WinInfo Short Takes: Week of December 15

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...

Windows Longhorn Build 4051 Review Continues
   I've received a lot of mail about my stalled Longhorn build 4051 review; sorry I'm taking so long to complete it. This build has a lot of accompanying technical information, and sorting through it all is a time-consuming process. I discovered that the review was growing out of control, so I decided to split it into multiple parts and post it piecemeal, a little bit each day. The original version of the review now makes up parts one and two; today I added a new introduction to the review and part three, which deals with the presentation system. On Monday, I'll post part four, which discusses the user experience. And so on. Thanks for waiting; the next part of updated review should be posted soon. Then, I'll post daily updates during next week and beyond. 

Embarrassing Swastika Characters Found in Microsoft Office 2003
   In an open letter to customers, Microsoft Senior Vice President Steven Sinofsky apologized for the inadvertent inclusion of two swastika characters in Microsoft Office 2003's Bookshelf Symbol 7 font. "Due to an unintentional oversight, we failed to identify, prior to the release, the presence of two swastikas within the font," he said. "We apologize for this and for any offense caused. Microsoft is taking immediate measures to remedy the issue for all customers." Today, the company released a utility for worldwide download that removes the font. You can find utility on the Microsoft Web site

More Than Half of Microsoft's Employees Opt for Options Payout
   When Microsoft made the historic decision to grant employees options on their otherwise worthless stock earlier this year, more than half of them elected to sell, netting more than 18,500 employees a total of $382 million in cash. Microsoft will distribute the first part of the payout, or about $218 million (an average of $11,782 per employee), this month, the company says. I find it curious that almost half of the company's employees didn't sell their options--a sign, financial analysts say, that those employees believe Microsoft's stock price will again rise to its earlier formidable levels. "We're pleased with the outcome," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "We believe it illustrates a great balance between employees who utilized the program and those who chose not to." This event also illustrates that the day of the "Microsoft Millionaire" is over, presumably.

New Windows XP SP2 Hits Beta
   Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) has been in beta for several months, but Microsoft recently decided to rearchitect the release to be an all-encompassing, must-have security upgrade, so testers haven't seen a new build for a while. That situation will change next week, when testers will get their first look at a rejuvenated XP SP2 that will include an improved firewall, pop-up ad blocking, and other new security features. The last major product on which Microsoft halted development this way was Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0. In the summer of 1996, Microsoft was developing IE 4.0 to include features such as Site Map and shell-based FTP exploring. Then Netscape announced its Netcaster desktop-replacement project (code-named Constellation), and Microsoft retooled IE 4.0, eventually emerging more than a year later with a version of IE that differed significantly from the original idea and included an Active Desktop, Channels Bar, and integrated IE shell. Ah, those were the days.

Final MSN 9 Sent to Testers
   In a letter this week to testers of MSN 9, which will ship in Dial-up, Plus, and Premium versions in January, Microsoft thanked them for working on the product and noted that they will receive the final version on CD-ROM sometime next week. "\[Your\] comments were the inspiration for the many design changes and bug fixes we made throughout the program," the MSN Beta Program Team told testers. "We feel truly lucky to have such a competent and enthusiastic group of beta testers. Thanks again for all your hard work, and know that you made a huge difference in this upcoming release of MSN." MSN 9 is the third major MSN release in as many years, during which time Microsoft finally made gains on market-leader AOL.

MSN Messenger Logs More Than 110 Million Users Per Month
   And speaking of MSN, Microsoft recently announced that its free MSN Messenger Instant Messaging (IM) service logs more than 110 million unique users every month, making it the most popular IM solution. In addition, more than 10 million unique users are using MSN Messenger 6.1's integrated WebCam feature each month to regularly perform video conferencing with friends and family around the world. More than 2.5 million WebCam sessions occur each day.

Hasta La Vista, Windows 98
   With 2003 winding to a close, it's almost (finally?) time to bid adieu to Windows 98, the stalwart version of the Windows 9x OS family, and its predecessor, Windows 95. Both OSs will enter a new nonsupported phase of their life cycles after January 16, 2004. Microsoft says it will still offer Win98 critical fixes if the problems are serious enough, however, because hundreds of millions of people worldwide still use this system. "Microsoft will evaluate malicious threats to our customers' \[Win98\] systems on a case-by-case basis, and take appropriate steps," a Microsoft spokesperson said this week. In related news, a new security research paper released this week says that Win98 is a major security threat and recommends that users simply upgrade to XP or Windows 2000 to get better security. "Any Windows 95 or 98-based PC with access to the Internet (including mobiles that leave the company network) should be candidates for migrating to Windows XP or Windows 2000," the report reads. "Companies should also determine if installations of Windows 2000 or Windows XP are covered under a Microsoft Volume Licensing Agreement."

I Want a SPOT Watch
   Lured by the promise of Dick Tracy-like wristwatch functionality and two Microsoft meetings about the technology, I'm eagerly trying to purchase a Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) watch before the holidays. Alas, they're nowhere to be found, and I'm curious why the watchmakers would miss such a crucial selling period, only to possibly release the watches less than a month later, probably at Consumer Electronic Show (CES) 2004 (to be held in Las Vegas, Nevada, in mid-January). Seriously, I'd shell out the dough right now. Why aren't they ready yet?

Surprise: PC Shipments Up Significantly
   Market research firm IDC provided some good news for economy watchers this week, announcing that PC sales will grow more than 11 percent in 2003--to 152 million desktops. That figure is up significantly from the 8 percent growth prediction the company made in September and, in my mind, shows you how useless analysts and researchers can be. Still, it's good to see PC sales rising significantly again and, perhaps more important, if the figures hold, this year's PC sales will be best in history, beating out 2000's record of 140 million PCs. Even business-computing spending is up, a development that surprised IDC. (What doesn't? The company has revised its PC sales figures at least three times this year.) Naturally, IDC raised its sales predictions for 2004 as well; expect that prediction to change again within a few months.

Check Out Our Holiday 2003 Tech Toys Guide!
   In keeping with the holiday season, be sure to check out Connected Home Media's Tech Toys Guide for Holiday 2003, which covers great gift ideas for your favorite geek. Written by yours truly, the Tech Toys Guide covers such topics as PDAs, cell phones/smart phones, digital audio and music, digital photography, digital video and movie making, wireless technologies, cool mobile technologies, TV/PC integration, input devices, game controllers, and PC games. You can read the mammoth guide now on the Connected Home Web site.

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