WinInfo Daily UPDATE, September 8, 2006: Short Takes

This week has been a bit odd, complete with a short side trip to Washington DC. I absolutely love DC, having spent two summers there as a child and I try to get back as often as I can. Curiously, this was the first time I'd ever flown there and Dulles Airport is an absolute disaster. But after last month's vacation in Paris, I'm struck by how similar DC is to Paris and how European it looks. I'd never really noticed that before I'm going to try and take my wife there for a longer visit next month, if possible.

The kids are back in school the local market is selling mums and the mornings are taking on a nice crisp feel, all of which can mean only one thing: It's football season! I don't think my kids appreciated it when I sang the "Na Na Na Na Hey Hey na na na na hey hey hey goodbye!" song to them on the first day of school, but I'm suddenly feeling excited about the prospect of fall.

With the recent release of Windows Vista Release Candidate 1 RC1 and its even more recent public availability, this week's Short Takes has what I hope is an understandable case of tunnel vision. It's hard to see anything else.

Why Do So Many Vista Questions Remain 

OK, so Vista RC1 is out in the wild and anyone who wants to download and install this important and final major milestone build of Microsoft's next OS should be able to do so. Still, there are so many questions swirling around Vista. For example, how will upgrading work? That is, will the upgrade versions of Vista behave like previous Windows versions and let users perform clean installations? And if so, what will qualify as qualifying media exactly? And what about x64? How will Microsoft ship x64 versions of Vista to customers? And if someone wants to migrate from a 32-bit version of Vista to an x64 version, can they do so easily? Will the migration be free? And what about this coupon scheme we're hearing about? What happens to consumers who buy a Windows XP based PC this holiday season? Do they get Vista for free? At a discount? For the cost of shipping? You know, for an OS that's all about clarity we're not getting a lot of answers. I think it's high time that Microsoft started opening up about its plans.

Vista RC1 The Morning After 

Speaking of Vista RC1, now that it's been available for a week and I've been using it full time on all my main PCs, with the exception of my Windows Media Center PC my family would kill me, it's possible to offer a more experienced assessment of this important milestone. Vista RC1 is a huge improvement over Beta 2 and if Beta 2 was your only Vista experience prepare to be amazed. That said, there are tons of tiny problems with RC1 and they're different on every PC. For example, on my Dell notebook, the sound works just fine through the speakers, but when I tried to watch a DVD movie on a flight this week. I discovered that the headphone jack wasn't working. Boy, was that a happy moment. I've gotten blue screens with VMware Workstation necessitating a System Restore. After my initial euphoria over game performance, I subsequently discovered that many of my favorite games (DOOM 3, Quake IV, Unreal Tournament 2004) either don't work properly on my gaming PC or don't install at all. So although I'm still impressed by the quality of this milestone Vista version, it's a more qualified recommendation than it was just a few days ago. And I'm guessing that Microsoft is going to have to scurry around quite a bit even after the final release to get all these problems resolved. My guess is that Microsoft will do a lot of driver work between October and January and will ship a honking post release to manufacturing RTM hotfix just in time for January.

Vista RC1 or Beta 3 

There's been a lot of silly talk lately about whether Microsoft's recently released Vista RC1 is a true release candidate RC or really just a Beta 3 release under a different name. Analysts cite the long time tradition of using the term release candidate for product builds that in fact could be released as the final product. An RC is literally a candidate for the final release version. And even Microsoft has admitted that although Vista RC1 is indeed the final major milestone of the product Vista still has a long way to go conceptually at least. Microsoft will finish Vista in October just a month from now. But are we really reduced to splitting pedantic vocabulary hairs. Who cares what the company calls it? One could make the argument that Microsoft, by far the leading vendor of OSs, can define the software term release candidate, however, it wants to and heck the rest of the industry can simply tag along. There's precedence for this situation. In 1995, after tech guru Andrew Schulman infamously proved that Windows 95 wasn't a true OS because it used another OS MS DOS to bootstrap it, he then went on to say that it was Microsoft who defined what an OS really was thanks to the company's market power. And since Windows 95 changed the way we think about how OSs behave there's no reason to think we need to worry about such a silly petty and stupid thing as what Microsoft has decided to name a pre-release build of its next OS. In short, get a life people. What matters is the quality of the product, not the name of the latest beta. Er, ah, release candidate.

