WinInfo Short Takes: Week of December 10

Gates Blames Slow Ad Sales on Broadband Woes
In England this week to shill the company's online ads, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said that the Internet will continue to be unacceptable as a mass-market advertising platform until broadband finally takes hold in more homes around the world. The company had expected broadband connections such as cable and DSL to become far more pervasive than they have, but thanks to high costs, complicated set ups, and a lack of customer education, most people still don't understand the benefits of such connections. Frankly, I think the problem is related to the fact that most people don't trust phone and cable companies.

Apple on Microsoft Settlement: Make Them Pay Cash
I ride Apple CEO Steve Jobs pretty hard when he makes over-inflated claims for his products, so it's only fair that I extend the kudos when he gets something so right. This week, Jobs again noted that Microsoft's proposed $1 billion class-action lawsuit settlement is bogus. Not only will the settlement simply hand Microsoft a good share of one of the few markets it doesn't already dominate (education), Jobs said, it's not worth the $1 billion Microsoft claims, either. "We think people should know that the actual costs to Microsoft for \[the\] donated software \[it will provide under terms of the settlement\] will likely be \[less than\] $1 million," Jobs said, a far cry from the $800 million figure Microsoft placed on the software (the remaining amount would go toward refurbished PCs). But Jobs has a solution, too, and it's so simple and elegant that I think it should be immediately adopted. "We think a far better settlement is for Microsoft to give their proposed $1 billion--in cash--to an independent foundation, which will provide our most needy schools with the computer technology of their choice," Jobs said. Bravo.

Microsoft Critics to Get Their Say
When the US Senate reviews Microsoft's settlement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and nine US states next week, it will bring in several of Microsoft's competitors to hear their side of the story. Representatives from AOL Time Warner, Netscape, Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems will testify against the software giant, and all are expected to denounce the company's proposed settlement. Netscape's representative is James Barksdale, the former CEO who performed well during the trial. As tired as I am of this case, I still look forward to some of Barksdale's Cajun-spun wisdom. Let's hope he unleashes a few zingers.

States: How About a Stripped-Down Windows?
And speaking of the Microsoft antitrust case, the nine states that didn't join the proposed settlement will offer their own proposed remedies to Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly today. Those recommendations are expected to include requiring Microsoft to offer a stripped-down version of Windows with no bundled applications, requiring Microsoft to offer its Office products on the Macintosh and Linux platforms, and requiring the company to add back native support for Java to Windows. Regarding that last request, I guess it's OK to bundle middleware that Microsoft doesn't make, eh?

PC Sales Sputter Back to Life
Crazy Eddie sales and low-interest rates have rejuvenated PC sales in a quarter that many financial analysts wrote off long ago. According to retailers, PC sales have risen dramatically since the Thanksgiving holiday, and products such as DVD players, HDTVs, and video-game machines have seen dramatic sales increases. Some PC makers, such as Hewlett-Packard (HP), are even reporting a sharp rise in year-over-year sales, something that seemed a pipe dream just a few short weeks ago. Still, only Dell's PC business is expected to turn a profit this season, with other companies hoping to make up the slack in other markets.

As Further Proof, Intel and AMD Lift Sales Forecasts
And if there was any lingering doubt that PC sales are up, microprocessor makers Intel and AMD both announced this week that they've boosted their sales forecasts for the quarter, thanks to higher-than-expected PC sales. Part of Intel's revenue boost, however, has more to do with pricing than anything: As the company stops making the Pentium III processor, it sells more of its higher-priced Pentium 4 chips. Intel will completely phase out production of its desktop-oriented Pentium III chips by the end of the year.

Queen of England Drops Solaris/Apache for Win2K/IIS
Linux backers have one less thing to crow about this week: The Queen of England's Web site switched from the open-source platform to Windows. Previously, the site had switched from Solaris to Linux, citing Linux's lower costs and performance. But the switch to Windows and Microsoft IIS probably represents similar thinking, not to mention the richer and more mature possibilities for Web design and development.

Russian Archives Online
This story is cool: More than 38,000 movies and 1 million still pictures that recorded the history of the former Soviet Union are being archived on the Internet, giving historians and the curious a fascinating look at what was once one of the world's most secretive countries. What I find interesting is that the archived news coverage of events are, of course, skewed to the communist perspective and represent the propaganda the USSR used to control the unsuspecting masses. You can see tens of thousands of films and thousands of pictures online now at the Russian Archives Online Web site; more are being added all the time.

Roxio Buys MGI
Easy CD Creator maker Roxio announced this week that it will purchase MGI Software, which makes photo and movie-manipulation software. Given some of the consumer-oriented DVD movie-maker software the company showed at Comdex, the move makes sense; Roxio clearly wants to become a leader in digital-media software.

