Short Takes: January 9, 2015

Short Takes: January 9, 2015

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including an ignoble end for Microsoft's advance security notification service, the malaise that is CES, Maryland chooses Office 365 and common sense, Microsoft supports Bitcoin on Windows Phone, you can play old MS-DOS video games on the web for free, Google is selling auto insurance, and Apple reaped $4.5 billion from third party app sales in 2014.

Microsoft kills off its advance security notification service

Or, put more accurately, Microsoft has stopped providing advanced security update information available to the general public and will now only make it available to those customers that have paid Premier support contracts. You might think of this as "security information as a (paid) service," but what I find rankling here is that we live in an age where transparency—particularly with regards to security—is all the more important, so Microsoft's decision here is particularly curious. The rationale for killing it off? "The vast majority of customers wait for Update Tuesday, or take no action, allowing updates to occur automatically." That's an excuse, not a reason. And this decision stinks.

"Gadget Review: Lumia 535, Microsoft's first smartphone"

I could have sworn that the KIN was Microsoft's first smart phone.

This week's takeaway: CES remains as vital as ever

Which is to say, absolutely non-vital. But if there's any good news that came out of Las Vegas this week, it had nothing to do with selfie sticks, personal drones, smarter-than-ever cars, or any of that other nonsense. It's that the PC is back, baby. Thanks in part to Intel's delayed release of the Broadwell chipset, PC makers were out in force for the first time ever at CES this year, showing off a new generation of touch-based devices that actually look great, perform well, and answer consumer needs. This is bad timing in some ways—it might have been nice for these PCs to debut alongside Windows 10, for example—but I'll take it. The PC has been the butt of jokes for too long. And this week's CES erased those issues nicely.

"Five things we won't forget about CES 2015"

And one million things we have already forgotten.

Maryland provides Office 365 to all public school students for free

Now this is the sort of adoption that Microsoft was looking for, and a nice retort to all those misguided school systems—including the one here in Dedham, sadly—that are handing out cheap Chromebooks like chiclets to the children whose intellectual futures they are forfeiting in the name of upfront savings. What the kids are really getting is Office 365 ProPlus, which is the subscription-based version of the Office applications for PCs and tablets, plus unlimited storage in OneDrive for Business. With quality PCs now available as cheaply as those soon-to-be-bricked Chromebooks, it's time for schools to wake up and smell the education.

"Verizon has 'temporarily sold out' of all Lumia Windows Phone devices"

Success!!

Microsoft now supports Bitcoin payments on Lumia smart phones

No one noticed, but Microsoft this week started letting users of its Lumia smart phones pay for apps, games and other content using Bitcoin, the "peer-to-peer decentralized network of digital currency," or what I think of as "funny money." The firm lets you exchange up to $1,000 in bitcoins into your account each day (I guess the value varies from day to day, like real money). And then you can redeem those cute little non-existent coins for apps, games, music and movies. Is this insanity? I think it's pretty close.

"Xbox One And Xbox 360 Are Now Top Consoles For Porn"

Microsoft, finally finding its niche vs. the PlayStation.

Play old, DOS-based PC games ... on the web

Like many my age, I'm curiously nostalgic about the early days of the PC industry, and I often think back on my experiences with early Commodore and Amiga computers, Atari, Mac, and other long-dead technologies. But thanks to a clever new web site, anyone can engage in a bit of nostalgia and play a growing selection of early, DOS-based video games for free. The Internet Archive's MS-DOS Games Software Library uses an in-browser PC emulator to make it all happen, and while there are some limitations—you can't save game progress, at least in the games I've tried, for example—it's still pretty fricking amazing. Wolfenstein 3D in a browser? Are you kidding me!? Check it out!

"Apple, Amazon, or Google: Who Will Win the Battle of the Tech Titans?"

Microsoft?

Google plans to sell insurance

From the "you can make this stuff up" department comes news that Google, the most beloved privacy invader in the history of mankind, intends to start selling ... insurance. Actually, Google already sells insurance: Its Google Compare auto insurance has been available in Great Britain for a couple of years in the UK, as it turns out. This actually makes sense on two levels. One, since Google knows more about you than any other corporate entity on earth, it makes sense that this company could insure you, since it will know how much of a risk you really are. And two, Sony sells insurance too. Yes, really: And Sony's insurance business is arguably the only reason this so-called consumer electronics firm is still in business. This is the end of times, folks.

"For Sony Pictures CEO, cyberattack won't set studio back"

I agree that crap like "The Interview" arguably does far more damage to this company's reputation.

Apple earned $4.5 billion from mobile app sales in 2014

And that's just from the 30 percent cut it takes from third party app sales, meaning that total app revenue through the App Store in 2014 was an incredible $15 billion, up 50 percent from the year before. Which just goes to show you: The most impressive thing about Apple's customer base is their willingness to whip out their credit cards so frequently. (And that's a fact, by the way: Google's Play Store app revenues were about 60 percent lower than those of Apple's, and they have a bigger audience. Android users simply don't spend as much money as Apple's more freely-spending customers.)

"How Windows was exploited in 2014"

Early and often, I'd imagine.

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