WinInfo Short Takes: Week of April 22

An irreverent look at some of the week's other news...

Windows XP Sales Drive Microsoft Financial Results
Microsoft announced this week that it had earned $2.74 billion on sales of $7.25 billion for the quarter ending March 31, a 13 percent increase. The company credited better than expected sales of Windows XP for the results: XP has sold over 32 million copies to date, according to Microsoft, despite the "challenging" economy. However, everything didn't come up roses for the software giant: Its Xbox video game console and Office XP aren't selling as well as expected. My understanding of Xbox sales is that the console is doing well in the US, as are software sales overall, but that the game system isn't really meeting expectations in Europe and Japan.

Observation: Windows XP as a Platform
There's something interesting going on with Windows XP, and I'm not so sure that many people have picked up on this subtle strategy shift, compared to previous Windows versions. With the continued delays for Longhorn, the next major Windows release, Microsoft seems to be digging in with Windows XP as the platform for Windows client releases over the next two years. Witness the sudden importance of Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1), which will initiate a new round of OS upgrades, including Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, the Mira remote display technology, and Freestyle, the so-called "ten foot" digital media user interface. We've seen full Windows releases in the past that didn't offer such major updates, but this time around they're being delivered via a service pack. Amazing.

MS Remedy Hearings: First Microsoft Executive Testifies
With all the excitement at WinHEC this year, I've been giving the Microsoft remedy hearings short thrift, so let's catch up on that now. First up is David Cole, the first Microsoft executive to testify at the hearings. Cole, who first appeared in court Thursday, is the senior vice president at Microsoft in charge of the MSN and Personal Services Group. He told Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that the company's monopoly in Intel-based operating systems didn't give it the upper hand in Web-based identity services, despite what a Sun Microsystems executive said previously. Cole was especially adamant in denying a Sun charge that Microsoft would eventually start charging customers fees for .NET Passport transactions, a common assumption that basically amounts to speculation. What, Microsoft charge users extra for something they used to get for free? That just doesn't sound plausible, now does it? Get your finger off the Reply button; I'm joking.

MS Remedy Hearings: Witness Upset About XP Java Removal
Autodesk Chief Technology Officer Scott Borduin, testifying for Microsoft at the company's remedy hearings this week, said that he was upset that Microsoft removed Java from Windows XP. "It just seemed like at the time a transparent way to try to get people to move to the .NET environment," he said. Borduin also warned against a non-settling states plan to require Microsoft to create a more modular Windows version, stating that such a thing would "lead to customer confusion and reduced reliability." Or customer choice and better reliability, once you get all that crud out of the OS. I guess it's all in how you look at it.

MS Remedy Hearings: Lawyers Trounce Microsoft Witness
An economist testifying on behalf of Microsoft at the company's remedy hearings this week admitted under cross-examination that he was basically a paid shill for Microsoft and had no experience with software industry economics. The economist--University of Chicago professor Kevin Murphy--has been consulting with Microsoft for five years and his specialty is labor economics. But Murphy has published a couple of papers about the software industry, papers that were--gasp--partly funded by Microsoft. You know, I'd be willing to testify for Microsoft, too. Who do I call for my check?

MS Remedy Hearings: Java, Netscape Never Threatened Windows
Just so I understand this argument, it's OK to unlawfully leverage a monopoly product if the competition you're worried about doesn't actually pose a threat to your dominance, right? Economist Kevin Murphy actually offered this argument up as proof that Microsoft didn't require stricter remedies as a result of the guilty verdict it received in its historic antitrust case. Murphy said that Java and Netscape never actually "possessed the capacity to be a serious challenge to the Windows platform." Newsflash time, Murph: That may or may not be the case. But Microsoft believed that they were threats. And that's why they crushed them like little ants under that steel-toed boot called Windows.

Ballmer Tightens Control at Microsoft
Rick Belluzzo's recent departure as Microsoft president and COO might have had more to do with his inability to bypass CEO Steve Ballmer's need to micromanage everything at the company than Belluzzo's desire to run his own company. According to a Bloomberg report that was published this week, Ballmer's response to underperforming divisions is to kick out the person responsible and then assume responsibility himself. He did this with the wireless division first, but with the recent reorg, all of the company's divisions are now reporting directly to him. I appreciate the culling of the corporate org chart, but doesn't this create a bit of a management nightmare?

International Xbox Prices Fall
Responding to less-than-expected sales of its Xbox gaming system in international markets, Microsoft has lowered its price by one third or more in several markets, including continental Europe and Great Britain. In US prices, the Xbox is now available in Europe for about $265 (a 40 percent reduction) and $288 in Great Britain (a 33 percent reduction). The new prices match those for industry leader Sony PlayStation 2, which dominates the market. One thing Microsoft isn't going to be able to duplicate, however, is the PS2's success: Sony's video game system is just kicking the bejesus out of the competition worldwide.

WinHEC: Microsoft Beats Analogies to Death
One of the problems with introducing new technology to the masses is that you have to dumb it down for the attention deficit disorder crowd. So Freestyle is being marketed as the "ten-foot interface," meaning that it supplies features you can use with a remote control and TV set, rather than a mouse and keyboard. OK, that one isn't too bad, but Microsoft's recent attempts to differentiate its Mira remote display technology from the Tablet PC are groan inducing. According to Microsoft, Mira is to the PC as the cordless phone was to the telephone: It only works within the home, but you can roam around with it. Meanwhile, the Tablet PC is like a cell phone: You can travel with it, because it's self-contained. Had anyone actually confused these products?

