An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
MSFT Analysts Meeting: Microsoft Shows Off Longhorn Search Tech
Microsoft held its annual financial analysts meeting this week, and as usual the event was a bonanza of new information about the company's plans for the future. First up is the new integrated search technology that the company is planning for Longhorn and MSN: In a demo, Microsoft vice president Yusuf Mehdi showed how its new search technology could go well beyond Web searching by adding search for local hard drives, the intranet, the network, and "deep Web databases" (Whatever that means). What's really cool about Microsoft's search technology, however, is that it aggregates content from various data sources into a single set of search results. So, for example, you can search on a word like "politics" and have it return local files like Word documents and PowerPoint presentations, email messages, attachments to email messages, calendar items, contacts, or virtually anything else, all from a single location. Mehdi noted that a wide range of product teams are working in concert on the technology, including those from Longhorn, MSN Search, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Research, and others.
MSFT Analysts Meeting: Ballmer Pledges to "Compete" with Google
In his address to the Microsoft financial analysts meeting this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talked about Google and how his company would compete with, and not beat up, the competition. "There's a lot of Google fascination out there and we share it, and we're going to compete," he said. "We're going to compete very, very hard." Ballmer said his biggest problem with Google was that Microsoft didn't get there first. "You always want to be first in the marketplace," he added. "We don't want to be a fast follower. If we're not first, we'll be a fast follower, but we really want to be first."
MSFT Analysts Meeting: Gates Talks up Software Advances
Meanwhile, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates discussed the role of software in the future of Microsoft, and not surprisingly, software is very much the future of Microsoft. But despite past problems expanding into markets through which it couldn't leverage its Windows dominance, Gates says the future of software at Microsoft might come from unexpected places, like cell phones and mesh networking, as well as technologies that build off of Windows, like digital media, large format displays, and document intelligence. But I give the seer-like Gates credit for one comment, which seems to indicate a new, pragmatic way of looking at things for the software giant. "One thing about innovation is we've got to make sure it maps to what the customer sees as value," he said. In other words, if people don't use it, and we don't make money on it, Microsoft isn't going to make it.
MSFT Analysts Meeting: No Silver Bullet for Security
Microsoft senior vice president Will Poole, who oversees the development of the Windows client at the software giant, told attendees at its annual financial analysts meeting this week that security is a long-term problem with no easy solution. "There is no silver bullet, and all we are doing \[now\] is just a step on that journey," he said. Poole noted that Microsoft felt good about Windows XP SP2, which will ship next month, and be distributed primarily online. "We'll get through the security issues and get through the next leg of that with the advances brought through XP SP2," he added, nothing that after that, the company could focus on Longhorn development.
Apple and RealNetworks Face Off over Harmony Tech
Ah yes, there's nothing like the titanic feel of two industry giants, facing off against each other in a scene reminiscent of King Kong and the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the 1933 movie classic. This time around, it's Apple and RealNetworks, and they're none too happy with each other right now. First, Real approach Apple about licensing the code that would let Real's music store purchases run on Apple's dominant iPod. But Apple ignored Real's pleas, so Real went it alone. This week, Real released a beta version of RealPlayer 10.5, which includes its Harmony Technology, allowing users to buy music on Real's store and play it on an iPod, courtesy of a little of reverse engineering. Apple cried foul, launching a snitty little statement in which the company accused Real of acting like a hacker, and threatening that future iPod software updates would undo Real's technology. Real then responded with a caustic little statement of its own. "Consumers, and not Apple, should be the ones choosing what music goes on their iPod," the statement reads. "Harmony follows in a well-established tradition of fully legal, independently developed paths to achieve compatibility ... Harmony technology does not remove or disable any digital rights management system. Apple has suggested that new laws such as the DMCA are relevant to this dispute. In fact, the DMCA is not designed to prevent the creation of new methods of locking content and explicitly allows the creation of interoperable software." While it's a shame that these companies can't work together, I have to grudgingly take Real's side in this case. And I've tried RealPlayer 10.5, and it works as advertised. This is exactly what iPod users should want: A higher quality selection of music, for the same price as Apple's music, which plays on their systems. Good stuff.
New Zindos virus makes the rounds
A new worm, dubbed Zindos (the makers of whom Microsoft will no doubt sue now, due to its similar name to Windows), is piggybacking on the MyDoom worm to launch Denial of Service (DoS) attacks on the software giant's Web site. The worm works by accessing the lists of infected machines and backdoors provided by the "M" variant of the MyDoom worm and using those paths to launch its attack. Earlier this week, the MyDoom-M worm, which spread via mass mailings, launched a DoS attack on the Google and Yahoo Web sites. Gosh, the Internet is fun.
