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News roundup: Azure embraces open source, Microsoft opens Answer Desk

Microsoft announced several updates to Azure, its cloud computing platform, this week.

This week didn't just offer the final patching bulletin of the year from Microsoft; it also included several updates to Azure, the company's cloud computing platform, and further details on how you can pay $99 an hour for Windows troubleshooting.

Azure SDK released
Some aspects of Azure are now open-sourced, according to a post on Microsoft's Port 25 blog. An Azure software development kit for Node.js is available on Github for developers to use, and there are also improved tools for working with MongoDB, Solr and Memcached. Microsoft also unveiled a limited preview (you'll need to submit your big data scenario to get access) for an Apache Hadoop-based service that will tie into Windows Azure. Mary-Jo Foley at ZDNet noted a few things missing from the recent updates: App-V support and VM Roles support are still nowhere to be found. At ReadWriteWeb, Scott Fulton adds that Hadoop support was technically possible before this announcement.

Microsoft's Answer Desk an answer to Genius Bar
Don't know why an employee's copy of Excel isn't properly calculating formulas? This might not be your problem anymore: Microsoft introduced the Answer Desk this week, which aims to easily help users find answers to their problems through a phone and chat interface, according to PC World. While chat is free, users will have to pony up cash to remove malware and Office training. Peter Bright at Ars Technica notes that this is a strange tactic, because Microsoft retail copies of software like Office come bundled with phone support options.

Patch Tuesday fixes Server 2003 flaw
Admins unwrapped a few gifts a little early with Patch Tuesday, fixing up three critical exploits and releasing a handful of other fixes. If you're still running Windows Server 2003 (and many of you are), you'll want to apply these patches when they drop on Tuesday. One planned patch, Computerworld notes, was removed due to compatibility problems. While every month seems to have critical updates, they have declined overall this year: 2011 has seen a dip in patches rated as the most severe, critical, patches, according to Mike Reavey at the Microsoft Security Response Center.

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