WinInfo Short Takes: Week of December 16

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

Tablet PCS, Media Center PCs Lurch Out of the Starting Gate
According to a report in "The Seattle Times," Microsoft's new Windows XP versions--XP Tablet PC Edition and XP Media Center Edition--aren't exactly flying off the shelves this holiday season, leading to the curious possibility that Microsoft's Xbox Live online-gaming pack might be the company's most successful hardware bundle this year. Interested customers can obtain both XP Tablet PC and XP Media Center Edition only with certain types of new PC hardware--Tablet PCs and Media Center PCs, respectively--and although detailed sales reports aren't yet available, apparently sales are low. Availability is part of the problem: Many of these devices aren't available at popular online and retail stores, such as Amazon.com, Buy.com, or Best Buy. But Microsoft says the slow start was all part of the plan; a spokesperson noted this week that the company is "very realistic" about sales projections. "Like any new \[product\] category, it takes a little while before the value is evidenced to mainstream consumers," she said. Price might be another problem: Most Tablet PCs and Media Center PCs are expensive, with typical prices in the $1700 to $2500 range.

Microsoft Reportedly Looking at Borland, Rational
Although Microsoft insisted it barely paid any attention to IBM's attempted takeover bid of developer Rational Software last week, Microsoft is now apparently considering putting in its own bid for Rational. In addition, Microsoft is reportedly looking at purchasing longtime competitor Borland Software, which makes software-development tools that compete with Microsoft's Visual Studio .NET line of products. Borland, incidentally, also makes many of its tools available for Linux, which could lead to a juicy conflict of interest for Microsoft, which has repeatedly said it has no interest in selling Linux wares. In some ways, the Borland takeover is more feasible than the company dueling with IBM over Rational, but I wonder what the antitrust concerns would be if Microsoft eliminates its only serious competition in the Windows developer tools market. In 1995, Microsoft attempted to purchase Intuit, which makes Quicken financial software, but the US Department of Justice (DOJ) struck down that deal because it would have effectively eliminated competition in the crucial online bill-paying market.

ViewSonic's Low-Priced PDA Overpromises On RAM
ViewSonic has a cool little Pocket PC-based PDA that the company touts as the smallest, thinnest, and (until Dell showed up with the Dell Axim X5) most inexpensive Pocket PC on the market. But unlike other Pocket PCs, ViewSonic's Pocket PC V35 uses its primary system memory (64MB in this case) to store the OS and other bundled software, which occupies a whopping 27.55MB of space. So the 64MB Pocket PC V35 doesn't offer much more storage space than a 32MB Pocket PC from other companies, and customers who purchased the Pocket PC V35 are getting hot over this discrepancy. In an age when PC-based RAM is inexpensive, squabbling over such small amounts of space might seem superfluous, but on RAM-constrained PDAs, every little byte counts. Shame on ViewSonic for shaving costs and deceiving customers.

Ximian Releases Major Update to Open-Source .NET Project
Efforts to create an open-source version of the Microsoft .NET technologies took a major leap this week when Ximian announced an update to its Mono Project, which will help developers create .NET-compatible applications and services that run under the GNOME desktop environment on Linux. The update includes a feature that emulates the ASP.NET Web server runtime environment, Ximian says, and connects to numerous data sources, including Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and various ODBC-compatible databases. In addition, developers can use Microsoft's C# programming language under Linux, the company says. A final Mono release is scheduled for next year.

Microsoft Releases MapPoint .NET 3.0
This week, Microsoft updated MapPoint .NET, the Web service platform for mapping and location-based services. MapPoint .NET 3.0 features broader geographic coverage, more points of interest, and better information gathering about locations for which users have latitude and longitude coordinates. The service has already had early success with early adopters such as Dollar Rent A Car and Rentvillas.com, Microsoft says, and I'm looking forward to the day when other people can query this program to find out exactly where I am on a map. Well, OK, not really. But you know it's coming.

Microsoft Changes PC Maker Licensing: No More Dual-Installation Option
The press has reported this story so inaccurately that I'm surprised Microsoft hasn't yet issued a rebuttal. This week, the company said that it will no longer let PC makers bundle two different Windows versions on one PC, a situation that would let customers choose the system they want the first time they boot their PCs. Instead, PC makers will require customers to choose the Windows version they want at the time of purchase. No big deal, right? Unfortunately, one online publication reported this story as "Microsoft To Cut Off Dual-Boot Windows Option," which suggests that users won't be able to boot two or more Windows versions on the same PC, which isn't the case. Incidentally, Apple Computer is doing exactly that with its new Macintoshes: In 2003, the company will prevent customers from booting into legacy Mac OS versions such as Mac OS 9, which I'm sure will artificially help its Mac OS X adoption rate, while alienating many Mac users at the same time. Does that qualify as a win-win situation?

