WinInfo Short Takes - 16 Mar 2007

This week, Leo Laporte and I recorded another episode of Windows Weekly, which should be available soon. We're taking next week off because of Leo's busy travel schedule.

Aside from my "father of the year" bid last week, things worked out pretty well: Mark was still a bit sick on Friday, so he stayed home. After going to the gym, I swung by Best Buy to pick up a Microsoft Xbox 360 game that we could spend the afternoon playing. However, I was lucky enough to show up at the store at the same time as a rare shipment of Sony PlayStation 3 consoles, so I snagged one while I could, along with a game ("Resistance: Fall of Man") and an extra controller. Total payout: $750. Yikes. But that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day. And no, my wife wasn't amused.

And speaking of video games, just this morning, the Xbox 360 my family had been using as the interface to our main TV (via Xbox's Media Center Extender feature) died with the dreaded red ring of light. Our Xbox 360 had been very reliable until then, but now I'm really doubting whether the Xbox 360 can stand up to the rigors of daily use: This the second Xbox 360 I've owned that has died in this fashion. I hope to speak with Microsoft about this problem soon.

Ballmer Disses Google

I like it when two powerful corporations circle each other like rubber-suited monsters in a Godzilla flick. This week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told a crowd at Stanford University that Google was a "one-trick pony" that has seen little success outside of online advertising (which is Google's real business, not online search). Google's sporadic product releases--which always seem to be in perpetual beta--are the result of "a random collection of people trying to do their own thing," Ballmer said. "That doesn't create value, in my opinion." The fact that Google is killing Microsoft in the online world is what makes these comments so compelling to me (well, that and the fact that these comments echo what I've been saying about Google for some time). If Google is smart--and there's a pretty strong indication that the company is--it will simply maintain its silence on this topic and keep on doing what it does: Releasing a slew of revenueless little side projects while its online advertising continues to rake in all the bucks.

Microsoft Bolsters Flagging Search Efforts the Old-Fashioned Way

This week, Microsoft began testing a program where it gives large financial incentives to its enterprise customers that adopt the Windows Live Search service. The financial incentives come in the form of service and training credits (not the bags o' cash that I was imagining, but you get the idea: If you can't compete in the open market, you can always prime the pumps). Remind me again why Steve Ballmer was dissing Google's business model.

Lenovo Agrees to Bundle Windows Live Toolbar

And in related news, this week, PC maker Lenovo agreed to bundle the Windows Live Toolbar add-on for Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) with all of the desktop and notebook PCs it sells. It's unclear whether this agreement involved those big bags o' cash that I'm so fond of imagining, but suffice it to say that the agreement with Microsoft replaces a previous arrangement that Lenovo--which makes the well-regarded line of ThinkPad notebook computers--had with search leader Google. This agreement means that all Lenovo PCs will also use the Windows Live Search service as the default search engine in IE, Lenovo said.

Ballmer Continues to Beat "Software Plus Services" Drum

In a different speech this week--this time at the Convergence Conference and Exhibition--Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer defended his company's inability to push its Microsoft Office productivity suite into the Web services world. Ballmer said that Microsoft will continue its "software plus services" push and won't sabotage its traditional software products by making Web services of them. "We are hard at work at Microsoft on building the platform that supports the transformation of software from a package business to a business in which we think about software and Internet services as one integrated experience," Ballmer said. "We're building a platform in the cloud, our so-called Live platform." Speaking of things that are in a cloud, Microsoft might want to wrap its collective mind around this fact: While the company's busy being "hard at work," its competitors are delivering the very types of software services that Microsoft should also be delivering.

Xbox Live Content Download Rate Up Dramatically

Now let's can turn our attention to the one "Live" service that's actually doing pretty well: This week, Microsoft said that Xbox 360 TV show and movie downloads via Xbox Live have surged 400 percent since November 2006, making the service the second-most-popular way to obtain legal digital versions of TV shows and movies. Apple's iTunes Store is the most popular. Unlike iTunes, however, Xbox Live offers much of its content in 720p High Definition (HD) format as well as the more traditional standard-definition format. Last week, Xbox Live was the first service to host an HD version of an episode from the popular cable show "South Park."

Microsoft Investigates IE 7.0 Phishing Flaw

This week, Microsoft began investigating a possible flaw in IE 7.0 that could help electronic attackers launch phishing scams against IE users. "Microsoft is not aware of any attacks attempting to use the reported vulnerability," a Microsoft representative said. "Microsoft will continue to investigate \[and\] to help provide additional guidance for customers as necessary." The phishing flaw affects both the Windows Vista and Windows XP versions of IE 7.0, according to Microsoft.

Wii, Xbox 360 Come On Strong in February

Well, the sales data is in, and Nintendo's Wii was the best-selling next-generation video game console in the United States in February, although the Xbox 360 continues to dominate overall. Nintendo sold 335,000 Wii consoles in February, compared with 228,000 Xbox 360s and 127,000 PlayStation 3 consoles, according to the NPD Group. Thanks to Microsoft's yearlong head start in the next-generation console market, the Xbox 360 still has a commanding lead with 5.1 million consoles sold so far in the United States (10.4 million worldwide), compared with 1.9 Wii units and 1.1 million PlayStation 3 consoles. Most important for Microsoft, however, is that sales of Xbox 360 video game titles continue to dominate: 6 of the 10 best-selling video game titles in February were Xbox 360 games. But if you look behind the golden aura of the Xbox 360, there's one little problem: The previous-generation PlayStation 2, which is almost seven years old, was actually the second best-selling console overall in the United States in February, with 295,000 consoles sold.

Symantec Continues AntiMicrosoft Jihad

It seems like every time I turn around, someone from Symantec is engaging in a rant about Microsoft and its recent security moves. This week, Symantec CEO John Thompson said that Microsoft's security products represent a "conflict of interest" because the software giant also makes the underlying OS. Obviously, if Microsoft is successful with products such as Vista, Windows Live OneCare, and its various enterprise-oriented Microsoft Forefront security products, Symantec has a lot to lose. After all, Symantec has made a lot of money over the years by solving the various security problems in Microsoft's products. I'm curious as to why I, as a consumer, should feel bad that Microsoft is working to end those problems, but maybe I'm just looking at it the wrong way.

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