WinInfo Short Takes: February 4, 2011

An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news, including Nokia's cry for help, the Colorado release candidates, Google's embarrassing copying accusations prove how clueless they really are, Office Web Apps going global, Microsoft's implicit entry in social networking, Hotmail alias support, Verizon Wireless' plan to cut off bandwidth hogs, Google's $20,000 Chrome hack bounty, some seriously bad news for Xbox 360 fan boys, Robert Murdoch's misguided digital magazine, yet another delay for Firefox 4, and a special guest on Windows Weekly.

Rumor of the Decade of the Week: Nokia, Microsoft in Smartphone Alliance

With Nokia set to announce a new mobile strategy next week—apparently the old strategy, which I call "futility," wasn't working out for them—rumors are running rampant that the company will align with Microsoft and offer Windows Phone on its device. This rumor is about as obvious as they come, which is what makes it less compelling to me, since Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is a former Microsoft executive and Nokia really only has two viable external platform choices, Microsoft's and Google's Android. And let's face it, there are already too many Android devices out there. So now some goober analyst has proclaimed that Nokia's only chance is to become some kind of exclusive partner on Windows Phone, which would delight Microsoft's many other hardware partners I'm sure. Here's the thing. While I agree that Nokia is—despite its current still-dominant position—circling the drain in the sense that its market share is going nowhere but down, I don't actually think that adopting Windows Phone (or Android) would help in the slightest. In either case, Nokia becomes yet another hardware partner of some other giant corporation that sets the agenda, a very unequal situation in which it cedes its destiny to a company that may or may not have conflicting goals. This is a clear case of there not being any obvious solution, which is why Nokia's previous CEO bit the dust. So. What should Nokia do? I don't know. But I think it's screwed no matter what it does. And a link-up with Windows Phone would simply be the tech equivalent of two wrongs not making a right. They can't help each other. Believing otherwise is just wishful thinking.

"Colorado" Servers Hit Release Candidate

There's a new generation of small business servers in town, and this week they all hit the release candidate (RC) stage. Hang on tight, because we've got a list of long product names to get through: These include Windows Home Server 2011 (previously codenamed "Vail"), Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials ("Aurora"), and Windows Storage Server 2011 ("Breckenridge"), each of which is based off the same code base, and featuring some similar functionality around the management Dashboard and Launchpad, and the add-in extensibility model. WHS 2011, of course, is aimed squarely at the home market and focuses on media sharing, centralized PC and server backup, and remote access. SBS 2011 Essentials adds super-simple domain support and cloud services integration (via, for example, a coming Office 365 add-in). And WSS 2011 Essentials is all about low-cost, on-premises file serving. The RC versions of WHS 2011 and SBS 2011 Essentials are currently available for evaluation by the public on the Microsoft Connect website. But if you want more information, I've got a write-up available on the SuperSite for Windows with a full review to follow.

Some Thoughts About Google's Bing Copying Allegations

Microsoft Senior Vice President Yusuf Mehdi has written a thoughtful follow-up to the Google allegations that the software giant's Bing service was "copying" Google search results. And while many will have a knee-jerk reaction to this whole event, I have to say that I find Microsoft's explanation both credible and correct. As Mehdi notes, Google's supposed "sting operation" was really just a cheap ploy to "trick Bing" and "manipulate Bing search results through a type of attack also known as 'click fraud'." That's right, he wrote click fraud, "the same type of attack employed by spammers on the web to trick consumers and produce bogus search results." Put simply, while Google tried to embarrass Microsoft, all it really did was embarrass itself, in its lack of technical understanding of what was happening, in its bizarre public sputtering about the non-event, and in more far-reaching ways, in its utter childishness about a competitor that, frankly, we're surprised to discover is this scary to them. Heads-up, Google: If this is how you really operate, you just became a lot less interesting. We all thought you were so smart.

Office Web Apps Goes Global

Microsoft this week dramatically expanded the reach of its free Office Web Apps, expanding the service to 150 additional countries around the world. And next month, Microsoft will roll out OWA—which includes web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote—to all remaining global markets. You can find a timeline for this rollout on the Microsoft website. According to the software giant, over 30 million people are currently using OWA.

Microsoft: By Not Offering a Social Networking Service, We Are Winning in Social Networking

Microsoft's latest in an ongoing series of strategies for Windows Live is an interesting one. Rather than pretend that it can compete with the industry services heavyweights—Flickr, Google, Facebook, etc.—it is integrating access to those services into its own products. And this week, the software giant claimed success: Its Windows Live Messenger application—originally designed for text-based IM, but expanded well beyond that in recent years—is now being used by over 18 million people to drive over 440 million Facebook chat sessions, taking up 2.8 million minutes. Put another way, a lot of people are using Messenger to chat on Facebook, without actually loading the Facebook website in their browsers. Put yet another way, that's an awful lot of people with an awful lot of free time on their hands.

Hotmail Finally Gets Alias Support

And speaking of Windows Live, Microsoft also announced this week that it has added support for email aliases to its Hotmail service. This means you can create up to five email aliases per year to your Hotmail account and use discrete addresses for mailing lists, purchases, and other purposes, either temporarily or permanently. Previously, Hotmail provided a less compelling alias feature where you could alter your email address, say, [email protected], using a plus sign, such as [email protected] But now you can use actual unique email addresses, with or suffixes.

