WinInfo Short Takes: May 20, 2011

An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news, including some mostly positive Windows Phone new, Bill Gates on PCs and tablets and market cap, Microsoft finally shutters J Allard's legacy, Microsoft connects Xbox 360 to PayPal, the "failure" of traditional search, a crazy LinkedIn IPO, Verizon dumping unlimited data, Apple finalizing an online music service, the 10th anniversary of Apple's retail stores, and Amazon now selling more eBooks than paper books.

Windows Phone, Windows Phone, Windows Phone. There, I Said It Thrice

It's a big week for Windows Phone fans, I guess. After months of delays, Verizon is finally bringing its first Windows Phone handset, the HTC Trophy, to market on May 26. AT&T is also bringing a "new" Windows Phone handset, the HTC HD7S, to market on June 2. (It's really just the same HTC HD7 that's been around since last year, but it has a better display, we're told.) And most important, perhaps, Gartner this week said that Microsoft's partners sold 1.6 million Windows Phone handsets in the first quarter of 2011, a far bigger figure than the silly "160,000" figure that was floated by some Russian goober we'd never heard of before, and good enough for a 5th place finish behind Android, Symbian, iOS, and RIM (Blackberry). And by behind, I mean "well behind" since Windows Phone isn't even close to cracking the top four, at least not yet. But don't worry, Nokia is coming, and I'm sure that will set everything right. I mean, it's not like Nokia has any issues of its own.

Gates: The PC is the Tablet

Remember Bill Gates? He ran a little company called Microsoft for about 30 years that created a dominant software giant that tortured competitors like they were defenseless insects and then almost ran the company into the ground because this behavior didn't sit well with overly sensitive antitrust enforcement agencies. Yeah, that guy. Well, this week, he made an interesting claim that sort of (OK, exactly) corresponds to what I've been saying about the evolution of the PC vis-à-vis tablet devices like the iPad. And it goes something like this. (Actually, it goes exactly like this.) "The PC is the tablet," he said. "All these digital devices are going to work together, so the importance of software is higher today than ever. Microsoft writes to everything that software runs on. So you're going to see PCs where [people ask], 'Is that a tablet? is that a phone?' You know, the words are going to change, because the innovation is so rapid." In other words, as time goes by, the PC will evolve ("down," if you will) to adopt iPad-like features—instant on, simpler UIs, and so on), whereas the iPad (and other tablets) will evolve (up) to adopt PC features (printing, better content creation capabilities, etc.). And what makes that possible, of course, is software. Right! That's exactly what I've been saying for the past year or so.

Gates: Apple's Market Cap Advantage Over Microsoft Is Meaningless

And speaking of Bill Gates, Microsoft's one-time CEO (did I mention he's still technically Microsoft's chairman?) also noted during the same interview cited above that Apple's market cap advantage over Microsoft meant absolutely nothing. "Stock prices aren't really the best gauge [when comparing companies]," Gates said. "Stock prices can go up and down, so I wouldn't use that as a gauge. But I would be the first to say, there's several tech companies, including Microsoft, including Apple, including Google, who are doing fascinating work. And the importance of software I think is more evident to people today than it's ever been." You know, I miss Bill Gates. The guy is a total broken record—you get a variation on "the magic of software" every time he opens his mouth—but the guy does stay on target. You'll never get a weird non sequitur out of Gates.

Microsoft Shutters Consumer Design Office

I've been arguing for a while now that Microsoft's only successful products (with the possible exception of the Xbox 360) are business oriented and that every time the company goes after consumers it just fails utterly. Microsoft may be getting the message. This week, it shut down its Seattle-based consumer design office, Pioneer Studios, a pet project of former Microsoftie J Allard, and the place responsible for such consumer nonstarters as the Courier tablet prototype, Zune, and the Metro UI for Windows Phone. Conceived as the ultimate ego play during an era in which Allard could do no wrong, the studio was aimed at uncovering new consumer-oriented business opportunities for Microsoft. And by my latest count, this studio has uncovered perhaps one decent idea, an admittedly excellent smartphone UI that only trailed Apple to market by 3.5 years. Winning?

Microsoft Links Xbox 360 to PayPal

Microsoft this week began rolling out a system update for the Xbox 360 that adds a number of useful and interesting features. (If you're starting up your Xbox 360 repeatedly, waiting for the update to kick in, don't bother: It's being rolled out selectively over a period of weeks, so you'll get it the second it's really available for your particular console.) Among the updates is a great new way to pay online for things like your Xbox LIVE subscription re-up, Microsoft Points and so on: PayPal. That's right, you can now use the ubiquitous cloud-based payment service on Microsoft's popular gaming network. Which is great, frankly, because Microsoft's internal credit card payment system fails for me regularly, enough so in fact that I routinely purchase Microsoft Points cards in retail stores because I just don't want the hassle. While Microsoft has been mostly mum about other new features in the update, we do know that it will include auto-standby functionality for better power management.

