WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 15 - 12 Jan 2001

AOL/Time Warner merger approved

Well, the FCC finally approved the merger of America Online (AOL) with Time Warner last night, creating a multimedia powerhouse with tendrils in just about every high-tech and media-related niche imaginable. But the AOL/Time Warner merger comes with a few strings attached, and some of them affect the computer market, such as the requirement that AOL open up the interface to its next-generation version of AOL Instant Messenger (AOL IM) to at least three competitors, allowing users of rival IM products to communicate with each other. The decision doesn't affect the current generation of text-based IM programs, however, so AOL users will continue to exist in a state of not-quite-the-NET stupor as usual.

IE6 to be bundled only with Whistler?

Mary Jo Foley has an interesting report about the possibility that Microsoft's next generation Web browser, IE 6, will only be available as a bundle with Whistler, the company's next version of Windows, and will not be made available as a separate download. This contrasts sharply with the company's vow that IE would always be free for users, and I'm not sure that IE would ever be yanked from the market like that. Then again, this could help Microsoft's integration argument, so you never know. IE 6 technical beta testers are currently able to install the product on any version of 32-bit Windows, however. Adding to the confusion: The latest external build of Whistler also includes MSN Explorer, the company's integrated Web browser for consumers.

Microsoft finally tosses out ClubWin

Speaking of the evil empire, Microsoft finally pulled the plug on the questionable ClubWin organization, which gave a group of Windows enthusiasts a too-cozy relationship with the company. Similar to Team OS/2, ClubWin was supposedly separate from Microsoft, but the volunteers who were accepted into this secret community were certainly paid (with free software and other gifts), and Microsoft owns the www.clubwin.com domain name. ClubWin began during the Windows 95 launch but became superfluous, apparently, when Windows became too popular. Next up on the chopping block: the MVP program.

Another one bites the dust

Jim Ewel, who headed Windows product marketing for Microsoft, became the latest in a long string of executive departures late last month when he left the company for personal reasons. Ewel, who joined Microsoft in 1989, is seen by some as a victim of Windows 2000's sales, which were reportedly not as high as expected last year. He joins recent cast-offs such as Pete Higgins, Paul Maritz, Nathan Myhrvold, and Tod Neilsen.

As if we weren't fat and lazy enough

In an effort to partner with every company on the planet, Microsoft has entered into a strategic alliance with La-Z-Boy, makers of puffy, reclining chairs, to create the world's first "e-cliner," a Web-enabled reclining chair. No, I'm not making this up. The heavily padded "Explorer" (yes, Explorer) will feature a wireless keyboard, a Sony WebTV Plus receiver, and two free months of Internet access in addition to the usual La-Z-Boy appointments, such as concealed drink holders and remote storage. We discuss the decline of Western Civilization a lot here in Short Takes, and if this doesn't take the cake, I don't know what to say.

Lego teams with Microsoft to create MSN, Xbox content

Wasn't the failure of the Barbie PC warning enough? In a continuing effort to partner with every company on the planet, Microsoft has announced a strategic partnership with Lego Corporation to create Lego games and content for the company's MSN service and Xbox video game system. Sometimes, Short Takes just writes itself.

The decline of the American school system continues

And speaking of the decline of Western Civilization, Microsoft announced this week that its Windows products are number one in U.S. schools and universities, which is comparable to announcing that water is the number one beverage, as far as I can tell. While Microsoft conspicuously avoids mentioning the word "Macintosh" in its excited press release about the topic, I think we all know whom the company is beating back here. Is this really something to celebrate?

Take THAT, Windows Media!

The owners of the MP3 audio format are promising a new version of the technology that will achieve identical or better quality that the current format in less space, giving MP3 a fighting chance against Windows Media, which has had bragging rights to the small size/high quality championship since last year. Thomson Multimedia, which owns the patent for MP3, said that the new format will be compatible with existing players and will be made available in mid-2001. It's name? MP3Pro.

Gateway financials stumble

Gateway's financial fall this quarter was even worse than expected, and the company announced that its earnings were less than one-third of what was previously expected. Gateway, which announced that it would cut 10 percent of its workforce (some 3,000 jobs), to reduce spending, posted $37.6 million in earnings for the quarter, down from $126 million in the same quarter last year. The company's stock tanked to $20.

IBM to release note-taker's notebook

IBM will introduce an odd notebook next month which combines a traditional screen and keyboard with a side-mounted 8x11" notepad that can be used for taking notes that will be stored in the computer. The IBM TransNote features a swiveling 10-inch touch screen, and a 600 MHz Intel processor. The company says that copious note-takers, such as lawyers and students will find the $3000 device indispensable. Hopefully it will last longer than IBM's ill-fated "butterfly" keyboard.

Elmore Leonard and Dean Koontz to follow in King's footsteps

Authors Elmore Leonard and Dean Koontz will follow Stephen King into eBook history this month when they release books in the new electronic format. Leonard's next thriller will be made available to the online newsstand Contentville, while Koontz will publish a title through the eBook division at Barnes & Noble.

Ken Starr hired to legalese Microsoft to death

Infamous Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr has been retained by an anti-Microsoft trade group that has written friend-of-court briefs for the DOJ. ProComp, which is backed by America Online, Sun Microsystems, and Oracle, also works with former federal judge Robert Bork, who is a strong proponent of the anti-Microsoft crusade. Not coincidentally, Starr says he had no hesitation at all in joining the fight against Microsoft.

Mystery of Ginger solved

For some reason, every news agency in the world is buzzing about something called "Ginger," a secretive invention that will do everything from cure world hunger to solving the energy crisis, depending on who you talk to. I haven't seen this much hype since the "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" debuted on Fox last year, but what kills me is that no one seems to know what it is. Well, I do know, though I'm not telling yet. But a search of U.S. patents will give you some clues. Go forth and snoop

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