WinInfo Short Takes: Week of August 6

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including our first week in Paris, Vista price cuts in China, an ad-supported version of Microsoft Works, fonts, Mac Office 2008, Amazon groceries, Lenovo and Expedia profits, and much, much more...

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So we made it to France just fine after a stressful last couple of days getting our house in order. We did a house swap again, with a family from near Paris staying in our home while we stay at theirs in France. So far, so good. We're staying near friends of ours, which is neat, and we've jumped immediately into the same schedule we had last year, which involves us heading into the city each day, having lunch in a café, and seeing a site or two. I usually head back by mid-afternoon to get some work done, so for the most part, it's like I never left. Well, sort of.

As with last year, our experiences thus far have been great. Mark did, unfortunately, get his hand stuck in an automated turnstile at the Châtelet-Les Halles station, which is a major junction in various Paris Metro and RER train routes. It was actually pretty scary, and I did one of those adrenalin-fueled Superman routines where I wrenched the thing open and rescued his hand from the innards of the machine. Even more impressive was the speed with which a Paris police officer appeared out of nowhere and ushered us swiftly down a secret side passage to check on Mark's hand. Turns out he was just fine, thankfully, but the whole thing was rather shocking and unwelcome.

Other than that, it's been straight tourist stuff so far. We've been into the Notre Dame area, and around St. Sulpice, and yesterday we visited Montparnasse, which is the only skyscraper in Paris. It's uglier than heck, but the view from the top is phenomenal. Today, our friends arrived, and they'll be staying with us for ten days, as they did last summer.

Short Takes

Microsoft Cuts Price of Vista in China
You can pretty much tell that software piracy is rampant when you have to cut prices in order to compete better with your number one competitor: Software piracy. Microsoft this week cut the price on Windows Vista in China by more than one half in a bid to lure users away from pirated software versions. If you're curious how little the Chinese will pay for Vista, here's the deal: Vista Home Basic is about $66 in US dollars, while Vista Home Premium is about $80. The reason for these huge discounts, of course, is that an estimated 82 percent of software used in China is pirated, which I'd imagine is about on par for your average American teenager.

Microsoft to Push Ad-Supported Version of Works
Microsoft will test market a free but ad-supported version of its Microsoft Works suites of consumer-oriented productivity software in the fall, to test whether consumers are willing to put up with advertisements in lieu of actually paying for the software. The move is aimed to counter growing interest in free office productivity software such as OpenOffice.org or Google Docs & Spreadsheets, though of course Microsoft will never admit that. The next Works will display ads in the lower corners of the screen, and these ads will refresh as long as there's an Internet connection, Microsoft says. The company also notes that the ads won't be "intrusive." Hey, they never are.

Microsoft, Apple Renew Fonts Agreement
This one is exciting, eh? Microsoft and Apple this week announced that they have extended their font licensing agreement, giving Mac users access to the latest versions of Microsoft's standard core fonts, including such classics as Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana, and the beloved Comic Sans. I'm curious, however, whether the agreement covers the new fonts that Microsoft had created specifically for Windows Vista. My guess is that, no, the agreement does not cover those fonts but is instead aimed at ensuring that Mac users get continued access to the fonts most typically used on the Web.

Microsoft Delays Next Mac Office
And speaking of Microsoft and the Mac, the software giant revealed this week that the next version of Office for Mac, dubbed Office 2008, won't ship until January 2008, about three months later than previously expected. Microsoft says that it needs the extra time to deliver the software at the quality at which users expect. Office 2008 will include new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage, the latter of which is a consumer-oriented email and personal information management (PIM) package. How does this impact Windows users exactly? You know, it really doesn't.

Amazon Delivers the Groceries
Online shopping giant Amazon this week began testing a grocery delivery service in a Seattle suburb, in a bizarre attempt to replicate the business strategy of about a dozen Dot Com startups from a decade ago. The service, which is currently available only in the Mercer Island area outside of Seattle, offers fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and milk, all of which arrive the day after they're ordered. Amazon says it will eventually extend the pilot program to other Seattle suburbs and then, if it's successful, around the US. Hey, sounds like a great idea. Maybe some idiots at a venture capital fund could invest a few billion dollars in the program. Mention Linux and they'll probably throw in a few billion more.

Lenovo Rocks and Rolls
PC maker Lenovo, which bought IBM's ThinkPad and ThinkCentre PC business a few years back, is apparently doing just fine, thank you very much: In the most recent quarter, Lenovo sold 22 percent more computers than it did in the same quarter a year previously, causing net profits to rise by something like 1300 percent. The company reported profits of $66.8 million on revenues of $3.93 billion. Not surprisingly, ThinkPad sales were a strong point, and Lenovo reports that notebook sales rose 26 percent year over year.

Expedia Profits Fly on European Travel
And speaking of quarterly profits, Expedia, arguably the premier online travel site, reported that its profits were up by 14 percent to $96.1 million in the most recent quarter. Expedia is responsible for over half of all online travel bookings in the US, and the site reports that its gains in the current quarter are due largely to a 38 percent increase in European travel. I'd like to think I had at least a little to do with that.

Finally, Apple Updates iPhone
Over five weeks after Apple shipped the first iPhone, the company has finally released a software patch to address widespread reliability issues and a recent spate of security problems. Apple is being pretty cagey about the exact nature of the update, but it has admitted to the security fixes, which addresses issues that were recently raised by security researchers, and says that it does address reliability issues as well. As for the hoped-for functional updates--apparently, the iPhone's innards are just teeming with references to applications and capabilities that no one outside of Apple has seen yet--sorry, but you're going to have to wait.

Google Begins Testing its Own Phone
And speaking of phones that are nicer than yours, Google this week apparently began showing off a prototype of a cell phone that it hopes to bring to market within a year. The Google phone will include a suite of Google software services, of course, and the company is currently shopping it around to wireless carriers, phone makers, and others in the telecommunications industry. Given Google's recent overtures to the FCC about an emerging swath of the radio spectrum that's becoming available here soon, it's no surprise that the company is interested in mobile computing all of a sudden. Hey, you don't throw at least $4.6 billion in investment money at something unless you're serious. As a big Google user, I'd like to see what they're coming up with. I could see it being a lot more interesting and useful than the iPhone.

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