WinInfo Short Takes: Week of April 9

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Windows Weekly Live, a coming "free" version of the Zune, Home Server SDK, nerd in space, Vista SP1 stupidity, XP SP3 stupidity, Longhorn Server Beta 3 candidate, and so much more...

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It feels like Saturday today because the kids are off from school (Good Friday?) and because my wife didn't set the alarm as a result so I slept in by mistake. Now I've got to race through Short Takes so I can make it to the gym on time and... arrgggh..... Anyway. There's nothing like the sharp, cold blast of reality in the morning.

And speaking of cold, I'm going to stop talking about the weather. After essentially promising myself and others that winter was over, we lapsed into a week of frigid temperatures and even had some snow. I almost ran outside and covered up the flowers that had burst through the ground a week earlier. It's finally going to be milder this coming week, but the past week has just been brutal. Spring always comes in fits and starts in this part of the world, but this is ridiculous.

My son Mark turns nine on Saturday. He's selected "Monster Golf" as the location for this year's party, so our family, and almost 20 screaming nine-years old kids, will be immersed in a dark, black-lighted indoor mini-golf nightmare for a few hours this evening, and I as much as I love the kid, I have to admit I'm not all that excited about this event. And if you're curious, there's still no word on his pending cochlear implant surgery. Apparently, we're waiting on the parts, which is also true of my wife's Mazda, and yes, I find that coincidence more than vaguely disturbing.

For the next ten days, friends of ours from France will be visiting, which is a nice turnaround, as we've stayed with them more than a few times now when we travel there.

Last night, Leo and I recorded a live version of our Windows Weekly podcast, which was fun. We had quite a crowd, and a number of people calling in via Skype or otherwise. I'm not sure how this works, exactly, but I assume a recording will be made available normally via the podcast. In the meantime, you can hear it on the TalkShoe Web site.


Short Takes

Microsoft Considers Near-Free Zune Model
While there have been rumors of a Zune smart phone lately, it seems that Microsoft's designs on the smart phone market are more about distribution plans than actual hardware: The company is considering taking a page from the cell phone/smart phone playback by offering a Zune model for little or no cost and then making up the difference by requiring the buyer to sign on to a yearly subscription plan. If Microsoft does pursue this tact, it won't happen any time soon, but the company noted that it got the idea in recent months after watching the number of subscribers to its Zune Marketplace surge early this year. I think that's a fine idea, but I'd like to see Microsoft attack some core Zune issues first, by adding additional model types (like a flash-based version) and some missing functionality (including podcast support).

Microsoft Releases Home Server SDK
Microsoft's upcoming Windows Home Server product is a nifty idea, and my experience with the beta version thus far has been surprisingly positive. This week, Microsoft revealed that it will be making Home Server even more useful, however: It released a software development kit, or SDK that will allow developers to write applications and services that can integrate with Home Server. And I'd like to once again clear up some confusion about this product: Despite what virtually every report I've seen about Home Server says, Microsoft will make two versions available: Software-only, which you can install on your own PC or server hardware, and as a bundle with Home Server-specific hardware. This, too, makes the product more valuable.

Hungarian Notation Creator Heads to Space
Charles Simonyi, the Hungarian-born ex-Microsoft developer responsible for the so-called Hungarian Notation style of programming, will soon rocket into space onboard a Russian Soyuz spaceship. The self-described "space nerd" has been training for months, and he paid a $20 million fee to become the 450th person in space. Or, as he calls it, "the first nerd in space." Dr. Simonyi and his crew will blast off on Saturday and spend ten days at the International Space Station. Now, that's what I call a vacation with a view.

Microsoft Threatens Poster of Vista SP1 Info
This is a weird one: Last week, a blogger named Ethan Allen posted a list of the 100-plus hot-fixes and patches that Microsoft plans to ship as part of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), due later this year. He claimed that the list was mostly derived from Microsoft's publicly available knowledge base (KB) articles, though it has never been assembled in a single place as he did on his site. He also supplied a download of the fixes, which he called the Vista SP1 Preview. Microsoft was not amused. The company sent Allen a cease and desist order, for some reason, and demanded that the blogger remove his "unauthorized redistribution of \[Microsoft's\] hot fixes." More problematically, from my perspective, is that Microsoft program manager Nick White was harshly critical of Allen's list in the Windows Vista blog on the Microsoft Web site. I find that offensive: Allen is an enthusiast trying to help people, and the way he's rewarded is with a legal threat and a dismissive mention in a Microsoft-run Web site. Bravo, Microsoft. What's next? Do you think you could just tar and feather the guy while you're at it?

The Truth About Vista SP1
I'm tired of Microsoft's insane posturing about Windows Vista SP1. I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. Every single time Vista SP1 comes up, some representative from Microsoft--all the way up to CEO Steve Ballmer, by the way, who has done this twice in public--acts as if the company has no idea when it will ship SP1 or what features it will include. That is not true. Microsoft will ship Windows Vista SP1 concurrently with Longhorn Server in Q3 2007 and SP1 will include a major kernel update for Vista that will bring the client OS up to speed with the version of the Windows kernel in Longhorn Server. That has been the plan for quite a while, and they all know it. Why the company can't just say, "We'd rather not discuss SP1 at this time" is beyond me. Instead, they're simply lying, and for no good reason. And that's not right, especially when there are millions of customers waiting on this release to upgrade. You'd think a company that supposedly cares about transparency as much as Microsoft would realize when they're being so, well, transparent.

