Microsoft in double trouble after reports by gov’t, Israeli start-up

Internet Explorer is too dangerous to use, CERT says; MS Office wastes money for many firms, SoftWatch says

The SoftWatch analytics system in action. (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The SoftWatch analytics system in action. (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Microsoft received two pieces of bad news on Monday. A United States government agency recommended against using Internet Explorer (IE) because of a major security flaw, and SoftWatch, an Israeli start-up, recommended that companies seeking to save money not use Microsoft Office because they could get a better deal using cloud-based office suite software from Google and other cloud services.

According to the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), IE versions 6 through 11 contain a major vulnerability that could allow a remote user to execute arbitrary code on a vulnerable system. “By convincing a user to view a specially crafted HTML document (e.g., a web page or an HTML email message or attachment), an attacker may be able to execute arbitrary code,” the CERT alert said, adding that “we are currently unaware of a practical solution to this problem.”

CERT recommended that users follow workarounds suggested by Microsoft until a patch is developed. That patch won’t be available to Windows XP users, since Microsoft ended support for the OS earlier this month. Those users, CERT said, should consider a different operating system, or at least a different Web browser.

The exposure of such a long-standing security hole in IE — Microsoft released Internet Explorer 6 in 2001 — is no doubt embarrassing for Microsoft. The company gives away the browser for free, so bad PR will likely damage nothing more than Microsoft’s reputation.

Not so with the study issued by SoftWatch, a Tel Aviv-based company that helps businesses move their operations to the cloud. SoftWatch released a benchmark study which analyzed real usage of Microsoft Office in dozens of enterprises. Over 150,000 employees were polled on their use of Office apps in daily business tasks. According to the study, the average workers uses Office applications for a total of 48 minutes a day, with most of the time spent checking e-mail in Outlook. In general, the study said, a large number of workers in many enterprises didn’t even use Office, and Word and Excel, the “essential” applications, were used on a regular basis by just 9 percent and 19% of enterprise workers respectively, the study said. PowerPoint was totally ignored by half of workers, with just 2% using it regularly.

The study’s implications are clear, said SoftWatch. Most of the large enterprises studied purchase bulk licenses from Microsoft to deploy Office throughout the organization — which means that they are probably paying for many licenses that they are not using. By switching light users to cloud-based office apps, companies could save themselves a hefty sum.

SoftWatch developed the study using their CloudIT analytics system, which analyzes application usage and searches for cheaper, cloud-based alternatives — such as those offered by Google — for off-the-shelf software. “We are the only software as a service (SaaS)-based solution that enables corporations to assess the magnitude of moving business applications to the cloud, examine real working patterns of groups and individuals and track transition management,” said Uri Arad, SoftWatch’s co-CEO.

The results “are in line with what industry analysts have stated — that companies overspend on licenses that are not being used. According to SoftWatch estimates, by transitioning light users from MS Office to Google Apps, companies can save up to 90% on their Microsoft licensing fees,” the study said.

If enterprises listen to SoftWatch’s suggestion, that could be far worse news than the black eye Microsoft sustained over its IE exploit revelation. Between June 2012 and 2013, Microsoft had, according to its tax statements, revenue of about $78 billion, with the Office division responsible for about $24 billion of that amount, the largest amount of any of the company’s five divisions.

Companies are free to do what they want, said Arad, but if they want to save money on Office licenses, SoftWatch will be there to help them. “By uncovering the fact that MS Office applications are actually used much less than had been thought, SoftWatch removes the fear and doubt that traps decision makers when it comes to transitioning from Microsoft to Google Apps,” he said. “For the first time they will have real data enabling them to make intelligent decisions about transitioning to Google Apps, enjoy the benefits of an alternative cloud-based solution and significantly cut their software license spending. The analytics provided by SoftWatch are a real game-changer in the competition between Google and Microsoft over enterprise office and collaboration tools.”

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