Verizon Goes After Heaviest Mobile Bandwidth Users

And yes, I'm looking at you, you brand new Verizon iPhone user, you. Verizon Wireless this week said that it would slow down the data connections of its heaviest bandwidth users, effectively capping speeds in a bid to keep its network from "pulling an AT&T" and becoming unresponsive for everyone. If I'm reading between the lines correctly, this is Verizon's strategy for dealing with what will no doubt be a terrible influx of iPhone-related data traffic, and whatever does happen, I'm curious to see how the company withstands it. Of an unlimited data plan that does in fact come with bandwidth caps, I'm reminded of a Steven Wright joke in which he complains that the local Store 24 is closed. "I thought you were open 24 hours," he says. "We are," the clerk explains. "Just not in a row."

Google Offers $20,000 Bounty for Chrome Hack

Google is betting $20,000 that hackers cannot compromise its Chrome web browser, and it will let enterprising no-gooders take them up on the challenge at the Pwn2Own hacking competition in March. This $20,000 is in addition to the normal awards for browser hacks: Anyone who successfully hacks the very latest versions of Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, or Mozilla Firefox at the show can also win an award of $15,000. There are also going to be $15,000 cash awards for hacking various mobile devices. It sounds like a fun show, actually, but you don't need to attend if you want to hack Google products and win some cash. Google actually has a web application bounty program, so you can hack to win on your own schedule too. The company paid out $14,000 just in January, for example.

Bad News, Xbox 360 Fan Boys: Sony's PS3 is Actually Winning

According to Xbox 360 fans, their favorite console is the only one that matters, with the Wii being an underpowered joke that's never actually used by its owners and the Sony PlayStation 3 as an also-ran. There's just one little problem with this version of history: It's not necessarily true. Yes, the Wii is a joke, but it's also the worldwide console sales winner by a wide margin; it's not even close. And that PS3 you're so eager to belittle? Get ready for the seriously bad news: It's actually outselling the Xbox 360 now. In fact, since Sony redesigned the PS3 in 2009, it has outsold the Xbox 360, worldwide, 24 million units to the Xbox 360's 19.4 million units. And while the Xbox 360 experienced record sales in December 2010 thanks to its own (overdue) redesign, that was only good enough for it to tie the PS3 in sales. (In fact, December was a record month for the PS3 as well.) In every other month of the last quarter of 2010, the PS3 handily outsold the Xbox 360. What this all adds up to is something I've been warning about for years: It is likely that when this console generation finally runs its course that the PS3 will have beaten the Xbox 360 to take second place. Right now, in fact, the PS3 is almost neck-and-neck with the 360 in total sales—48 million PS3s vs. 51 million for the 360—and it's been in the market for a year less than the 360. What this says to me is that Microsoft's multi-billion dollar investment, for all the hoopla, was simply good enough for last place, just as it was for the 360's predecessor.

Murdoch, Apple Launch The Daily, A Digital Magazine That's as Insipid as a Paper Magazine

This week, news mogul Rupert Murdoch and Apple launched a new digital magazine for the iPad called The Daily. The point here, from what I can tell, is that the companies are trying desperately to prove that magazines make sense on a digital device, and that consumers will pay a subscription fee on an ongoing basis. Having actually sampled The Daily—which, ironically, is free of the first two weeks ( I guess that's how they get you)—I can say that's it's nice looking but not all that compelling from a content standpoint. And no offense to the millions of iPad owners out there, but Apple's hype-tastic tablet isn't exactly ideal for reading. What I don't get is why they'd launch this on the iPad first: The Daily should be available on smartphones, the web, PCs and Macs, and elsewhere too, and each version should be custom-tailored for the unique form factors and capabilities of each device. And with all the money Murdoch is spending on this goose, one has to wonder why that hasn't happened: He spent $30 million already and the operating costs for this venture are $500,000 a week. Yikes.

Firefox 4 Delayed Yet Again. No, Seriously

If you're looking for a company that is so plodding and slow, so utterly incapable of shipping product, one that actually makes Microsoft look spry and speedy by comparison, please look no further than Mozilla. This is a company that makes exactly one product: the Firefox web browser. And it cannot for the life of it ship new versions of this product, ever. In fact, if I were to characterize this company with a single word, one that applies to its entire existence, that word would be "delay." This is a company that sets up schedules only to miss them by miles. It routinelyno, not routinely, but more frequently than thatestablishes some pointless series of milestones and then wastes further time by rescheduling them after they've missed 'em all. These people are incapable of doing the one thing they do, in other words. And it has reached ludicrous and comical proportions with Firefox 4, the would-be latest version of this browser. This week, the company announced that it was delaying the release of Firefox 4 for what has to be the 127th time, and is adding an unprecedented 12thyes, twelfthbeta release to the product's schedule. Seriously, figure out how to ship product or get into another business. This is beyond embarrassing.

This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast

Leo is away on a geek cruise so I recorded the latest episode of the Windows Weekly on Thursday with Tom Merritt. We also had a special guest, Microsoft's Kevin Eagen, who discussed the company's retail store efforts and the under-promoted Signature service. The new episode should become available by the weekend on the Zune Marketplace, in iTunes, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.

But Wait, There's More

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