And What About Windows XP Service Pack 3?
And while I'm ranting a bit, let's dredge up Windows XP Service Pack 3, which was delayed from 2005 to 2006 to 2007 and now to 2008. If you were looking for any glimpse into the mind of Microsoft, this is it: The company has completely abandoned Windows XP, and it has absolutely no plans to ever ship an XP SP3. My guess is that Microsoft will do what it did with the final Windows 2000 Service Pack: Claim years later that it's no longer needed and just ship a final security patch roll-up. This is the worst kiss-off to any Microsoft product I've ever seen, and you'd think the company would show a little more respect to its best-selling OS of all time. But the reality is, Microsoft is looking ahead to new revenue and not behind to money that's already in the bank. And though hundreds of millions of people will be running XP for years to come, despite Microsoft's best efforts at selling them a later Windows version, the company has absolutely no plans to actually support those customers. This flies in the face of its publicly-stated life cycle support plans. And it really freaks me out. It should freak you out as well.

Microsoft Preps Longhorn Server Beta 3
And while we're on the topic of future revenues, Microsoft this week shipped a candidate build for Windows Server "Longhorn" Beta 3, which should be finalized sometime this month. The interim build, which is called a Community Technical Preview (CTP), adds an unexpected feature, Windows PowerShell, the Microsoft command line and scripting environment that was originally not slated for inclusion in Longhorn. I'll be reviewing Longhorn Server Beta 3 on the SuperSite for Windows when it becomes available.

In Wake of Lawsuit, Microsoft Changes Vista Logo Branding
It seems that Microsoft's "Windows Vista Capable" labeling for pre-Vista PCs was a little too confusing for consumers, who were expecting such PCs to include support for Vista features like Aero "glass." As a result, there's a lawsuit winding its way through the courts that argues that Microsoft's logo branding was deceptive, and they're shooting for class action status. Now, there's a debate to be had over this is bad enough to warrant a lawsuit, but as Brier Dudley of "The Seattle Times" noted this week, Microsoft has already changed the wording of its Vista Capable program. Originally, it read, "The Windows Vista Capable logo is designed to assure customers that the PCs they buy today will be ready for an upgrade to Windows Vista and can run the core experiences of Windows Vista." Now, it reads as, "All Windows Vista Capable PCs will run these core experiences at a minimum." Frankly, Microsoft brought these problems on itself by making too many Vista product editions and then trying to diversify them by arbitrarily adding and removing features from each. Again, I'm not sure it warrants a lawsuit, but it's certainly not consumer-friendly.

Microsoft Moves Hotmail Plus to 4 GB as Yahoo! Goes Unlimited
Microsoft this week raised the storage limit on its subscription-based Windows Live Hotmail Plus service from 2 GB to 4 GB, though the increase is being staged over time, so you might not see the additional storage for a few weeks or even months. Those who have been upgraded, unfortunately, are reporting problems: Though the system reports that they have 4 GB of space, they can only store 2 GB of mail. Microsoft says they'll work out the kinks over time. But maybe they should be looking to Yahoo, which recently announced that it will raise its email storage limit from 1 GB to unlimited storage. The best part? This will be available to users of the free version of Yahoo Mail as well. Sounds like we have a winner.

Acer Notebook Sales Surge
Speaking of winners, PC maker Acer is coming on strong in the notebook market, thanks to new retail pushes. In the fourth quarter of 2006, Acer pushed aside Toshiba to become the third best selling maker of notebook computers, behind HP and Dell. In the quarter, HP sold 5.05 million notebook computers, compared to Dell, with 3.52 million, and Acer, with 3.37 million. Fourth place Toshiba sold 2.45 million units. Researchers at IDC now believe that Acer has enough momentum to pull into third place overall in the PC industry. To do so, they'll have to displace Lenovo, which is currently in the top three behind HP and Dell.

Sony Cuts PSP Price
Sony this week cut the price of its PSP (PlayStation Portable) portable video game system from $199 to $169 in the US, in an attempt to spur sales. The PSP, which in my book is demonstrably better than the Nintendo DS that is currently outselling it, has fared somewhat poorly in the marketplace, though Sony reports it has sold 25 million units since 2005. What's odd is that this is the first price cut for the PSP. Odder still, the PSP is still more expensive than the DS, which has already seen a fairly major product update. The PSP, curiously, has not.

Microsoft Improves Xbox 360 Warranty... Again
You know, it's almost like there's an endemic problem with this thing. Microsoft this week unveiled yet another change to its Xbox 360 warranty, this one aimed at ensuring that customers who need to return the console for repairs can do so with free shipping and with a faster turnaround. Best of all: Repaired consoles include a fresh one-year warranty. Previously, Microsoft enhanced the Xbox 360 warranty in December, when it increased the length of the warranty from 90 days to 1 year. Still, my advice on the Xbox 360 is very simple: Buy it locally and get the warranty from whatever retailer you visit. This is the one time where the ability to exchange it locally will really pay off. Too many of these things are turning up lame.

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