Microsoft Launches Newbot Test
This week, Microsoft launched a public beta test of its MSNBC NewsBot service, which is powered by MSN Search. NewsBot is a personalized online news service, which aggregates content from a variety of MSN, NBC, and MSNBC properties, providing users with a highly customized "personal newsstand" experience. "We want our users to be able to have a one-stop shop for their information-gathering needs," says Charlie Tillinghast, MSNBC.com general manager and publisher, "and the MSNBC.com Newsbot provides them with unlimited access in their quest for that information." You can access the beta version of the MSNBC NewsBot today on the Web.
Microsoft Responds to Japanese Fair Trade Commission
As promised, Microsoft this week issued a formal reply to the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JTFC), which previously accused the company of contravening the country's Antimonopoly Act. Microsoft response is fairly terse. "After careful examination of the contents of the Recommendation, Microsoft has decided that it is unable to accept the demands of the Recommendation, and has today informed the JFTC of this decision," the statement reads. According to the JFTC, Microsoft's software licenses impose undue restrictions on PC makers in Japan. Microsoft, it appears, disagrees. So what's next? A hearing. Of course.
It's Time: New Smart Watch Maker Comes on Board
Nice to see these things finally coming down in price. Oh wait. Microsoft's latest Smart Watch partner is a company called Tissot. You can be forgiven for having never heard of this company, because it makes expensive, high-end watches, er ah, timepieces, which "underline the sporting values of quest for performance, precision and pushing oneself to the limit." Yeah, seriously. Anyway, the Tissot Smart watches don't come cheap, and are priced at over $725.
So Much for the Best and the Brightest: Microsoft Goes on Hiring Binge
What do you do about a company that already has too many employees, has too many projects, and can't release a single product on schedule? Why, you hire 7000 more employees, of course! That's the tact Microsoft is taking, anyway, announcing this week that it will hire almost 7000 new employees over the next 12 months, 3000 of which will be based in the Seattle area. Microsoft currently employs over 57,000 people, or almost three times the population of the Boston suburb in which I now live. And folks, it's overcrowded here. Seriously.
Intel Delays 4 GHz Pentium 4 as 3.6 GHz Units Come Slow to Market
Intel had promised a 4 GHz Pentium 4 chip by the end of 2004, but it looks like the rapidly slowing hardware giant will have to wait until the first quarter of 2005 to ship that part, owing in part to a slow ramp-up to its current speed champ, the 3.6 GHz Pentium 4. In fact, 3.6 GHz parts are so rare these days that Dell, the world's largest PC maker, dropped the option from its Dimension XPS gaming system. Guys, this is Motorola embarrassing, if you know what I mean. Let's get with the program.
Microsoft releases new version of MSN TV
This thing is still around? Microsoft this week unveiled a refreshed MSN TV set-top box which brings with it a hip new modern vibe. Unlike the MSN TVs of the past, which focused on getting mom and dad online using a pokey dial-up connection, today's MSN TV recognizes that many people have broadband connections and might want a second outlet to the Internet on their TVs. So MSN TV is being retooled to appeal to a more technical crowd, and it includes some interesting functionality, such as the ability to stream photo slideshows and music from a networked PC. Priced at $199, the MSN TV box will go on sale in October. Pinch me, but I'm actually interested to see how this pans out.
Have Blog, Will DNC
This week's Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Boston was notable for a couple of reasons, but I saw a story that made me wince in understanding. One of my gripes about computer trade shows is that any 15-year-old with a Web site can get a press pass, seriously diluting the quality of the attendees and, stupidly, artificially pumping up the numbers. Well, it's happening on a national scale now as well. Apparently, a bunch of bloggers--basically guys with a Web site--were able to secure press passes to the DNC. Fortunately, most of these guys aren't children, and unlike the kiddie press corps I've complained about at tradeshows, most of the DNC bloggers appear to know their stuff. Still, it raises an interesting issue, and it further blurs the line between folks with years or decades of experience who do this as a career, and those who think its fun to attend major events.
More Longhorn Delay Rumors ... Will This Thing Every Ship?
And finally, InfoWorld this week published a rumor, quoting unnamed sources at Microsoft, that Longhorn, the software giant's long-delayed next-generation Windows operation system, was being delayed yet again. According to the rumor, the early 2005 Beta 1 release of Longhorn will now ship in October 2005 and correspond with the 2005 Professional Developer Conference (PDC); that means Beta 2 won't ship until 2006, and the final release of Longhorn would be delayed until 2007. The delays, naturally, are caused by Windows XP SP2, and this is the part of the rumor that has me thinking, because I've seen the ship schedule at Microsoft, and it clearly places precedence on XP SP2 first, followed by Windows Server 2003 SP1, which itself was just delayed from late 2004 to early 2005. So the Longhorn delay, sadly, makes sense. So is it true? I hope not: Longhorn has been delayed so often, it's taken on mythic status. And not the good kind.