Get Mac OS X 10.1 for Free
With the release of Mac OS X 10.1 a few months ago, Apple began offering a free upgrade CD-ROM designed solely for users who had previously paid for the first version of Mac OS X. But the CD-ROM apparently contains everything you need to install OS X 10.1 on any Mac, making it a free OS package for anyone with a CD burner, the right know-how, and a modern Mac. I won't give away the secret to making this work, but don't be surprised to see Apple replace the CD-ROMs with a 10.1.1 CD-ROM that prevents this type of free upgrade.

AOL Time Warner Joins Liberty Alliance
And then there were two. AOL Time Warner has joined Sun Microsystems' Liberty Alliance, an industry consortium that wants to release an open Internet authentication system to compete with Microsoft Passport. AOL has been working on its own system, dubbed Magic Carpet, and how this latest move will affect those plans is unclear. And although I don't generally favor the "Anyone But Microsoft" strategy, the Liberty Alliance has a sound plan for overcoming Microsoft's Internet dominance. It'll be interesting to see how Microsoft counters this move.

Microsoft Confirms Xbox Plans
As expected, this week Microsoft corroborated its plans to expand the Xbox gaming system into a more universal device. The "embrace-and-extend" strategy has always worked for the company, so I suppose this move makes sense. But I find it hard to believe that anyone will be interested in checking email or balancing a checkbook on a device that they originally used to play Oddworld: Munch's Oddyssey.

UPC Finally Cancels Plans for Microsoft Set-Top Box
As reported many times in WinInfo Daily UPDATE, Microsoft's Interactive TV plans have never really taken off, and this week, European cable giant UPC finally canceled its plans to install Microsoft software in its set-top boxes. The move comes after years of delays and broken promises; UPC now says it won't be able to deliver 250,000 next-generation boxes by year's end. The UPC news comes just a week after Microsoft delayed its first Interactive TV rollout (in Portugal) because of software glitches. I've said it before and I'll say it again: When you don't dominate a market, you have to show up with a unique solution.

Linux Company Releases Outlook Clone
Linux software-supplier Ximian has staked its claim, although the company intends to do nothing more than copy popular Microsoft products on Linux. This week, Ximian released its first such product, Evolution, which is a clone of Microsoft's Outlook email and personal information manager (PIM) client. Connector, which lets Evolution use Microsoft Exchange servers, will follow. And, just like Outlook, Connector isn't free, and it isn't open-source software. So remind me again why I'd use clones of Microsoft applications on Linux if I have to pay for them.

iPaq Users Get Pop 'n' Crackle with Pocket PC Upgrade
Compaq iPaq owners who've been waiting since early October to get their Pocket PC 2002 upgrade were rewarded this week with a substandard release that adds a few sonic features no one anticipated. Turns out that the Pocket PC 2002 upgrade causes iPaqs to make annoying popping noises about every third time a sound event is activated, which is fairly often in the default setup. Click a menu--POP! Switch from song to song in Windows Media Player (WMP)--POP! The sound is so annoying that many iPaq users have already switched back to the original Pocket PC software, so if you're considering upgrading, make sure you back up that old install first. And maybe it's time for iPaq owners to demand that Compaq ships something that works.

Email Turns 30
Good God, I'm older than email, too? Today, almost 10 billion electronic mail messages are sent each day around the world, but 30 years ago, email was still a nascent technology with no clear future. To be fair, email existed in the 1960s, but it wasn't until 1971 that a computer scientist devised a way to send email from machine to machine over a network. In fact, the first implementation was called network mail for obvious reasons, and use grew slowly until developers added features such as Reply (originally Answer) and Delete.

The Perils of the One-Supplier Approach
Getting high-speed Internet access, phone, and digital cable through one vendor (AT&T Broadband, in my case) might seem like a great idea, and the promise of getting just one bill for three services is what finally did it for me. But this approach has two huge problems, and I have a personal recommendation if you're thinking of doing something similar. The first problem is that, at least in AT&T's case, you still get three bills: AT&T's cable TV, cable Internet, and phone services are separate companies, no doubt because it's easier to sell them off individually at a later date. This separation makes life better for the company, but not for the customer. Secondly, because AT&T uses one wire to transmit these services to your house, all three services can go offline simultaneously. I live in a part of the country where storms routinely knock down trees, but I haven't seen my phone go dead in a long time. Until this month, that is. Despite the fact that the weather has been wonderful, AT&T's network has gone down twice recently, taking my phone, cable TV, and Internet access along with it. That means no way to call 911 in an emergency and, in my case, no way to work online (I can't even use a dial-up connection, obviously, because the phone went down, too). The moral of this story is simple: If you're considering the convenience of a single supplier, make sure you're really getting a single bill, and make sure that when you do make the change, all those services aren't coming over a single pipe. This strategy is becoming even more important as we move into a Windows .NET services era.

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