An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news ...
Well, I successfully accompanied my brother to Florida over two days and 22 hours of driving, interrupted only by a stop in Maryland to visit family and a night's rest in southern Virginia. It was grueling, of course, but fun. I love the South, and I only wish we'd had some time to actually look around and see stuff. I-95 is tough because once you get south of Virginia, the highway blows through largely uninhabited areas, so it's like one of those cartoons where the background just repeats over and over again. Anyway, good luck to my brother. I'm looking forward to regular long weekends in Tampa.
Leo and I recorded the Windows Weekly podcast at our regular Thursday time, so it should be available by the end of the weekend, as always.
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Microsoft's Anti-Mac Laptop Ads Continue, Keep Getting Better
Microsoft this week unveiled a third ad in its new "laptop hunters" series, and this time we're introduced to Lisa and her 11-year-old son Jackson. They're looking for a gaming machine that costs less than $1500. That's a good ad for Microsoft because you can't buy a Mac for any price that would make a good gaming machine; in fact, you'd pretty much have to buy a Mac and an Xbox 360 to come anywhere close to a PC. Anyway, in the new ad, Lisa and Jackson end up with a $900 Sony VAIO. I defy anyone on Earth to buy a $900 Mac that can play a game more complicated than Minesweeper that was made after 2006. Oh, and that Mac needs to have a Blu-ray drive (as the Sony does). I'll wait. No, really. Have fun with that.
Microsoft Disbands Live Labs. Pretty Much.
In a cost-cutting move, Microsoft this week largely disbanded its Live Labs group, which it started three years ago to quickly bring innovative new products to market outside of the normal (i.e., slow) Microsoft channels. Live Labs was like a mini Google, responsible for some cool projects (such as the Photosynth photo experience), but nothing I'd call hugely important. Anyway, the company is scattering Live Labs to the winds, funneling teams from the organization into various traditional Microsoft product teams such as Live Search, MSN, and Windows Mobile. Meanwhile, the small team responsible for the Seadragon mobile web tool will soldier on as Live Labs, allowing the company to claim that Live Labs is "not shutting down, disbanding, dismantling, or anything of the sort." Sure.
Microsoft Hires a Chip Designer from Sun. Why?
Microsoft this week hired Sun Microsystems chip designer Marc Tremblay, a move that was surely reassuring to the 5,000 employees the software giant will lay off this year. But Tremblay's hiring is confusing for other reasons. After all, Microsoft is a software company, not a hardware company. (I mean, just ask the Zune guys.) Speculation is that Tremblay will assist in the software giant's parallel computing efforts, which will lead to future Windows versions that run more efficiently on massively multi-core processors and provide more efficient virtualization capabilities.
Whatever Happened to Office Web Applications? And Office 14?
At the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2008 in Los Angeles last October, Microsoft showed off an upcoming web-based version of its Office productivity suite called Office Web Applications. (Hmmm—the same acronym as Outlook Web Access.) OWA was supposed to ship in beta form in December 2008, then in final form alongside Office 14, which was then due in late 2009. Well, I hope you weren't holding your breath. The OWA beta has yet to ship, five months after its promised arrival, and Microsoft has postponed Office 14 until 2010. What gives? The OWA beta is still coming, Microsoft says. The only question is when. And as for Office 14 itself, we're now hearing rumors that it will be called Office 2010. Shocker, eh?
Free Support for Windows XP and Office 2003 Ends Next Week ... So What?
On Tuesday, April 14, Microsoft will stop offering mainstream (i.e., free) support for its aging Windows XP and Office 2003 products. (Software Assurance customers can pay for extended support for these products through April 8, 2014, however.) But let's not overdramatize what this means. When we refer to XP, we mean the original shipping version of XP. Free support for XP with SP2 continues through July 13, 2010, and XP with SP3 is covered until April 2014. And Office 2003 is supported through April 2014, as well. In other words, if you're up to date—and let's be honest here, you'd be crazy not to be up to date with these products—you're all set. Other than the fact that you're still running yesterday's software, of course.
Microsoft Warns of Growing Threat from "Rogue Security Software"
With Windows increasingly secure against OS-based attacks, hackers are turning to human nature to find their way inside PCs: They're increasingly hiding viruses and other malware inside fake security programs that pretend something is wrong with your PC. George Stathakopoulos, general manager of Microsoft Trustworthy Computing, said this week that "rogue security software" is now the number-one computer security threat worldwide. And he points to events such as the recent Conficker attacks as likely reasons why PC users have been increasingly turning to web-based security solutions. The problem, he says, is that many of them are fake. "The rogue software lures them into paying for protection that, unknown to them, is actually malware offering little or no real protection, and is often designed to steal personal information," he said. "When users downloaded the software, they probably gave away credit card numbers and got infected. That's a double hit." You can avoid this kind of thing by not being an idiot, of course. Sometimes, a little common sense goes a long way.
About Microsoft's Success in the Netbook Market ... It's Global Too, Gustav
Although Microsoft will need to adjust to the lower per-machine revenues it derives from netbook sales, one fact is clear: If these machines continue growing as they have been, the company will be able to make it up in volume. According to NPD, Windows now accounts for over 96 percent of all netbooks sold in the United States, meaning that it's pretty much kicked Linux right out of the market. And worldwide, Windows already owned 76 percent of the netbook market by the end of 2008, and that figure is rising month by month. According to IDC, Linux preinstallations on netbooks will account for just single-digit market share by the end of this year. (I'm thinking somewhere in the 4 percent range.) Game over? Yeah, I think so. And the release of Windows 7 later this year will only cement the deal: Who would pick something Spartan and incompatible like Linux when he or she can have something beautiful and functional such as Windows 7 for the same price?
Microsoft Inadvertently Tells Windows Live Messenger Users to Change Their Email Address
Microsoft this week inadvertently informed an unknown number of Windows Live Messenger users that they needed to change the email address that they used with the popular instant messaging (IM) service. There's just one problem. It was all a mistake. "If you received this notification today, please ignore it," a Microsoft statement reads. "You will be able to continue to use your current email address, and there is no reason to make any changes. If you have already clicked the link, there is no harm to you. You should have been told that your 'Windows Live ID can't be changed at this time' because there is no need for the change. These service notifications are only used for urgent issues but unfortunately, somebody made a mistake that caused this message to be sent out. We will definitely be reviewing our process to make sure we avoid such mistakes in the future." Good stuff.