WinInfo Short Takes: Week of August 13

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the shath, Halo 3 preorders, an HDMI-equipped Xbox 360 premium, Windows Live SkyDrive, Universal music in DRM-free MP3 format, next-week's bugs, aQuantive, and much, much more...

WinInfo Blog

Our month-long trip to France continued this week with more typical tourist stuff. We've had friends from Boston visiting all week, which has been nice, but they're leaving Saturday, which will cause an odd void. The funniest thing this week has been their reaction to the weird little half-height shower that you actually sit in here, which my friend's nephew Shane branded as the "shath" (a combination of shower and bath), leading to an endless supply of shathing-related humor. For example, we talk about making a t-shirt that reads "I went to Paris but all I got was this lousy shath." I then coined a new term, "shink," which is like a mini-bath using the sink. It kind of goes on and on.

Trying to maintain a normal work schedule this week has proven difficult. Part of the problem is that our friends are here, so I will simply blame them and be done with it. Well, I also caught a lovely cold this week, though that seems to be subsiding finally. I've got lots of SuperSite work I'd like to get done, and hopefully I'll be more productive next week.

Short Takes

Halo 3 Pre-Orders Top 1 Million, Set Record
Microsoft announced this week that it has received preorders for over 1 million copies of "Halo 3," the upcoming and widely anticipated Xbox 360 game title. This is apparently a record, which is all the more impressive since it only includes copies of the game preordered in North America. Halo 3 will hit retail stores on September 25, a day in which, I suspect, many, many people will be curiously absent from work. In fact, I think I feel another cold coming on myself.

Microsoft Makes First Major Xbox 360 Motherboard Change
And speaking of the 360, Microsoft is apparently beginning its long, slow move to more efficient next-generation Xbox 360 consoles. But don't get too excited, as the cooler-running (and quieter) CPUs aren't quite ready yet. Instead, Microsoft is beginning with a new version of the Xbox 360 "premium" console (which is really just called "Xbox 360," compared with the Xbox 360 Core System and Xbox 360 Elite) which adds the HDTV-compatible HDMI A/V port that was previously only found on the high-end Elite. The new versions of the console are being quietly pushed in the market now, with no announcement from Microsoft. This leaves the Core System as the only version without HDMI.

Microsoft Taps EA Exec for Xbox Live
And to wrap up today's Xbox 360 stories, Microsoft this week hired yet another former Electronic Arts (EA) executive, John Schappert, to head Xbox Live, one of the few parts of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment division that's actually doing pretty well right now. Schappert is charged with expanding Xbox Live to a wider audience, though the company notes that the service has been a "pleasant surprise," earning more money more quickly than expected. So far, the service has attracted 7 million users who have downloaded 220 million games, demos, and other content, including 45 million paid Xbox Live Arcade games. Last month, former EA president Don Mattrick, also joined Microsoft, while former Microsoft Xbox chief Peter Moore joined EA.

Microsoft Brands Windows Live Folders as SkyDrive
Microsoft this week rebranded its Windows Live Folder online storage service as Windows Live SkyDrive and made some minor functional updates, including a new user interface, drag and drop file upload capabilities, and a new thumbnail view. SkyDrive is still in beta but is expected to ship in final form by the end of the year. What's still unclear, of course, is how much the paid version of the service will cost. A free version will offer relatively limited amounts of storage space, but obviously many people will want more.

Universal Music to Offer Non-DRM Tracks in MP3 Format
Months after allowing Apple to sell DRM-free versions of its songs in AAC format, Universal Music will temporarily offer its songs to the public in the more desirable and compatible MP3 format. As with the iTunes offering, the MP3 versions of Universal's songs will be DRM-free and thus freely copyable, but the company will only offer them to the public from August 21, 2007 to January 31, 2008 so that it can measure the impact of the songs on sales and piracy. The songs will be made available directly via Artists' Web sites, as well as virtually every major online music seller except for iTunes. These services include Amazon, Google, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, RealNetworks Rhapsody, Trans World Entertainment, PassAlong Networks, and Puretracks. Universal says the offerings will include thousands of albums from such artists as Sting and Stevie Wonder. I'm curious to see how this goes: If online music buyers do the right thing here, we might finally see the end of DRM as we know it, at least for music.

Microsoft Preps Massive Collection of Bug Fixes
Windows users will want to get ready for next Tuesday, when Microsoft plans to ship nine major security fixes for products such as Windows Vista and Internet Explorer (IE). Most problematic is that six of the fixes are rated as "critical," Microsoft's most severe rating, and one of those is for Windows Vista. Microsoft Office will also see a critical security fix, Microsoft says. Joy.

aQuantive Approves Microsoft Purchase
Shareholders at aQuantive this week approved Microsoft's $6 billion offer for the company (about $66 a share), which should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, given that aQuantive's stock was selling in the $20 range for months before the purchase was announced. But hey, at least the company's in good financial shape. Oh wait, actually, its second quarter profit fell 22 percent year over year.

Microsoft Sued ... By a Porn Company
A pornography company called Perfect 10 is suing Microsoft because it publishes thumbnails and full-sized images from the Perfect 10 site on Live Search. What's most interesting about this case, really, is that Perfect 10 has already lost similar suits against Google and Amazon. And you can tell this case is frivolous because Microsoft has rejected Perfect 10's settlement overtures. I mean, let's face it, Microsoft will settle almost any lawsuit.

Bill Gates Sells Microsoft Shares, Cites "Desperate Need for Cash"
It's tough when you pull into the Burger King drive-up, but all you have are $1000 bills. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates this week sold 1 million shares in the company, or about $29 million worth, a sum that can only be described as pocket change for the world's richest man. It's unclear yet why he made such a small transaction. This would be like me moving 17 cents from my checking account to my savings account.

Alcatel-Lucent to Continue MP3 Patent Fight with Microsoft
Hot off their blistering loss of $1.5 billion in damages from Microsoft thanks to a judicial overturn of a jury reward, Alcatel-Lucent this week said that it would keep fighting the software giant and appeal the decision. The company says it found the judge's decision to reverse a jury's unanimous verdict "surprising," though I have to say I find it more surprising that the case has even gone this far. Alcatel-Lucent, a co-owner of the MP3 patents, is suing Microsoft for not licensing the MP3 audio format from it, but Microsoft is already licensing the format from Fraunhofer, the other MP3 co-owner. Should Alcatel-Lucent win this case, virtually every company that licenses MP3--Apple, Sony, whoever--is in trouble, since none of them are paying Alcatel-Lucent. Needless to say, this case is being closely watched throughout the industry.

Blockbuster Buys Movielink
Movie rental giant Blockbuster this week purchased online movie service Movielink for an undisclosed sum, ratcheting up the competition with its main competitor, Netflix. Blockbuster says that Movielink will continue to operate as an independent, standalone service, but that subscribers to Blockbuster's Total Access service will eventually begin to see Movielink-related benefits. Meanwhile, Netflix still has more subscribers than does Blockbuster Total Access, but is growing far more slowly and is unable to meet some of Blockbuster's most compelling advantages, such as the ability to get free and low-cost rentals locally. Blockbuster has also instituted a price war against Netflix, making both services more compelling for consumers but also making the future more perilous for Netflix. What's amazing about Movielink is that it's been around for five years, but virtually no one uses the service. I think I've download a dozen movies from Movielink over the years, and I think that makes me their best customer.

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