An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
What's New in MSN 8.5?
According to an MSN 8.5 beta tester who wrote me last week, we can expect to see several new features in the next version of Microsoft's online service. The MSN Dashboard will have new roaming features. To provide better support, MSN 8.5 will include detailed event logs about connecting to MSN Services; you can email the logs to MSN Support. Microsoft is upgrading MSN Mail with a customizable junk-mail filter that supports light to extra-strong filtering and a "Filter email by people I know" feature that let's you view only email messages from people in your address book and Safe List. You'll also be able to block Internet images in HTML email; attackers often use such images to verify email addresses. And MSN Mail will feature a new storage meter that will let you easily track what percentage of allocated email storage you're using. Other new MSN Mail features include a new multilingual spell check, a message size meter, and a "Save drafts for approval" feature that will let kids save email to unapproved contacts while awaiting their parents' approval. Speaking of kids, MSN 8.5 will make it easier to set up parental controls on new member accounts, access the parental controls settings, and see which addresses parents have approved in each child's address book. MSN Calendar will be integrated directly with Intellisync for MSN, which used to a separate download and application; this feature lets you synch events and contacts with Microsoft Outlook and Palm and Pocket PC devices directly from within MSN. Microsoft will also update the new MSN Browser, formerly called MSN Explorer, so you can (finally) set your homepage to any Web page you choose. The browser will also let you more easily add new Favorites directly to folders in your Favorites list and use the Address bar drop-down list to quickly navigate to the most recent Web sites you visited.
Report: Microsoft Will Accept Fine to End European Antitrust Investigation
According to sources close to the case, Microsoft has agreed to accept a fine from the European Commission (EC) for the company's antitrust abuses in Europe, effectively ending the EC's investigation. Although the exact amount of the fine has yet to be determined, it probably won't reach the maximum possible, which is 10 percent of the company's worldwide annual revenues. Microsoft would obviously prefer to accept the fine and admit no wrongdoing--the company has, after all, amassed a cache of liquid funds that's unprecedented in the tech industry--but how the EC, or Microsoft customers and competitors, will benefit from such an outcome is unclear. I guess we'll have to wait and see, but I'm a big fan of legal judgments that fix the problem and punish the guilty; this action seems to do neither.
Microsoft Likely to Win Appeal in Java Case
A federal appeals court that's hearing Microsoft's appeal in the Java case suggested yesterday that it will overturn the preliminary injunction that would have required the company to immediately bundle Sun Microsystems' Java technology in Windows XP. Well, maybe "suggested" isn't a strong enough word. "I don't think the district judge \[Motz\] had a clue," said US Circuit Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, one of the three judges who heard arguments from Microsoft and Sun this week. When a Sun attorney tried to argue his case, Judge Niemeyer quickly cut him off, sparing no chance to get a few digs in at Judge Frederick J. Motz, the judge who issued the original ruling. "It seems to me the district court missed it all," Judge Niemeyer said. So does this mean the federal appeals court will throw out Judge Motz's ruling? Not necessarily; certainly, in the past we've been fooled by the language that various judges working Microsoft court cases have used. But Judge Motz's ruling is so controversial I can't imagine that it's going to withstand any scrutiny.
Microsoft Agrees to DOJ's Minor Change in Windows XP
Yesterday, Microsoft said it had agreed to implement a small change in Windows XP, which the US Department of Justice (DOJ) requested. The company will move its "Set Program Access and Defaults" icon, currently buried in the All Programs menu, to a more prominent position in the Start Menu so that users can more easily choose which Web browser to use. Users can also use this icon to change which media player, email program, Instant Messaging (IM) application, and Java Virtual Machine (JVM) they use, Microsoft says. In my own tests of this feature, however, I've discovered it to be a mind-numbing and painful way to configure such programs. Surely there's a better way.
Microsoft Drops .NET Name from MapPoint
In keeping with its plans to take the Microsoft .NET name out of most of its products, Microsoft told me this week that the company will change the Microsoft MapPoint .NET name to MapPoint Web Service. The company says this change will better reflect its Web service offerings for location-enabled mobile applications and services, Web sites, and enterprise applications and will support Microsoft's efforts to clarify .NET's naming and branding strategy. In the near future, all Microsoft products will adopt the new branding convention for .NET to reflect the version number in products' proper names and include the use of .NET Connected branding, a Microsoft representative told me. So, with the exception of Visual Studio .NET, virtually all Microsoft products that use the .NET name will soon drop the moniker. Expect to hear some news about the new .NET Enterprise Servers branding in the near future, too.
C# to Become an International Standard
Take that, Java. Microsoft announced this week that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will soon certify the company's C# programming language and the Common Language Infrastructure (CLI), a low-level .NET technology, as international standards. Making C# an ISO standard has been a long-standing Microsoft goal, one that's important as much for its political benefits as for its practical benefits. On the political front, the standardization lets Microsoft take the moral high road against Sun, which has refused to open up its Java technology despite the fact that Sun touts Java primarily for its ability to cross platforms and avoid the so-called lock-in of Microsoft technologies. From a practical standpoint, this milestone means that C# will be more attractive to governments and large companies, which often require products that have been internationally standardized. No matter how you look it, this step is a huge win for C# and .NET.
