WinInfo Short Takes: Week of February 11, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a difficult week, Windows Anytime Upgrade for Dummies, yet another EU investigation of Microsoft, Microsoft's decade-long piracy battle, Yahoo vs. Microsoft, Save XP, and much more...

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If I ever needed further proof that I'd never make much of a gambler, last week's embarrassing Super Bowl loss by the Patriots--who somehow managed to lose their most important game of the year for the third season in a row after completing an otherwise historic undefeated season--and my emerging illness late this week have shut me up for now. On the plus side, ... Well, there is no plus side. Sometimes, the best team doesn't win.

My daughter has been home sick all week, and she tends to get hit harder by this kind of thing because she has asthma. She's been overdosing on "Simpsons" DVDs all week, but I figured even here constant presence wouldn't be an issue. Apparently, just being on a plane, wedged between "morbidly obese guy" and "talking incessantly on his cell phone guy" (not their real names), did the trick. Well, that and the fact that Denver is so unbelievably dry that it sucked the liquid out of my body in about ten minutes, like a dried up husk in the 70's version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." I was up all night the night before last with a bizarre, pounding sinus headache. Still, better than the time I had HAPE, which is pretty much how I rate trips to Colorado now.

In event, I can't really discuss why I was in Denver per se, but suffice to say it was about some future relevant product that I'm eager to test and write about. And I avoided nodding off during the day-long meeting, which I consider a success, given my utter lack of sleep.

Because of my trip, Leo and I weren't able to record the Windows Weekly podcast Thursday as usual, but we'll be recording this evening, so I assume it will be up sometime this weekend regardless. Seems like there are a lot of things to talk about all of a sudden, between the release of Vista SP1 and the Microsoft/Yahoo deal.

Short Takes

Microsoft Turns Windows Anytime Upgrade into "Upgrades for Dummies"
I can't stress enough what a mistake this is: One of the most convenient features that Microsoft introduced in Windows Vista was the ability to electronically acquire product keys for higher-end versions of the product, allowing users to easily upgrade whenever they want. This program, called Windows Anytime Upgrade, is available to owners of Windows Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, and Business editions, and it allows customers to upgrade using the Vista install disk they already have. However, Microsoft announced this week that it will discontinue electronic distribution of products keys via Windows Anytime Upgrade on February 20, forcing customers who wish to upgrade to wait for DVDs to arrive in the mail. Microsoft says it is making the change based on feedback, but clearly what's happening here is that users are losing the keys and/or their install disk (or perhaps they didn't get the disk with a new PC or whatever), and thus are unable to upgrade. Put another way, customers are just too dumb to figure out what they need to do and are apparently sending Microsoft their credit card info but getting nothing out of it. Why those of us who are technical enough to handle this transaction have to suffer as a result is unclear: I think Microsoft should simply make the DVD shipment the default option and continue offering product keys electronically. In fact, I'd take it a step further and say the electronic version should be less expensive. This change is silly and unnecessary.

EU: Hate the Game, Not the Player
Well, the EU is at it again. Antitrust regulators in Europe, who seem willing to investigate even imagined Microsoft transgressions, are this week examining the software giant's efforts to give away its Microsoft Office file formats as international standards. Seriously, mull that one over for a second and explain to me who, exactly, the EU is protecting with this one. Microsoft pursued the standardization route because various governments around the world told the company that they wanted to store their important documents in open formats. So Microsoft responded, presenting its Office document formats to various standards bodies, including the ISO, which initially rejected the application. Now, Microsoft has a chance at appeal, so to speak, this month in Geneva. Opponents of the software giant say that Microsoft stacked standards committees with Microsoft allies in the days leading up to the ISO vote last year, and that's apparently what the EU is investigating. You know, in addition to its previous epic antitrust fight with Microsoft and two other investigations regarding Internet Explorer and Office interoperability. Here's a thought: You could drop two of these probes simply by allowing Microsoft to make Office more interoperable by opening up the document formats it supports as international standards. Just a thought.

