WinInfo Short Takes: Week of February 24

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

Microsoft: Office 2003 Beta 2 in March
As first reported in WinInfo, Microsoft planned to internally release Office 2003 Beta 2 in February, and then issue it publicly in March, including a very wide public release courtesy of a new public preview program. However, this week's temporary pre-release of the product to MSDN Universal members was a mistake, the company says, and beta testers can still expect to see the product early next month. "Microsoft inadvertently posted Office 11 Beta 2 on MSDN," the company wrote in a statement. "Some level of education is critical to the program's success, and that means providing materials that ensure a productive and valid evaluation process for Microsoft and its customers. Once these materials are ready, we will ship Beta 2 to our customers ... in March. We apologize for any confusion or inconvenience this may have caused." However, make no mistake: The products that were posted on MSDN are, in fact, the Beta 2 versions.

Apple Touts MPEG-4 DRM
Ah yes, I love the sound of sputtering in the morning. That's the sound of Mac fanatics, in case you're wondering, and the reason you're hearing all the backpedaling now is that the same people who blasted Microsoft for implementing Digital Rights Management (DRM) in its Windows Digital Media technology now have some comeuppance on the way. The reason? Yes, Virginia, Apple--you know, the company that cares about consumers, not content providers--is now working to add DRM technology to MPEG-4, its standards-based, if technically deficient, alternative to Windows Media 9 Series. I tried to explain this was happening last year when the "Microsoft is evil for DRM" hype was at its apex, but what can you do? Welcome to the real world, folks.

Mac Users Respond to Connectix Purchase. Craziness Ensues
And speaking of reality, I've been really surprised by the response Microsoft has gotten from this crowd about the company's purchase of Connectix's virtual machine technologies. On the Mac rumors sites, the buy is seen as a direct attack on the Mac's 2.5 percent of the market, as if this was somehow more important to Microsoft than the lucrative server consolidation and NT upgrade markets the company is actually targeting. It's time for another reality-check, folks: You're just not that important in the wider scheme of things, sorry.

Microsoft a "Most Admired" Company
Microsoft somehow landed at number seven on Forbes' list of most admired companies, just ahead of Fed-Ex (no. 8) Starbucks (no. 9). Wal-Mart topped the list this year, followed by Southwest Airlines, Berkshire Hathaway, Dell Computer, General Electric, and Johnson & Johnson. Interestingly, chipmaker Intel was bounced off the list this year because of the PC sales slump, though that doesn't really explain Dell and Microsoft being in the top ten, the only PC-related companies near the top of the list.

XP Vulnerability? You're the Vulnerability
A supposed new vulnerability in Windows XP is apparently not an XP problem. It turns out if you boot an XP system with a Windows 2000 CD, you can use the Recovery Console feature to gain access to the XP system without using a password. Sounds pretty ominous me, but security experts, normally the first group to jump all over Microsoft, are begrudgingly admitting that this is a problem with virtually all operating systems: If the physical security of the machine is compromised, the system's security features are moot. As Microsoft notes, this attack involves letting an attacker gain complete physical control over a machine and at that point, a number of attacks could be implemented. And yes, it could happen to Linux, UNIX, Mac OS X, or virtually an other OS you can think of, using the appropriate boot disk.

ThreeDegrees Interesting But Ultimately Annoying
They say you can never go back, and when it comes to my teenage years, I guess they're right. I tested Microsoft's peer-to-peer (P2P) application for the kiddie market, threedegrees, this week, and it's ... interesting. The application lets you establish groups of friends and then share music, photos, and virtual winks, which are animated Microsoft Bob-like characters that appear on screen, annoyingly, providing you with anything from kisses to ... well, less charitable demonstrations. I suppose the attention-deprived teen crowd will be all over this, but I found it got annoying really quickly. The music sharing stuff, however, is pretty interesting, though it has to slowly download each track that's added by your friends, which can delay initial playback. The threedegrees beta will be posted publicly next week, Microsoft says.

Microsoft Gets a Date with Destiny
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia will hear Microsoft's appeal in the Java antitrust case on April 3, the court announced this week, and each side will get a full 20 minutes to present their respective cases. That doesn't sound like a lot of time, frankly, but I'm sure Microsoft and Sun can summarize their viewpoints on the issue of Java bundling in Windows XP fairly succinctly. This appeal only applies to the preliminary injunction handed down by Judge J. Frederick Motz last month. If Microsoft wins, it will not have to immediately add Sun's Java to Windows XP. If it loses, it will have to do so. However, in either case, Sun and Microsoft are still headed back to Motz's court to determine whether Microsoft must permanently add Java to XP and future Windows versions.

Opera Strikes Back with Comedic Release
Last week, niche browser maker Opera complained that Microsoft was purposefully breaking its MSN Web sites so that Opera users couldn't get the full experience, despite the fact that the Opera browser is technically capable of correctly viewing the sites. So last Friday, the company released a new "Bork Edition" of Opera 7, which changes the MSN Web site into gibberish inspired by the Swedish Chef from "The Muppet Show." "This is a joke," an Opera spokesperson said. "However, we are trying to make an important point. The success of the Web depends on software and Web site developers behaving well and rising above corporate rivalry." Good point, and good stuff, and yet Microsoft has still not fixed the problem.

Palm to Appeal Xerox Ruling
An appellate court handed Palm a partial respite in its legal battle with Xerox, ruling that the PDA maker can appeal a decision that determined Palm infringed on Xerox's patent for handwriting recognition. The court upheld the original ruling, which said that Palm's Grafiti software violated Xerox patents, while giving the company one last chance to prove that Xerox's patents are invalid. Palm continues to sell PDAs with the Grafiti software, thanks to a $50 million bond which will cover any potential damages during the period in which Palm fights the ruling. If Palm loses, however, it will have to stop providing the Grafiti software to customers.

17-inch PowerBook Users Face Massive Delays
Apple currently faces a number of lawsuits related to false promises, because the company overstated the performance and/or delivery times of its products, but its recent announcement about 17-inch PowerBook notebook computers might end up being the most embarrassing vaporware announcement it's ever made. Launched with much fanfare in January, CEO Steve Jobs promised that the new machines would be shipping in February, a month that is rapidly coming to a close with nary a 17-inch PB in site. And users who ordered the machines on the date of the announcement are now reporting that the predicted ship date has slipped to mid-April, or about two months later than originally promised. Given the grief users have heaped on the company for pre-announcing products, I find it odd that Apple is still doing this.

New Low-Cost Laptop will Run Linux will soon release a new low-cost notebook computer running the open source Linux operating system. The $800 Lindows Mobile PC features a 12-inch XGA screen, a 933 MHz Via C3 microprocessor, 256 MB of RAM, a 20 GB drive, a nice allotment of ports, and a low 2.5 pound weight, though no optical drive is included. has seen limited success with its low-cost desktops, sold through Wal-Mart, but the notebook is somewhat intriguing. Most low-cost notebooks weigh considerably more than the Lindows machine, though they often feature larger screens and better hardware.

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