An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Longhorn Server Won't Ship Simultaneously with Longhorn Desktop
In the topsy-turvy world of the next Windows Server version ("Will it be Longhorn Server?" versus "Will it be Blackcomb Server?") comes news that the next server release, which will indeed be Longhorn Server, won't ship simultaneously with Longhorn's desktop versions. This situation is similar to what happened with the Whistler project, which morphed into the separate Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP development paths. With Longhorn, Microsoft hopes to close the gap on the desktop and server releases and make life easier for its customers. According to current schedules, however, what I call Longhorn Windows (desktop) will ship in late 2005, whereas Longhorn Server won't hit until early 2006. Because Microsoft likes to space its server releases about 3 years apart, that timing is good. But then Microsoft has never been one to keep to a schedule.
IBM Files Linux Countersuit Against SCO
IBM has finally struck back against the SCO Group FUD machine by filing a countersuit against the UNIX owner in which IBM accuses SCO of illegally interfering with IBM's customer relationships by making threats and false claims. Furthermore, IBM says that SCO is also infringing on at least four IBM patents, which frankly isn't all that difficult because IBM has received more patent awards in each of the past 10 years than any other US company. IBM's suit puts the legal ball back in SCO's court, so to speak, forcing that company to spend more money to defend itself. And the one IBM strength that could come to play in this situation might just be its ability to sue SCO to death.
If Europe Slaps Down Microsoft, Does the US Case Look Weak?
As many readers know, I came down hard on Microsoft during its US antitrust fight and believe that the settlement the company obtained from the corporation-friendly Bush administration is weak and not in the public's best interest. With Europe ready to throw the antitrust gavel down against Microsoft now, some interesting questions arise. If Europe successfully brings fines and remedies against Microsoft for what the European Union (EU) calls the company's "ongoing abuses," does that action prove that the United States capitulated too easily in its own fight with the software giant? Most interesting (to me, anyway) is that the EU charges specifically state that Microsoft's abuses have continued since the EU launched its investigation and--here's the crucial part--since the United States settled with Microsoft. In other words, the EU claims that the very thing Microsoft's settlement was supposed to prevent has, in fact, continued. This claim hangs on accepting that the EU charges are true--that by bundling Windows Media Player (WMP) in Windows, Microsoft has harmed competitors and consumers and that by hiding interoperability technology from competitors, Microsoft has engineered its server products to work well only with other Microsoft products, shutting out the competition. If you accept those two statements as fact, then Microsoft's US settlement is a crock. If you don't accept them, then ... well, actually, Microsoft's US settlement is still a crock.
Much at Stake for EU in Microsoft Antitrust Case
And speaking of the EU, the charges against Microsoft took 4 years for a reason: In the past, court reversals of its decisions have stung the European Commission (EC), which wants to get it right this time with heaps of evidence and a rock-solid argument. The Commission has provided a cute way out of an ugly end game of huge fines and remedial punishments, however: If Microsoft "stops the abuse immediately," the Commission says, the company can avoid being punished. If Microsoft doesn't change its evil ways, Armageddon time has arrived, because Europe's antitrust laws aren't encumbered by the same slow-motion, get-out-of-jail-free system we employ in the United States, where companies can delay punishment seemingly indefinitely by challenging ruling after ruling. In Europe, Microsoft will get to respond to the charges, then the Commission can impose fines and other punishments--immediately, in most cases. Microsoft could still challenge the ruling, of course, but the Commission would generally mete out any punishments first (rare exceptions do exist). Legal debates aside, the European style of doing things more closely addresses the timeliness of technology cases because companies like Microsoft tend to move ahead quickly, making the original crime seem passe by the time a case can be decided. In Europe, the only lengthy part of this case has been the evidence gathering and case building. Now that that phase is over, Judgment Day is nigh. And I'm out of Biblical metaphors. Let the games begin.
Windows XP Media Center Finally Comes to Europe, Asia
Almost a year after Microsoft gave its North American and Korean customers the ability to buy special PCs based on Windows XP Media Center Edition, the company has finally opted to make the systems available to customers in parts of Europe and Asia. Now people in China, Germany, Japan, and the UK will be able to sample the wonder that is a Media Center PC. Microsoft says that gaining access to the TV program guide information needed for those markets is responsible for the delays. Several new companies will join Alienware, Gateway, HP, Samsung, and Toshiba in selling Media Center PCs in these new markets. Toshiba will sell Media Center PCs in all the available markets; Fujitsu NEC will target Japan; Packard Bell will sell units in France, Germany, and the UK; Fujitsu will target Germany; and HP will pick up France, Germany, the UK, and China. The information Microsoft provided doesn't clearly state what I believe--that these new markets will still have to wait until the so-called XP MCE V2 release (code-named Harmony) ships worldwide later this year.
