An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Gates Touts Interoperability
In a letter to customers this week, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates promised that his company will work to make its software more interoperable with other technologies. The email message, which might caustically be regarded as an example of pointless ivory tower pontificating, should be viewed in a different light, however. After all, Gates has used such email messages to move his company to the Internet and then to Microsoft .NET. Could Microsoft be signaling that it's finally ready to work politely with non-Microsoft technologies? My goodness; it might be. "Interoperability is a proven approach for dealing with the diversity and heterogeneity of the marketplace," Gates wrote as he outlined Microsoft's interoperability plans. "First, we continue to support customers' needs for software that works well with what they have today. Second, we are working with the industry to define a new generation of software and Web services based on eXtensible Markup Language (XML), which enables software to efficiently share information." You can read the entire message at http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/execmail or visit the new Microsoft Interoperability Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/interop for more information.
Microsoft to Release 13 Security Fixes Next Week
On February 8, Microsoft will ship fixes for a whopping 13 security flaws. The software giant rates three of the flaws as critical, the company's highest rating (the lowest rating is good and the highest rating is bad). The company made the revelation through the Microsoft Security Bulletin Advance Notification service, which preannounces the number of upcoming patches that the company will release during its regularly scheduled monthly patches. Nine of this month's flaws are in various Windows versions, and the remaining four flaws involve Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), Microsoft Office, the Windows .NET Framework, Visual Studio .NET, Windows Media Player (WMP), and MSN Messenger. I hope you IT administrator types weren't planning to take it easy next week.
Ironically, CAN-SPAM Law Leads to Rise in Spam
It's been a year since the US government instituted its vaunted but paradoxically named CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which was designed to stem the flow of junk email (i.e., spam). So you might expect that junk mail volume has fallen. After all, our vigorous and well-run government has proven especially effective over the years at legislating and enforcing technology. I get goose bumps just thinking about legislation such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which is most often used to limit our legal rights to Fair Use copying, and the wonderful Carnivore program over at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). But I digress. Oddly enough, since the CAN-SPAM Act went into effect in January 2004, spam traffic in the United States has risen dramatically and now represents about 80 percent of all email traffic, up from 50 percent to 60 percent in pre-CAN-SPAM days. I guess that's why they called it CAN-SPAM, eh? Eh? Anyone? CAN-SPAM actually legalized spamming as long as spammers follow certain rules. So even though Microsoft and other companies have used the act to sue spamming companies and individuals, spam continues to rise. Here's a thought: Rather than let the federal government try to tackle what's essentially a technological problem, why don't we just fix email once and for all? Seriously.
Sony Separates Vaio, MP3 Players from Other Electronics
After having Apple Computer kick it unmercifully around the consumer electronic market as if it were an inexperienced newcomer, Walkman maker Sony has finally had enough abuse. This week, Sony announced that it will split its electronics division in half; one half will form a new division that will handle only the company's VAIO computers and Walkman portable digital audio devices, and the other half will handle everything else (including legacy Walkman devices based on CDs and cassettes). Sony says it's making the move so that it can concentrate on changing the fortunes of its Walkman line, which suffered greatly as the Apple iPod roared to market dominance. I find it amazing that Sony once owned this market. The company owns a major record label and has the Walkman brand and the consumer know-how. Instead, Sony's digital audio products have been a sad joke. I have to go back to Commodore's bungling of Amiga to find such a gross example of incompetence. It's unbelievable.
Mozilla Foundation Delays Firefox 1.1
As has routinely been the case, The Mozilla Foundation revealed this week that it won't meet its most recent product deadline, this time for Firefox 1.1, which was originally due in March. Several million people now use Firefox, and maybe it's time for the good folks at The Mozilla Foundation to start taking schedules a little more realistically. Firefox 1.1 is now scheduled for a June release, which is a Microsoft-style rescheduling, especially when you consider that the release is essentially a minor one. This kind of behavior doesn't reflect maturity.
MIT Guru Pushes $100 PC
Nicholas Negroponte, the founder and chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, wants to create a $100 PC that will help developing countries bridge the digital divide. Key to the system's cost is its screen, which you might presume uses some sort of quill and parchment system. But, no, Negroponte has solved the problem of expensive LCD screens, stating that his system could use an innovative and cheap projection system that features a 14" color display. Crazy talk, you say? Perhaps, but if Negroponte's system--which uses AMD chips and Linux--takes off, we might see an amazing shift in the demographics of PC users. It's worth watching.
Google Dominates the News, Not the Search Market
Everyone seems to know that Google is the search market leader, but is Google really that dominant? According to a Web traffic survey by comScore Networks, Google's market share isn't even close to, say, Microsoft's share of the PC OS market. Google does lead in Web search volume, with 34.7 percent of all searches made in December 2004. But that's not a heck of a lot more volume than Yahoo!'s 31.9 percent. With 16.3 percent, MSN Search came in a distant third. Microsoft released a dramatically improved MSN Search this week, but how well it will fare in the market remains to be seen. In the meantime, these figures make me wonder why Google gets such a disproportionate amount of news coverage.
AMD, Microsoft Push x64 for Businesses
Processor maker AMD and Microsoft are partnering to move corporate customers over to x64-based 64-bit servers. Microsoft is hosting x64 servers running AMD Opteron processors at its worldwide Microsoft Technology Centers (MTCs) so customers can test applications and services on the new platform. The x64 platform was derived from AMD's AMD-64 work, which basically added 64-bit capabilities to the aging x86 processor line. Now expected to be the dominant PC platform of the future, thanks in part to an endorsement from Intel, which is adding x64 capabilities to its own processors, x64 is becoming an increasingly interesting alternative for customers who want higher amounts of memory and other resources. I've been running an x64 desktop machine since September, and I'll never go back. Have no doubt; x64 is the platform of the future.
Sony to Ship PSP in North America on March 24
Sony will launch its eagerly awaited PlayStation Portable (PSP) in North America on March 24 and will have one million units available for sale in the first week alone. Unlike the Japanese versions, North American versions of the PSP will be sold only as part of a $250 Value Pack that includes a game (Spider-Man 2) and various accessories. The PSP, which vaguely resembles a PlayStation 2 hand controller with a vibrant widescreen color display, is compatible with the Memory Stick and 1.8GB Universal Media Disk (UMD) formats. Although PSP is primarily a game machine, it also plays music and videos and performs other multimedia functions. Sony says that when the PSP ships in North America, 24 game titles will be available, each selling for about $40.