An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Apple's new antitrust suit, Dell's exit from the MP3 player market, Yahoo's love of China (but not its residents), Rob Glaser's deal with the devil, GMail Chat, and so much more...
Feeling ripped off by the Super Bowl? You're not the only one. Not only did two completely unexciting teams inexplicably make it to the world's biggest game, but they then proceeded to execute one of the most error-ridden Super Bowls in recent memory. Worst of all, the game was decided on two horribly blown calls, one of which took away a valid Seattle touchdown, the other of which inexcusably gave Pittsburgh an undeserved touchdown. In other words, the so-called winner didn't win the game, and the loser, well, they didn't really deserve to win it either. This is the Super Bowl, guys. You have to get the calls right. But at the least the ads were decent: My favorite moment of the day was the FedEx ad where the caveman punted the little dinosaur a second before being stomped on by a woolly mammoth. Yeah, the game was that bad.
Thoroughly forgettable football games notwithstanding, at least we're finally getting some suspense from the weather this week. After one of the worst winters in history last year, this winter has been tamer than a neutered and declawed cat, with little snow and some pretty decent temperatures. That could finally change this weekend. Depending on weather patterns, we might actually get a foot of snow Sunday, with snowfall of up to 3 inches an hour for a while. Of course, I've lived here long enough to know that these dire predictions will likely result in a complete lack of snow. Frankly, at this point, I'd be pretty happy with that.
Now, It's Apple's Turn to Face an Antitrust Lawsuit
There's got to be a sports metaphor that's better than "the shoe is on the other foot," but since it's early, let's just leave it at that. Now that Apple has secured its dominance of the MP3 player market, the antitrust lawsuits are set to begin. The reason? Apple is (possibly illegally) tying its iTunes Music Store (and the associated Protected AAC music format) to its best-selling iPod by refusing to let songs purchased from iTunes work on other devices and refusing to let songs purchased from non-iTunes stores work on the iPod. If you think this sounds suspiciously like Microsoft's bundling of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows--which was also done to thwart competitors and not because it benefited consumers in any way--then you're not alone. If you don't see the similarities, please take off your Apple-colored glasses. In any event, this week, a federal judge in California cleared the way for the first-ever antitrust suit against Apple because of the iPod, noting that the plaintiff has "met all requirements" for asserting the iTunes and iPod claim, noting that the complaint alleges Apple has an 80 percent share of the market for legal digital music files and more than 90 percent of the market for portable hard-drive digital music players. Like Microsoft, Apple is being sued under the Sherman Antitrust Act. My advice is simple: If Apple opens up the iPod to Microsoft's Windows Media Audio (WMA) format--including songs purchased from competing online music services--all will be well.
Dell Succumbs to Apple Juggernaut (MP3 Players, Not Computers)
Speaking of Apple's dominance of the MP3 player market, Dell this week admitted that it couldn't compete with the iPod and has canceled development of its DJ line of MP3 players. Actually, Dell will continue selling the Flash-based DJ Ditty products; the company has canceled only its hard-drive-based DJ players. Like most WMA-based players, the DJ didn't sell well, despite Dell's legendary cost savings and, frankly, some pretty superior mechanical controls. But that's what happens when you run up against an illegal monopoly--and a product that's infinitely cooler than anything else on the market.
Kama Sutra Barely Registers
We were all supposed to get socked by the Kama Sutra worm last week, but just like weather reports in New England, the fear-based warnings were far more dramatic than reality. Instead of flooding email inboxes with the vicious worm, Kama Sutra sputtered, stalled, and ultimately didn't cause any real headaches. Security experts say that's because Kama Sutra is already blocked by virtually every antivirus solution on the planet, and let's face it, you'd have to be two kinds of stupid to put a PC on the Internet without any protection. Are PC users finally waking up to reality? By Jove, I think they just might be.
Yahoo! Aided Chinese Government in 2003, Led to Dissident Jailing
I've heard a lot of talk online lately about the way Microsoft and Google have bent over backward to aid China's totalitarian regime in a transparent bid to ensure a piece of China's explosive online growth. But these companies are complete amateurs compared with Yahoo!, although I give them all credit for putting financial interests ahead of moral conundrums. In 2003, Yahoo! actually supplied personal information about an Internet user to Chinese police, and that information led directly to his arrest. The dissident--or, as might say here in the United States, "citizen"--was charged with "inciting subversion" while using the Internet. He's been in jail since then and will be for at least 5 more years. And that's all thanks to Yahoo!, folks, which, let's face it, has bigger issues to worry about than a single citi--er--dissident. I mean, there are billions of people over there. What's one lost soul? Right? Anyone?