Microsoft Threatens Vista Delays in Europe as UK Waffles 

After receiving a warning from European Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes that it needs to work to ensure that Vista doesn't provoke the same kind of antitrust investigation that XP did Microsoft came up with a simple and effective plan. The company publicly announced that it would simply delay Vista in Europe to meet the European Union's (EU's) demands. This shocking declaration set off warnings all over Europe and culminated in four British members of the European Parliament demanding that Kroes handle Microsoft more delicately. The commission's actions are endangering the ability of European businesses to compete globally the members wrote in a letter to Kroes. A European Vista delay will put European companies at a competitive disadvantage with every other company around the world that does have access to these new technologies. You might be wondering how this letter to Kroes was made public, Microsoft released it yesterday. Which goes to show that the company really can release things on time when it needs to.

Ladies and Gentlemen Brian Valentine Has Left the Building 

We might never know exactly what happened but Microsoft Senior Vice President Brian Valentine abruptly left the company after being reassigned to an undisclosed job outside the Windows Division. My guess is that Valentine was either uninterested in his new job or more likely that Microsoft didn't really have a new job for him at all and Windows Senior Vice President Steven Sinofsky was simply ousting Valentine as part of his restructuring of the Windows Division Valentine curiously has already found a new job at nearby Seattle area e-tailer, Amazon.com. Although I'm sure selling books will be just as exciting as shipping software. I'll be curious to see how long Valentine a large personality himself will last in the cult of Bezos. My guess is we're not looking at a bestseller here.

Microsoft Gives Bonuses to Execs 

The bonuses must be rewards for shipping all those great products on time. This week Microsoft handed out almost $1 billion worth of stock based bonuses to more than 900 company executives. Eight top executives took home a total of $81.4 million with the highest bonus $22.5 million going to Microsoft Business Division President Jeff Raikes. Other massive payouts include $8.4 million to Entertainment and Devices Division President Robert Bach $4.5 million to Human Resources Senior Vice President, Lisa Brummel, $18 million to Platforms Group Co President Kevin Johnson $3.8 million to CFO Christopher Liddell $7.1 million to General Counsel Brad Smith and $16.2 million to COO Kevin Turner. Sadly, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer don't receive bonuses under the company's compensation program. I hope they've saved up enough for retirement.

Google Brings the News Online The News from 1785 

This week Google unveiled its Google News Archive Search which lets users travel back in time through searchable news story archives dating back as far as the 1700s. Hot news headline from 1791 Google introduces Google Talk Beta 1 Final version, expected early in 21st century. What's interesting about the service is that it won't be completely free. Users will be able to view snippets of articles for free but will have to pay for access to the complete service. The fees depend on the news source. For example, by next year The New York Times hopes to completely digitize all the news it has printed since its founding in the 1850s about two thirds of that content will cost a whopping $4.95 per article. The other articles are free and ad supported. Meanwhile, Time Magazine articles dating back to 1923 are free and ad supported. I guess it's a LexisNexis for people. Sort of.

Amazon Beats Apple to Market with Video Store 

Next week Apple will host a major media event to promote the sale of Hollywood movies through its iTunes Music Store, but Amazon.com stole its thunder this week by releasing its own service sooner. The Amazon Unbox service lets customers download thousands of TV shows and hit movies from a variety of content providers including all six major Hollywood movie studios and numerous TV channels. Prices for TV shows are identical to those that iTunes charges today $1.99 per episode but the Amazon Unbox video quality and resolution are far superior to anything Apple offers Movies will cost $7.99 to $19.99 depending on the film. Like virtually all non-Apple online services, Amazon uses Microsoft's Windows Media formats for its online video store. Therefore, the shows and movies you download from Amazon won't work on Apple's best selling iPod portable media players. Here's another problem: The player required to download the videos won t install on Vista.

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