.

Welcome to The Microsoft Garage.

Two projects (out of several) that I thought were interesting:


Host or join collaboration sessions on canvases that hold text cards and images. Ink on the canvas to organize your content, or manipulate the text and images using pinch, drag, and rotate gestures.


Floatz, a Microsoft Garage project, lets you float an idea out to the people around you, and see what they think. Join in on any nearby Floatz conversation, or start a new one with a question, idea, or image that you share anonymously with people nearby.

Share your team spirit at a sporting event, or your awesome picture of the band at a rock concert. Ask the locals where to get a good meal when visiting an unfamiliar neighborhood. Speak your mind, express your feelings, and find out if there are others around you who feel the same way—all from the safety of an anonymous screen name in Floatz.

I understand the theory of asking for advice anonymously, but I assume that also means the person answering is anonymous as well. Yes? I don’t have a cellphone so I can’t test that theory. Comments?

On the other hand, if you are sharing data with known and unknown others, so you know which “anonymous” screen names to trust (for example, don’t trust name with FBI, CIA or NSA preceded or followed by hyphens), then Floatz could very useful.

I first saw this in Nat Torkington’s Four short links: 23 October 2014.

Microsoft’s Quantum Mechanics

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

Microsoft’s Quantum Mechanics by Tom Simonite.

From the post:

In 2012, physicists in the Netherlands announced a discovery in particle physics that started chatter about a Nobel Prize. Inside a tiny rod of semiconductor crystal chilled cooler than outer space, they had caught the first glimpse of a strange particle called the Majorana fermion, finally confirming a prediction made in 1937. It was an advance seemingly unrelated to the challenges of selling office productivity software or competing with Amazon in cloud computing, but Craig Mundie, then heading Microsoft’s technology and research strategy, was delighted. The abstruse discovery—partly underwritten by Microsoft—was crucial to a project at the company aimed at making it possible to build immensely powerful computers that crunch data using quantum physics. “It was a pivotal moment,” says Mundie. “This research was guiding us toward a way of realizing one of these systems.”

Microsoft is now almost a decade into that project and has just begun to talk publicly about it. If it succeeds, the world could change dramatically. Since the physicist Richard Feynman first suggested the idea of a quantum computer in 1982, theorists have proved that such a machine could solve problems that would take the fastest conventional computers hundreds of millions of years or longer. Quantum computers might, for example, give researchers better tools to design novel medicines or super-efficient solar cells. They could revolutionize artificial intelligence.

Fairly upbeat review of current efforts to build a quantum computer.

You may want to off-set it by reading Scott Aaronson’s blog, Shtetl-Optimized, which has the following header note:

If you take just one piece of information from this blog:
Quantum computers would not solve hard search problems
instantaneously by simply trying all the possible solutions at once. (emphasis added)

See in particular: Speaking Truth to Parallelism at Cornell

Whatever speedups are possible with quantum computers, getting a semantically incorrect answer faster isn’t an advantage.

Assumptions about faster computing platforms include an assumption of correct semantics. There have been no proofs of default correct handling of semantics by present day or future computing platforms.

I first saw this in a tweet by Peter Lee.

PS: I saw the reference to Scott Aaronson’s blog in a comment to Tom’s post.

Bioinformatics Data and Microsoft Word

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Is there ever a valid reason for storing bioinformatics data in a Microsoft Word document? by Keith Bradnam.

You already know the answer from the title so I will skip to the conclusion:

This is not an acceptable practice! Use of Microsoft Word to store bioinformatics data will only ever result in unhappiness, frustration, and anger.

I think Keith, myself and many others who make the same or similar points are missing one critical issue:

Why is MS Word (or Excel) so much easier to use than other applications for bioinformatics?

Or perhaps even more to the point:

Why hasn’t bioinformatics lobbied for extensions to MS Word or Excel to work with their workflow?

For the most part, users aren’t really interested in a personal relationship with their computer or a religious experience with their software. They want to get some non-hardware/non-software task done. (full stop)

Rather than trying to fix users, why don’t we try to fix their tools?

Shouldn’t I be able to create a new MS Word or OpenOffice document, indicate that it contains gene names and simply type them in? And have them intelligently extracted for use with genome databases?

“Fixing” users isn’t a winning strategy. Let’s trying fixing their tools. No promises but we know the other approach fails.