WinInfo Short Takes: Week of December 7, 2009

An often irreverent look at some of this half-week's other news ...

WinInfo Blog

So, many people are wondering, “What happened to Short Takes on Friday?” I've been writing the WinInfo newsletter since 1994, and I added Short Takes back in the 1999-2000 timeframe (although I could be wrong about that date) as a way to cover less relevant stories. But it morphed into a Friday-only thing at some point, and—of course, as it comes from my brain—it often devolves into comedy. (Thus the "irreverent" tag line.) Anyway, I've probably written a Short Takes article nearly every week for a decade, so for me to miss one ... I mean, something major must have happened, right?

Unfortunately (or, "fortunately," depending on how you look at it), it wasn't anything important. More like old age, really. As I noted before, I've been doing WinInfo for over 15 years, and although I’ve taken occasional days off—the biggest lapse I can remember is a week in May 2003 when we went to Germany—I don't generally skip WinInfo at all, let alone Short Takes. In fact, it's just part of my morning, like having a cup of coffee or using the bathroom, to be honest. There are Saturdays when I get up and just start scouring the web for news.

So, long story short (ahem), I woke up on a Friday that felt like a Thursday, started writing two WinInfo articles as if it was any other day, ate breakfast and whatnot, and then the phone rang. My brother Jonathan was thinking about grabbing lunch and then maybe doing some Christmas shopping, and he wondered whether I wanted to come along. “Fine,” I said, “I have to be at the gym at 11, but we can go after that,” and the next thing I knew, the morning was over. I had treated Friday like any other (non-Short Takes) day, and I was going to be out for most of the rest of the day.

The thing is, the folks who edit WinInfo are in Colorado (on Mountain Time) and I'm near Boston (on Eastern Time), and although the time difference usually works to my advantage, this time I knew I'd be out most of the day, so it just made sense to go with what I had. So I did.

Anyway, here's the Short Takes I owe you from Friday. Sorry about that.

Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday, and yes, I actually showed up at the correct time, so I'm not completely lost. It's available now.

But wait, there's more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed, and the SuperSite Blog.

Short Takes

Bing Down for the Count
That "bing" sound you hear is the sound of the referee stopping the fight. A day after rolling out new service functionality that includes—among other things—a new Maps module, Microsoft's Bing went offline for 30 minutes on Thursday. The software giant says the outage was caused by "a configuration change during some internal testing that had unfortunate and unintended consequences." But hey, that kind of tomfoolery happens to Google search all the time, right? Right?

Yahoo, Microsoft Finalize Search Deal
Which is to say that the companies have finalized their agreement to enter into a search deal, and now they're waiting on antitrust agencies around the globe to OK it. You might or might not recall that Microsoft and Yahoo! said in July that they would work through October to hammer out details of the deal, but then said in October that they needed more time. Well, they're done. Exciting, eh?

Shocker: Microsoft Ripped Off Apple Store Design for Its Own Stores
I've been meaning to get out to the Phoenix area so that I can visit with friends and family and, naturally, visit one of the first Microsoft retail stores in the country. But that hasn't happened yet, mostly because I just spent most of the past two months on the road, and I'm exhausted. So, like your average blogger, I'm just reading reviews of the stores online and forming my opinion that way. It's lazy, but let's face it, it's less expensive. Anyway, it's pretty clear that Microsoft is again “pulling a Zune” and simply copying what Apple did first, right down to the wood and glass and general presentation. And that gives me the same uneasy feeling I always get when I boot up a copy of Linux or use one of the million C-like programming languages out there today: I see something that's familiar but wrong. I just don't get it.

Barnes & Noble Delays Nook eBook Reader
Although Amazon has never provided hard sales numbers for its Kindle eBook reader, there are indications everywhere that it’s a market phenomenon, so it's no surprise that competitors such as Sony (which already had an eBook reader that it was letting die a slow death) are stepping up to meet the challenge. Some, however, obviously forgot how to compete. Case in point: Barnes & Noble, the bookseller most famous for killing off mom-and-pop book stores and then starting its own publishing company so that it can screw its own partners, too. B&N is now trying to launch its own eBook reader, the Nook, but it can't seem to make it happen. The Nook was originally supposed to ship today (Monday), or "in time for the holidays," as I call it. But B&N says that's not happening now. Instead, B&N is doing the customer-friendly thing by delaying the device until after the holidays because of, yes, "the high volume of preorders." Heads up to the retailing giant: Not delivering anything is far worse than delivering something and creating demand. But you know that. Holiday buyers looking for a better device should head on over to, by the way. The Kindle is the eBook reader to own.

Microsoft Banning Xbox 360 Users Who Take Advantage of Game Glitch
You know, this one really burns me, but maybe not for the reasons you'd expect. I'm a heavy, heavy user of Xbox Live, Microsoft's online service, thanks to games in the Call of Duty and Halo series. And over the years, I've watched as an increasingly annoying cadre of children have found and exploited various glitches in the games to do such things as run under the maps and shoot others from locations that cannot be targeted normally. In fact, just over the weekend, I was reminiscing with my son about an infamous map in Call of Duty 2 where you could hop over a fence and off the map, then snipe people from a supposedly unreachable location. Nothing was ever done to these people, of course, and fixes to the glitches came slowly, if at all. (That Call of Duty 2 map glitch is probably still there, I bet.) Anyway, there are similar glitches in the new Call of Duty game, Modern Warfare 2. Of course. And now Microsoft is actually starting to suspend and ban players who utilize these glitches, even though they're actually pretty innocuous. The first infraction gets you a one-day suspension from Xbox Live. The second one gets you a week. Keep going and you're banned for good. Um. Here's the thing. These people pay for this service, and they paid for the game. And they're not usurping the electronic code—as you could on the PC—or installing hardware in their consoles to make it happen. It's just a bug. Rather than ban the players and try to legalize some moral code you suddenly have, how about fining the game maker and ensuring the bugs get fixed more quickly (or at all)? "Some of you think cheating a glitch is OK," Microsoft Director of Policy and Enforcement Stephen Toulouse wrote. "If I install my car stereo wrong and it disables my door locks, it's not OK to STEAL MY CAR." I like you Stephen, but that's dumb, sorry. In this scenario, it was the car maker's partner that installed the stereo. And if it disables the door locks, then you go after the partner, not the person who, by the way, bought both the car and the stereo. Obviously. Why does Microsoft always seem to punish its own customers?

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