WinHEC: What the Heck is a Woofie?
"I love technology!" Jim Allchin goofily proclaimed at the start of his WinHEC keynote address this week. The tech-loving Allchin then went on to spout acronyms like a consonant-producing Pez dispenser, causing many bewildered looks from the audience, most of whom were industry professionals and technical press. But the biggest confusion concerned a word Allchin used again and again during the keynote: "Woofie." It took about half an hour to figure out what he was talking about, but it turns out "Woofie" is actually Wi-Fi, also known as 802.11b, which we all thought was pronounced "Wie-Fie." Maybe he was just trying to psych us out.

WinHEC: 3GIO Recast as PCI Express
One of the acronyms Allchin used a lot was 3GIO, which also caused questioning glances, since nowhere near me had heard of it. But 3GIO was renamed to PCI Express the day after Allchin's keynote, so I guess that doesn't matter. What it is, incidentally, is an add-on to the standard PCI bus used in most PCs that adds high-speed serial I/O peripheral connectivity for technologies such as USB 2.0, 1 Gb and 10 Gb networking, 1394b, and the like. You learn something every day, I guess.

WinHEC: Ultra-portable PC Redefines "Pocket PC"
One of the cooler product demos at WinHEC was a PocketPC-sized device that runs Windows XP. Dubbed the OQO Ultra-personal Computer, the tiny, 5 inch by 3 inch, device features a power-saving Crusoe processor, a 10 GB hard drive, 256 MB of RAM, a four inch VGA touchscreen display, and wireless connectivity. "This is a full Windows XP computer that fits in your pocket," says OQO executive vice president Colin Hunter. "Desktops are pretty much dead. Most people would prefer to have a computer they can carry around with them all the time." Easily the coolest product at the show. For more info, check out the OQO Web site.
 
WinHEC: AMD Launches Mobile Athlon, Kills Duron
AMD this week launched its Mobile Athlon XP microprocessor, code-named Thoroughbred. The chip will power a variety of thin and light laptop devices, utilizing a 266 MHz front-end bus, a speeds equivalent to 1.4 and 1.5 GHz Intel chips (AMD rates its chips based on how they perform relative to Intel's designs); units equivalent to 1.6 GHz and 1.7 GHz will appear soon as well. In a related development, AMD announced that it is phasing out its low-end Duron chip, which was introduced two years ago to compete with Intel's Celeron line.

AOL Begins Anti-Microsoft Blitzkrieg with CompuServe 7 Release
AOL Time Warner began its move away from Internet Explorer this week with the release of its CompuServe 7 online software, the first release from the company to do away with Microsoft's integrated Web browser. Instead, CS7 includes a new Netscape version as its bundled Web browser. Netscape, of course, is also owned by AOL. During the Microsoft antitrust trial, AOL said that it would have liked to have dropped IE, but didn't do so because its deal to get AOL included in Windows was too important. However, when AOL was unable to get its software bundled with Windows XP, the company started work on bundling Netscape technology. Expect the AOL online software to drop IE soon as well, assuming the CS7 customer experience is positive.

PC Prices Inch Up, Features Drop
Well, it looks like PC makers are following Apple in yet another trend: Higher PC prices. Thanks to rising component costs, many PC makers are quietly raising the prices of their PCs, or dropping features in order to maintain the same prices. One can only wonder when the price of PC bundles like Windows and Office become such a high percentage of a PC's overall cost that PC makers start looking at alternatives such as Linux. It's only a matter of time.

HP Declares Narrow Merger Victory
I think this is one of the times when the phrase "skin of the teeth" is used. Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced this week that a shareholder vote on the company's proposed merger with Compaq had narrowly passed, by about 3 percent. 51.4 percent of HP shareholders voted to approve the merger, while 48.6 percent voted against the merger. Over 1.6 billion votes were case, meaning that the difference between yeas and nays was a deceptively high 45 million votes. Unfortunately for HP, however, this doesn't mean that the merger debacle is over. Recalcitrant HP board member Walter Hewlett has taken his fight against the merger to the courts, with charges that HP executives essentially blackmailed big shareholders into voting for the merger at the last minute. I've busted on Hewlett enough already, but seriously. Give it up.

Mozilla 1.0 Release Candidate Available
The first release candidate build of open source Web browser Mozilla is now available. Mozilla 1.0 RC 1 includes a number of new features, such as one button HTML publishing, numerous bug fixes, LDAP improvements, Mail Return receipts, UI improvements, and much more. For more information, and the free download, please visit the Mozilla Web site.

Microsoft: Corona Will Ship in 2002
After Microsoft VP Mike Toutonghi told WinHEC attendees that the release of its next-generation Windows Media technologies--code-named Corona--would ship in early 2003, rather than this year as expected, I dutifully reported it in WinInfo. But Microsoft's Digital Media team insists this isn't the case, so I'll forward the information I got from them: Corona will enter beta this summer and ship by the end of 2002.

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