Mozilla.org Launches Massive Development Reorganization
After more than 5 years in development, the Mozilla open-source browser is undergoing a dramatic restructuring, a stunning development that highlights the problems any Web browser has competing against the entrenched market leader, Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). Although Mozilla.org has restructured the product several times in the past, in my mind, this is only the second one that's worth noting. The first restructuring took place in late 1998 when, after months of working with Netscape's original source-code release, the Mozilla.org maintainers announced that the code was in such bad shape that they were going to have to start from scratch. Now, Mozilla.org has issued a statement declaring that the consolidated browser suite--which consists of a Web browser, email and news client, chat client, HTML editor, and other components--is bloated, slow, and unable to compete. So the project will restructure itself around standalone, rather than integrated, applications. I love Mozilla and use it regularly, and even though I fully support the move to standalone applications, it comes about 2 years too late. Good luck guys, but it's time to face facts: Mozilla and its progeny (Netscape, primarily) have made absolutely no market-share gains on IE and likely never will.
Sun Cancels Plans for Custom Linux
Just months after Sun announced that it had embraced Linux and would prepare its own custom version of the open-source OS, the company revealed this week that it has cancelled plans for the custom Linux version. Instead, Sun will support Red Hat Linux and other popular versions of the OS. Sun has flip-flopped over Linux several times during the past few years, and after initially dismissing the open-source phenomenon as a toy, the company finally decided it was time to embrace Linux before support for the technology put the company out of business. Given Sun's previous waffling over Linux, however, I don't expect anything very exciting to come out of this recent development. What I do expect is for Linux to continue eating away at Sun's market share.
And speaking of Linux, the hackers who are working to get Linux running on Microsoft's Xbox video game console without requiring a modified hardware chip (mod chip) have apparently succeeded. This week, two Linux-on-Xbox enthusiast Web sites that are coordinating the Linux-on-Xbox efforts revealed that an anonymous hacker has discovered a workaround to load Linux on the device. Apparently, the hacker exploited a bug in the saved game portion of the "007 Agent Under Fire" game; the exploit loads code through an Xbox memory card. And the hacker has even figured out a way to build a memory card by using a standard USB memory stick, which you can also use to connect to a PC. The anonymous hacker who figured out all this has apparently won the $100,000 challenge that Lindows.com's CEO Michael Robertson issued. No word yet on whether Robertson has awarded the prize, but organizers of the Xbox Linux Project confirmed the method works. Good stuff.
Microsoft Begins Palladium Antispeculation Campaign
I sometimes feel like a lone voice in the wilderness when I defend Microsoft's Palladium technology against all the Internet's incredible rumors, myths, and untruths that describe this technology as the embodiment of Microsoft's Big Brother goals. But Palladium--now awkwardly called Next-Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB)--is really designed to protect personal privacy and data, and Microsoft is finally hitting the road to tell people what the technology is all about. In a series of interviews with various tech publications, various Microsoft executives have begun debunking the rumors. And next month, at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2003 trade show, the company will finally show off prototype Palladium systems. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Palladium is something to cheer, not fear. Give it a chance.
Microsoft Isn't Planning Paid Search Service
This week, Microsoft denied a strange analyst report that stated that the software giant is looking into acquiring search services such as Overture or Google in a bid to develop a paid search platform. But the report is hogwash, Microsoft says. "We have no intention of developing our own paid search platform," said Bob Visse, director of marketing for MSN. Seems pretty clear to me.
Ballmer in It for the Long Haul
During an alumni breakfast meeting at Eastern Washington University this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unexpectedly discussed his plans for the future, stating that he will work at Microsoft for another 14 years, giving him 17 years at the helm of the world's most powerful software company. "By the time I retire from Microsoft--I'm 47 and I've got at least 14 years so don't get excited that this is tomorrow morning or something--but by the time I retire from Microsoft this is my dream scenario," he said. Ballmer joined Microsoft in 1980 and became CEO in January 2000.
And Fnally ... What's the Deal with Frank Stallone?
I've received a number of email messages from readers, especially from those outside the United States, who are confused about my references to Frank Stallone. For those of you who aren't fans of Frank Stallone, he is the brother of action star Sylvester Stallone and an actor and singer in his own right. Like most celebrity relatives, Frank has basically mooched off his brother's success (think of the Baldwin brothers for another example) and has appeared in a string of B-movies, although he does have a prominent role in my favorite movie of all time, "Hudson Hawk." In any event, my references to Stallone are themselves an homage to comedian Norm McDonald, who first used the "Yep, you guessed it ... Frank Stallone" tagline during his tenure at Saturday Night Live (SNL) in the mid-1990s. I liked the Stallone line because it was irreverent, and I decided to keep it alive in Short Takes. So let's see ... bad actors, bad movies, bad comedians, Short Takes. It all makes sense now, doesn't it?