WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 14, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the sheer stupidity of CES, next-week's Macworld show, Amazon goes 4-for-4 with DRM-free MP3s, Jeff Raikes retires, OLPC and AMD still hate Intel, Gates nixes MS iPhone, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog
With the understanding that I sound like a bitter old man, I just need to get this out: CES is a joke, and the people who attend this show are tools. No, wait, maybe I shouldn't be so wishy-washy about it. Let me say this more clearly: CES is the antichrist of trade shows, and anyone who gets sucked into battling a crowd of 140,000 people in order to look at gadgets--we're talking gadgets, people--in an exhibition space the size of Providence, Rhode Island while paying hotel rates of upwards of $500 a night for the privilege is a fool. OK, maybe that's too strong. But I don't think so.

CES is big, yes. It's also loud, obnoxious, and completely devoid of any valuable content, despite the best efforts of various reporters and bloggers to make it appear otherwise. The big news this year--seriously--was ... ta da! ... the TV. I mean, really. Is there anyone reading this who isn't familiar with the notion that TVs are getting bigger, flatter, less expensive, and better all at the same time? Does it shock you, really, that this ongoing effort is just continuing again this year? Really? Then CES is your show. But I'm so glad--so unbelievably happy--that I didn't go again this year. I saved money, time, and effort on a show that, quite frankly, has become irrelevant. I feel bad for anyone who doesn't get this.

And yeah, while I get that we're all living in a Windows-oriented world, the big tech news this month wasn't happening this past week in Las Vegas. It's happening next week in San Francisco, when Steve Jobs will host his umpteenth Macworld trade show and, no doubt, blow us all away again. At least year's event, Jobs discussed exactly two products, and while neither one of them was technically a Mac, at least one of those devices was as trend-setting and history making as anything that's come out of the computer industry. I'm speaking of course of the iPhone, which, while deeply flawed, is still revolutionary and important. This year's show will no doubt prove to be momentous. I recommend you pay attention to it, even if you couldn't give a rat's petoot about the Mac. (Which, by the way, is completely normal.)

Did I mention how happy I was not to go to Vegas this week? Oh, good. It's true.

Leo has returned from a long vacation with a nasty cold, but we recorded an episode of the Windows Weekly podcast nonetheless, which should be up sometime this weekend. If the preceding anti-CES rant was too calm or short for you, you'll enjoy this episode. I think we discussed some Windows stuff too.

Short Takes

Amazon First to Sell DRM-Free MP3s from All Major Labels
And just like that, Amazon's MP3 download service is both the best and most comprehensive place online to legally purchase songs in unprotected MP3 format. This week, Sony announced that it would offer its songs in DRM-free MP3 format via Amazon MP3, joining the ranks of Universal, EMI, and Warner, the latter of which joined up with Amazon two months ago. Only one of the major labels offers its songs DRM-free via Apple's popular iTunes Store, and it's become clear that not offering songs through Apple is a not-so-subtle hint that the recording industry is tired of Apple's domination of their business. DRM-free songs sold via Amazon will work with any portable media player or PC-based music software on earth, including Apple's best selling iPod players.

Jeff Raikes Retires from Microsoft
Once seen as the heir apparent for Microsoft's top job, Jeff Raikes this week announced his retirement from the software giant. Best known for his weird physical similarities to outgoing Chairman Bill Gates, Raikes oversaw Microsoft's business division, which is responsible for the company's dominant Office product line. That alone should have put him in contention for the top spot, but if I had to guess--and what the heck, it's my newsletter--I'd say that this move is likely the best for the company. While there's no doubt Raikes is a smart guy, he also kept Microsoft from aggressively pursuing cloud computing alternatives to Office during the time before and during Google's ascension, a move that could prove to be a costly mistake long-term. Clearly, Microsoft is in need of some new blood. With Raikes, Gates, and other Microsoft old-timers heading out the door, maybe the company can really get serious about change.

Gates: No Microsoft iPhone
Nope, the software giant is content with its "big f***ing table." Microsoft chairman Bill Gates this week told a German publication, which was disappointingly not named "Sprockets," that his company would not try to create an iPhone-like device to compete directly with Apple. "No, we won't do that," he's quoted as saying. "In the so-called smart phone business we will concentrate solely on software with our Windows Mobile program. We have partnerships with a lot of device manufacturers from Samsung to Motorola and this variety brings us significantly more than if we would make our own mobile phone." Hey, that's neat. But I'd point out that these sorts of business relationships didn't stop Microsoft from completely screwing over all of its PlaysForSure partners to create the Zune. And since it's been at least ten minutes since I last mentioned it, Gates is also basically leaving the company in July. I'm sure a Gates-less Microsoft can make its own decisions about what it will and won't do five months from now.

OLPC Lashes Out at Intel
In an open letter to the Wall Street Journal that I enjoyed thoroughly on my Kindle this morning (now on sale at; I recommend it highly), OLPC president Walter "the guy that's not Nicholas Negroponte" Bender said that OLPC's recent fallout with Intel had nothing to do with competitive concerns over Intel's Classmate notebook. "OLPC's objection is to anti-competitive practices, not products," he said. "To object to unfair competitive practices is hardly a stance against competition. Intel didn't meet our cost, power or environmental specifications. In contrast, we have a very fruitful collaboration with AMD." There you go.

Mozilla Names New CEO
This week, Mozilla's Mitchell Baker stepped down as CEO of the company, though she will retain the chairman (chairwoman?) position. The company named COO John Lilly as CEO. Both Lilly and Baker positioned the change as a positive one for Mozilla, which I'm sure it is. But I'm curious about the real reason behind the change. Baker says she's going to focus on standards, interoperability and data management--you know, typical chairman-type work--while Lilly will oversee the launch of Firefox 3 and the spin-off of Mozilla's email application work. "John Lilly is the right person to guide the product and organizational maturity of \[Mozilla\]," Baker wrote in a blog posting. I realized that John will be a better CEO for \[Mozilla\] going forward than I would be. I'm sure that I was the right person for this role during the first years of MoCo; I'm equally sure that John is the best person for this role in the future." Lilly, for his part, no doubt agreed with that assessment.

Intel Faces New Antitrust Probe in NY
Chip making giant Intel is facing yet another antitrust probe, this one launched in New York over allegations that the company used questionable tactics against its chief rival, AMD. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo this week announced that his office has filed a "wide range subpoena" with Intel seeking documents and information related to whether the company coerced customers into avoiding AMD solutions in favor of Intel chips. AMD has been complaining about Intel's business practices for years and filed its own antitrust suit against the company in 2005. (That case is scheduled for trial next year, in a stunning example of the efficiency of the US legal system.) Intel, of course, maintains that it competes legally.

OLPC Ships 100,000 XO Systems
And speaking of companies that hate Intel, OLPC this week announced that its recent "Give One, Get One" XO laptop promotion netted $35 million while providing over 100,000 laptops to needy children in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mongolia and Rwanda. (Presumably this means that the company manufactured 200,000 XO systems, as the other half of that number was shipped to consumers in the US.) OLPC previously said that it had expected to ship almost 500,000 XO laptops by the end of 2007.

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