An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...
Xbox One Launches Today
You know, in case you missed it.
Microsoft Provides a "Doctor's Note" for Xbox One-Related Illnesses Today
With Microsoft finally launching its eagerly awaited Xbox One entertainment console today, millions of people around the world, um, won't be working too hard today—if at all. And to accommodate those, er, illnesses, Microsoft has provided a cute "doctor's note" that new Xbox One customers can provide to their employers to explain their absence. "After a thorough examination, I've concluded that the all-in-one entertainment system is the only cure for the aforementioned condition," the note reads. "This treatment may take anywhere from 1-3 days to work and will require years of accumulating achievements thereafter. If the patient is disrupted with work, I will have to double the prescribed amount of Xbox One." Anyone who succeeds in using this should get an achievement.
Chicken Little Has a Field Day as Microsoft Services Go Offline for Minutes on Thursday
Some of Microsoft's public cloud services—SkyDrive, Xbox Live, Office 365, and a few others—went dark very briefly yesterday, causing the usual anti-cloud types to come running out from under their rocks to exclaim that the era of cloud computing, finally, had come to a close. Not so fast, paranoids. The services were offline well under an hour—and possibly just for single-digit minutes—and although the Interwebs were quick to blame Windows Azure for some reason, it all came down to a simple DNS error. Which can be, and was, quickly fixed. I'm just surprised that the NSA played no role in this. But the good news is that Xbox Live has yet to suffer the massive 36-hour outage that greeted PlayStation 4 fans trying to get on the PlayStation Network last week. Though it's still early yet.
Windows Phone to Close the "App Gap" ... by the End of 2014
And yes, that is a "wa-wah-wahhhhh" sound you hear. It was a heady week for Windows Phone, with major apps like Instagram and Waze finally appearing on the platform. And, as has been the case so often, unofficial Windows Phone spokesperson Joe Belfiore took to Twitter to engage in a bit of cheerleading. But if you parse what he's saying, it's not exactly good news. "We're all gonna look back on the end of 2014 as the ending of the app gap for Windows Phone," he tweeted. "The third ecosystem is decidedly here!" Um, what? 2014 is next year. So, he's saying that by the end of next year, Microsoft will have finally closed the "app gap" with Android and iOS? What the heck? To understand why I find this disappointing, beyond the obvious, I'll point you to some internal Microsoft documentation I obtained in late 2011. The firm's goal then was to close the app gap by mid-year 2012. Yes. Last year. Here's the relevant part of the slide from a December 2011 deck:
Since first writing this, I learned that Belfiore meant to write 2013, not 2014, in that tweet. So we're only two years behind.
Microsoft Preps Office 2013 Service Pack 1
And you thought service packs were dead! Well, that's probably because Microsoft said they were. But now the firm is prepping its first service pack for Office 2013, a product that—until this week—was never going to need such a thing. "Early next year, we'll release Service Pack 1 (SP1) for the 2013 set of products including Office, SharePoint, and Exchange," Microsoft's Chris Schneider writes in a blog post that's so short it could almost be a tweet. "SP1 will deliver performance enhancements, feature updates, and improved compatibility with Windows 8.1. Of course, if you're an Office 365 customer, you're always up to date with the latest versions of our products. We'll have more details to share on all that is coming in SP1 and how customers can acquire it closer to availability." Wait, what? "Compatibility with Windows 8.1?" OK, now I have questions.
Jury Awards Apple Another $290 million in Samsung Battle Case
Well, that was quick. Despite a last-ditch effort by Samsung to halt the proceedings, a federal jury quickly awarded Apple another $290 million in damages in the firms' epic court case. Although this amount won't help or harm either cash-rich company in a meaningful way, it's still an important moral victory for Apple, which effectively argued that Samsung has engaged in bald-faced copying of its products. The award was less than Apple wanted and more than Samsung wished for, but it has wider ramifications in the form of product injunctions—Apple can now petition to prevent the sale of older Samsung products—and a coming round two, in which newer Samsung products will be put to the test. So this is all very interesting, but what I don't get is why Apple doesn't just sue Google, whose Android OS allegedly infringes heavily on Apple's iOS. The conventional wisdom is that because Google gives Android away for free, there's no way to prove damages. But I think that is exactly why Apple should sue: Google has devalued its iOS by a huge amount, and has destroyed the market for paid mobile OSs by dumping Android. This is classic predatory behavior, and easily proven in court. I'd love to see an emboldened Apple take on Google this way.
Funny Because It's True
The mischievous little elves in Redmond this week launched an excellent Scroogled gear store, letting customers purchase hats, tee shirts, hoodies, and mugs emblazoned with some hilarious, anti-Google slogans. "Keep calm," a mug with the Chrome logo notes, "while we steal your data." One tee shirt design features a black widow spider with a Chrome logo on its abdomen, noting, "Step into our web." And yet another design features a creepy fedora-wearing Chrome logo with the slogan "I'm watching you." The Scroogled stuff is pretty divisive, of course: People with a sense of humor, tired of Google's invasive ways, find Scroogled to be excellent, but humorless folks find it "negative." No offense, folks, but this stuff is tame compared with the worst we could say about Google. And I like to see Microsoft stepping it up like this.
A Futile Gesture Is Still Futile
Rumors emerged this week that Microsoft might buy discontinued media properties Winamp and Shoutcast from AOL. With the understanding that none of this is confirmed and that this purchase would amount to a rounding error for Microsoft, I cannot stress enough how pointless this would be. Winamp was last relevant during the Clinton administration, and ... Shoutcast? That's an Internet radio station, or something we might describe as one of the 173 features in Xbox Music. This is not the dumbest thing I've ever heard, but it's in the top 10.
FAA Poised to Condone In-Air Disasters
When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) moved recently to curb its ban on the use of electronics during airplane takeoffs and landings, I saluted the decision, as all modern aircraft are designed to handle the kind of interference these devices can throw off. But this week, the FAA is taking things a step too far: It is considering allowing passengers to use their cell phones to make phone calls during flights. And this will make the already difficult process of flying anywhere patently intolerable. If there is anything more annoying than being forced to listen to some fellow passenger blab loudly and endlessly in a confined space—as we do now on trains and buses and other public spaces—I have yet to witness it. Mark my words: If this is allowed, you will immediately see instances of serious violence on airplanes. This is a huge mistake.
But Wait, There's More
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