$1.45 Million Bounty for Sucking Up to Microsoft
It's a good gig if you can get it. RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser recently collected a handsome $1.45 million bonus and will get an identical bonus in January 2007. You're probably wondering what amazing business feat Glaser performed. Turns out, he was rewarded by the company's board for his "excellent leadership and outstanding efforts relating to the Microsoft antitrust case." Put another way, RealNetworks decided that instead of fighting Microsoft's technology in the open market, it would simply sue the software giant and wait for the settlement to roll in, to the tune of $761 million from Microsoft. In response, RealNetworks withdrew its support for the European Union (EU) antitrust suit against Microsoft. You know, I was earlier criticizing Yahoo!, but I have to wonder if this action isn't somehow just as bad. I'll need to mull it over. That said, if anyone wants to give me $1.45 million, I'm pretty much for sale.
RealNetworks Starts Spending Microsoft's Cash
Speaking of RealNetworks, you might be wondering what the company plans to do with its sudden influx of Microsoft's dirty money: Spend it, of course. Like Wilma Flintstone with a new Bedrock Bank credit card, RealNetworks is off to the mall. Its first purchase is the Dutch online gaming company, Zylom Media, for $21 million. The acquisition will help strengthen RealNetworks' position in the European market for "casual games," and we all know how strategic that position will be.
AOL, Yahoo! to Charge for Legit Email Sending
AOL and Yahoo! will soon introduce a service that will charge email senders a fee for routing email directly to users' inboxes without first sending the messages through a spam filter. The point of the service isn't to abet spammers. Instead, legitimate email senders had asked the companies to offer such a service so that their messages wouldn't be inadvertently marked as spam and never delivered. And, of course, spammers wouldn't be interested in paying for the service, because the point of spam is that it's so cheap to send millions of messages that it's easy to make lots of money without spending hardly anything.
Google Integrates IM and Web Email
This week, Google upgraded its GMail Web-based email service with its Google Talk IM service, providing users with a way to send and receive instant messages from within the GMail interface. This interesting bit of integration, called GMail chat, will let Google fans IM without having to install the abysmal GTalk client, which makes my Commodore 64's built-in BASIC interface look friendly by comparison. (Ah, the good old days.) Anyway, if I know Google like I think I know Google, GMail chat will be in perpetual beta for a few years and then will be quietly never updated again.
Symantec and McAfee Plan OneCare Live Competitors
This week's announcement about Windows OneCare Live pricing and availability wouldn't be complete unless we considered how the competition--companies such as Symantec and McAfee--has for the past few decades been sucking off the many security vulnerabilities in Windows like electronic remoras. Well, Symantec and McAfee aren't amused about OneCare Live--because it's from Microsoft, it's inexpensive, it includes a three-PC (Or is this a Microsoft term?) home license, and it offers features their own security suites do not. So they're fighting Microsoft with new products instead of the antitrust lawsuits you know they must have looked into. Symantec is working up a product code-named Genesis, a subscription offering that will combine many of the company's best anti-malware technologies into a single application. Meanwhile, McAfee has vowed to stay competitive, although I haven't seen anything coherent about how that will happen. I think the funniest thing about this whole situation is that Microsoft is actually charging people to fix problems with its own products. It's brilliant, really. I only wonder what took Microsoft so long.
Microsoft Investigating More Windows Security Issues
Speaking of which, here's the latest reason to consider subscribing to Windows OneCare Live: Microsoft this week revealed that it's investigating two new serious software vulnerabilities, which affect its Windows and IE products (the two are, ahem, inseparable). One of the flaws, not surprisingly, is a variant of the Windows Metafile Format (WMF) image file flaw that raised its ugly head a month ago, but this flaw affects only various IE 5.x versions on Windows 2000 and Windows Me. The other involves access permissions in Windows Server 2003 (pre-Service Pack 1--SP1) and Windows XP (pre- SP2). In all cases, Microsoft recommends upgrading to the latest software versions to be safe. As self-serving as that statement might sound, it's actually good advice.
Widgets, Gadgets, Oh My: Active Desktop Rises from the Dead
Microsoft's upcoming Sidebar for Windows Vista and XP is simply the latest rendition of Active Desktop, although the company wisely won't be promoting it as such. But Microsoft isn't the only company getting widget mania in the wake of Apple's decision to copy Konfabulator for its Dashboard feature in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. Now, browser maker Opera Software is adding widgets to its namesake Web browser as well. Opera 9, due next week, includes support for widgets, or small HTML-like applications that can run on the Windows desktop. Like all the other silly, widget-based solutions that are suddenly popping up (no pun intended) all over the place, Opera's widgets will likely annoy more than serve. Do we really need more clutter on the Windows desktop?