Media Center Alternative Available for Free
Thanks to reader Ted Strand for this tip: Some enterprising hackers have duplicated a lot of the functionality and look of the Media Center software that ships in XP MCE. The cool little project is called myHTPC, and it works very well for what it does. The software has a few glaring omissions; it can't play back Windows Media Video (WMV)-encoded movies, which is a shame, but it does work with certain remote controls and includes some unique features, such as weather forecasts. The software is worth checking out, especially if you're a digital-media fan.
Microsoft Heads to Court in Browser Infringement Case
Microsoft was in court this week defending itself against charges that Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) software infringes on technology that University of California researchers developed. The university is seeking $1.2 billion in damages, claiming that Microsoft stole its system for locating and identifying applications on the Web; Microsoft says it developed the technology independently, inhouse. Jurors deliberated for about an hour yesterday and will return Monday for more deliberations.
Opera Claims 10 Million Downloads
Stung by recent reports that use of the Opera Web browser barely registers statistically, Opera Software announced this week that people have downloaded its Web browser more than 10 million times this year alone, which the company says is a sign of growth. Opera's problem is that it charges for a product people can get elsewhere for free: Apple Computer's Safari, Mozilla.org's Camino and Firebird, and others offer similar features, excellent Web page rendering, and good performance. Opera also says that its usage numbers are undercounted because the browser often identifies itself as IE to access sites that would otherwise shut it out. Let the conspiracy theories begin.
Xbox Live Update Due August 25
On August 25, Microsoft will launch an upgrade to its Xbox Live online game service, which will include a new Web-based Xbox Dashboard front end that lets users see when their friends are playing online and view statistics and scoreboards. In related news, Microsoft's efforts to lower the production cost of the Xbox device continue; the company announced a deal with Focus Enhancements to supply Microsoft with a less-expensive TV output system. Microsoft says the new system supports virtually all the worldwide standards as well as the High-Definition TV (HDTV) format, consumes less power than the earlier part, and costs less, to boot.
Microsoft Among Companies Sweeping Up After 3DO
Eidos Interactive, Microsoft, and Ubi Soft Entertainment are among the companies that are picking apart the carcass of the recently deceased, er ah, bankrupt 3DO, the game maker that started life with one of the world's first CD-ROM-based gaming systems. Which 3DO assets Microsoft is purchasing at auction is unclear, although those assets could include some of the in-progress, next-generation titles 3DO was working on when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late May.
2003: The Year of the 64-Bit Desktop PC?
Between Apple's release of the pseudo-64-bit Power Mac G5 and the release of new 64-bit PCs based on the AMD Opteron and Athlon 64 and a special 64-bit version of Windows XP written for the AMD systems, 2003 could well go down in history as the year 64-bit computing arrived for the masses. Unlike the Apple products, however, AMD's products are priced to sell, and customers are already lining up, hoping to take advantage of new products that are specially optimized for 64-bit systems. Game makers and the enthusiasts they serve, in particular, are excited about 64-bit AMD-based systems, and current and upcoming games will be patched to run better on 64-bit PCs. Epic Games, which makes the popular first-person-shooter Unreal Tournament 2003, has already updated the product to take advantage of the AMD 64-bit chips and says it will ship its first 64-bit-only product by 2005.
Sun Previews "Mad Hatter" Desktop System
When it comes to desktop computing and ease of use, no company comes to mind more quickly than Sun Microsystems, right? Right? Hello? Anyway, Sun is hell-bent on creating a low-cost alternative to the Windows desktop, and its solution, appropriately enough, is dubbed Mad Hatter. Basically, Mad Hatter consists of Linux, the GNOME UI, Sun's StarOffice product suite, Ximian Evolution email, Mozilla Calendar, and the GAIM Instant Messaging (IM) application, and the company promises interoperability with Microsoft Office, Microsoft Exchange Server, and IBM's Lotus Notes. Sun claims the system's total cost of ownership (TCO) will be just 80 to 90 percent of the Microsoft solution, but shouldn't that cost be far less? Sun is vague about the systems' details (e.g., actual pricing, release date) but the developments--you know, as the system dies an ignominious death ala the Network Computer, the 3COM Audrey, and any other piece of unnecessary technology you can think of--should be interesting to watch.
Apple Doubles XServe Sales
Apple recently registered its largest sale ever of XServe servers (probably for a wide margin) when the company sold 260 of the devices to the US Navy. Not bad for a company that doesn't get a lot of government contracts, eh? Well, there's a catch: The Navy will use the servers to run Linux--not Mac OS X--as part of a sonar imaging system. Gosh, this news is like announcing a huge Linux licensing deal, say with a city in Germany, then admitting that most of the machines will run Windows and Windows applications in a virtual machine emulator. Nah, that would never happen.
After last week's tongue-in-cheek "Beleaguered" special edition of WinInfo Daily UPDATE Short Takes, I feel I owe an apology to readers for not mentioning everyone's favorite beleaguered Short Takes foil, Frank Stallone. "How could you use the word 'beleaguered' so often and not mention Frank Stallone?" at least two readers wondered. The question is valid, and I'm embarrassed that it never occurred to me. My apologies.