Microsoft Anti-Piracy Surge Working
Microsoft this week announced the results of a decade-long piracy case that has culminated in the seizure of $900 million worth of pirated software, part of an international sting effort that involved law enforcement officials in the US 22 other countries. The case dates back all the way to 2001, when a container of fake software showed up in a freight container in Los Angeles. According to the software giant, the sting operation nailed the individuals responsible for distributing about 90 percent of all pirating Microsoft software produced between 1999 and 2004, and led investigators from LA to Taiwan and then to China. It's a convoluted and time consuming case. But I have to wonder, if people were able to acquire Windows products keys online legally, would they even need to pirate Microsoft's software?

Yahoo Board Meeting Today to Discuss Microsoft Offer
According to reports, Yahoo's board of directors will hold a special meeting today to discuss Microsoft's hostile $44.6 billion offer for the company. While it's unlikely that Yahoo will simply decide to accept or reject the offer this quickly, it does appear that things are moving along. In related news, there's a theory floating around that Microsoft's surprise bid was actually designed to prevent online retailer from merging with Yahoo, and that Microsoft knew that Yahoo would reject its bid but that the announcement of the bid would drive up Yahoo's worth, making the merger untenable for Amazon. I'm not sure I buy that: Microsoft will look ridiculous if it has to back and make a run with its Live services stuff after a Yahoo deal is shot down. My guess is that Microsoft is serious about the Yahoo bid.

What the Microsoft/Yahoo Deal Means
On that note, many people are looking at Microsoft's blockbuster $44.6 billion offer for Yahoo as tacit admission that its online efforts have failed. While that's certainly partially true, I think there's more going on here. I mean, look at it this way: At least the company is trying to right the ship. After years of bulking up its flagship traditional products rather than coming out with truly exciting online offerings that, yes, may very well eat in Windows and Office, Microsoft's bid for Yahoo shows that the venerable software giant is still willing to take huge chances. Remember, this is a company that drags out the phrase "bet the company" every time it releases a minor software update. By taking such a huge financial risk this time, however, Microsoft shows that it's not in the grave yet and is serious about making big changes. The proof, of course, will be in the execution. But I think they deserve a bit of credit for making a bold move regardless.

"Save XP" Petition Wrongheaded and Stupid
I mentioned before how stupid Computerworld's PR-savvy "Save XP" petition is, right? Good. It's still stupid. Moving on...

Old World Tech Severs Ties to New World Tech
You may have heard that an undersea cable was somehow severed last week in the Persian Gulf, cutting off Internet access for huge areas of the Middle East. Turns out it was caused by, of all things, a ship anchor, which cut one end of the cable near Dubai. This isn't the kind of anchor you'd throw overboard during a beer-induced fishing weekend, however: It was a 5.5 ton mammoth that was abandoned after it got stuck on the cable. Interestingly, a second Internet access cable was also damaged in the area in the past week. This one, near the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, is still unsolved. Both cables should be fully repaired in the coming days, so users in the Middle East can update their Facebook pages and IM each other about Heath Ledger as usual.

It's Official: Microsoft HD Photo Format Approved by JPEG
Microsoft's HD Photo format has been officially accepted by the Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) as the next JPEG photo format standard, which will be called JPEG XR. Maybe the EU should look into that one as well.

DOJ Looks Into Universal Music Plan
And speaking of antitrust regulation, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) snorked awake after a multi-year nap and decided to investigate a music industry initiative to sell music. Music giant Universal was planning to collude with competitors such as Sony BMG to sell music online, bypassing traditional outlets such as Apple's iTunes store and The project, dubbed "Total Music," would offer consumers unlimited music for a monthly fee. It's still unclear which part of this scheme raised antitrust concerns at the DOJ--I'm guessing it was the competitor collusion bit--but hopefully we'll know more soon. Like why isn't the DOJ investigating Microsoft for opening up proprietary technology as an international standard that everyone could use license-free?

Xbox 360 HD DVD Player in Fire Sale
And finally, Microsoft this week officially lowered the price of the Xbox 360's HD DVD add-on drive to $129, making the already obsolete technology available for even less money. If you're looking for a way to make your Xbox 360 even louder, this is a great way to do it.

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