Germany Concerned About Microsoft's Palladium Plans
In a letter issued to legislators, Germany's Ministry of Economics and Labor expressed fears that Palladium, Microsoft's upcoming security platform, will require new licensing fees, thus raising costs, and that Palladium could prevent people from accessing their own data. Unfounded fears can be humorous if you look at them the right way (e.g., my son hears a loud noise outside and asks, "Big dinosaur?"). But compare Germany's response with Palladium with that of White House cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke, who says that Palladium is a good idea that doesn't go far enough. Clarke would like to see future OSs ensure security, whereas Palladium's big promise, frankly, is just to improve security for today's PCs. It's nice to see that someone gets it. Maybe Clarke should be the US Ambassador to Germany.

Microsoft Talks Up Greenwich RTC Server
Microsoft doesn't have a beta version of the software to share (or any new information), but this week the company issued an interesting Q & A about its upcoming real-time communications (RTC) server, code-named Greenwich. Due in mid-2003, Greenwich was originally part of Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) 2003, but Microsoft felt that the product needed more development time. Greenwich will bring advanced Instant Messaging (IM) features to the enterprise, adding a new client called MSN Messenger Connect that lets corporations track and monitor IM communications the way they now monitor email. Lack of these crucial features has hampered IM adoption in corporations, Microsoft says, although I'd like to see a logging feature added to MSN Messenger for consumers as well.

Gateway's Tablet PC Takes a Cue From Motion Computing
Gateway released its Tablet PC model this week, and the expensive device looks suspiciously similar to Motion Computing's Pure Tablet PCs. But the similarity is no coincidence: Gateway licensed its Tablet PC design from Motion, a company that ex-Dell executives started. In an uncharacteristic move for the consumer-friendly company, Gateway's Tablet PC is expensive: It starts at a whopping $2800, which gets you a 12" slate-style screen that weighs just 3 pounds and is powered by an underwhelming 866MHz Pentium III processor. Granted, the price includes a docking station of sorts and an external keyboard and mouse. Gateway says it's targeting the high end with this device, but if that's the case, why the lowly processor? My recommendation to the cash-strapped company: Lower the price.

Microsoft Vulnerability of the Week
So many Microsoft security vulnerabilities pass by me each week that I hardly pay attention anymore, but a series of vulnerabilities this week, including a particularly virulent one based on the company's Java Virtual Machine (JVM), is worth noting. You're already protected if you're using Auto Update (and you ARE using Auto Update, right?) but the JVM vulnerability affects all Windows versions since Windows 98 and could let hackers infiltrate a PC and take it over. Microsoft says that no users have been compromised to date, but we know this sort of thing is only fun until someone gets hurt. Head on over to Windows Update and grab the latest critical updates if you aren't sure whether you're already protected.

Netscape 7.01 Update Bows to Customer Requests
An AOL-owned Web browser that bans pop-up advertising? What has the world come to? This week, Netscape released a minor update to Netscape 7.01, its Mozilla-based Web browser, that adds a couple of interesting new features. Netscape 7.01 adds the aforementioned pop-up ad controls (finally), the ability to view several tabbed pages as your home page, enhancements to email for AOL members, increased control for managing certificates, and minor stability and performance enhancements. You can download Netscape 7.01 from the Netscape Web site.

IBM Denies OS/2 Death: 2002 Edition
And speaking of dead technology walking, OS/2 got another reprieve when IBM announced this week that it isn't withdrawing support for the erstwhile Windows competitor. Beginning in March 2003, however, the company is ceasing retail distribution of OS/2 and withdrawing support for more than 300 OS/2-compatible products. IBM will continue to offer OS/2 to customers who require the system, using an online distribution system that's apparently based on the way we used to get shareware games from Apogee in the early 1990s. Not feeling bitter about OS/2 is difficult; I haven't seen a company so egregiously kill such a good product since Commodore bungled the marketing of its amazing Amiga PCs in the late 1980s. Ah, well.

RealNetworks to Issue Christmas Present for Buggy Realone Players
Stung by criticism that its RealOne Player is, perhaps, the buggiest and most insecure piece of non-Microsoft software on the planet, RealNetworks announced this week that it will issue RealOne customers a Christmas present of sorts when it patches all the product's known bugs and security vulnerabilities by December 25. RealNetworks even harkened to Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing code review when the company revealed that it had performed a "comprehensive review of all of the RealOne Player code to reduce the possibility that any vulnerabilities remain." A security expert found several vulnerabilities in RealOne last month, and the patches released to fix the problems were later found to be completely ineffectual. If you use RealOne, keep an eye out for the patch on the RealNetworks Web site.

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