Microsoft: "Traditional Search" Is Failing

Which is convenient for Microsoft, because that must mean that its distant number two search service, Bing, is now WINNING! In an interview with the Huffington Post (yes, I was amazed to discover they pay people to do actual work sometimes too), Microsoft's Stefan Weitz this week said that "traditional" online search engines—cough, Google, cough—were not keeping up with the changing needs of users. If only there were a young upstart that could pick up the slack, we wonder. "Google was a great vision that assumed really the web of yore," he said. "It was a brilliant, brilliant model." (Not the "was" bit. Not "is.") "Search itself hasn't changed fundamentally in the past 12 years," he continued. "Traditional search is failing. The standard notion of search ... looking at the texts in the page, the backlinks, all that stuff, doesn't work anymore." So what's Bing's counterpunch to the great disaster that is, after all, two-thirds or more of the search market, depending on the locale? "Our mission is literally to deliver knowledge by understanding intent," Weitz said. "We've now mapped almost every single square inch of the planet, we know where buildings are, we know who the people are, we know what tasks people are accomplishing—we are literally creating a semantic model, or a model, for everything in the world." Sounds like a recipe for world domination. I wonder if Google has done the same thing.

LinkedIn IPO Triggers Dot Com Boom, Part II: The Quickening

OMFG! It's 2000 all over again. LinkedIn, a social networking service that caters entirely to dispossessed employees seeking new jobs, launched its initial public offering (IPO), and from the look of things you'd never know we've just barely emerged from the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression. The firm raised a whopping $9 billion—remember, it's essentially a website—with shares closing at $83, or $45 more than the opening price. The thing is, LinkedIn is, well, boring. And that suggests that as more interesting Internet companies go public—Facebook, Groupon, and Twitter—we're going to see an even bigger feeding frenzy. $9 billion for LinkedIn? Are you fricking kidding me?

Verizon Set to Follow AT&T and Dump Unlimited Data Plans

Verizon Wireless CFO Fran Shammo said this week that the wireless carrier would stop offering an unlimited data plan, following in the footsteps of "pioneering" AT&T Wireless, which dropped unlimited data last year. This means that Verizon will now offer tiered pricing with some kind of cap, similar to AT&T's 200 MB, 2 GB, and 4 GB tiers most likely. If I know Verizon like I know Verizon, this means they'll pull a "back page of Consumer Reports" and offer a limited option for $30 per month, the same price as today's unlimited plan. You gotta love wireless carriers.

Apple Closes in on Online Music Service

With both Amazon and Google announcing its own online music services in the past two months, you might think that Apple following suit would be sort of a non-event. Wrong again, monkey boy:  Apple is going to come to market with one major and important feature the others don't have: Licensing agreements with all (or at least most) of the major recording labels. So what, you say? Well, this means that Apple's service will be able to offer capabilities the others lack, such as "scan and match," where the service scans your on-PC library and then offers you streaming access to all those songs from the cloud without requiring you to first upload them. Of course, this is Apple we're talking about here, so there's little doubt this service will be a paid, yearly subscription fee. You didn't think those recording industry agreements were a freebie, did you?

Apple Celebrates 10th Anniversary of its Retail Stores, So Let's Mock the First One

Apple is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the opening of its first retail store, an event that is causing an awful lot of history rewriting, as is normally the case with anything associated with Apple. To understand what I mean by this, let's remember what the first Apple Store was like and realize that if they had kept to that original strategy, the stores would have been doomed to fail (a store for Macs? Please), and that the only reason they are successful now is because Apple has diversified into lower cost but still sexy devices. Don't believe me? Don't think I have the clip to prove my case? Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourself for the worst Steve Jobs moment of all time, as a suddenly folksy Apple CEO leads us, terribly, through the first (terrible) Apple Store. This video is terrible. And it's there for history to judge. Enjoy!

Amazon Now Sells More eBooks than Paper Books

As a Kindle advocate almost from the day that the first device was announced, this doesn't surprise me, but it should cause a bit of a pause over at those book publishers who have been fighting the rise of eBooks with everything they've got.—the biggest seller of books worldwide, by the way—now sells more Kindle eBooks than paper books. And no, Amazon isn't tossing in free Kindle books to pad the stats: This is paid books only. Note too that the Kindle has been on the market for just 3.5 years, and that Kindle growth in 2011 is already three times higher than it was last year. Point being that the Kindle is a gigantic success story, and the clear winner of the eBook platform wars, at least so far. "We had high hopes that this would happen eventually," Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said. "But we never imagined it would happen this quickly. We've been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than 4 years." Amazing.

This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast

Leo and I will record the latest episode of the Windows Weekly today, on Friday, a day later than usual. But it should available for download by the end of the weekend on iTunes, the Zune Marketplace, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.

But Wait, There's More

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed, Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows, the SuperSite Blog, and on Windows Phone Secrets.

TAGS: Windows 8
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