WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 16

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including
Macworld, Paul's new iMac, Vista product editions, XP Home support
extension, Microsoft vs. WMP on the Mac, portable OpenOffice, Robert
Fripp and Vista, FAT patents, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

I guess I'll have to admit defeat on my prediction that Macworld would
generate more excitement than the 2006 International Consumer
Electronics Show (CES). Macworld generated a lot of buzz, sure, but the
post-keynote frenzy that always follows a Steve Jobs presentation was
muted somewhat by overall disappointment about the new Intel-based
products, especially the MacBook Pro, which lacks many of the features
found in the previous generation PowerBook G4, such as a Firewire 800
port, a built-in modem, and dual-layer DVD writing support. Also
disappointing is the lack of a new media center-like Mac mini and any
new iPods. All in all, Macworld was still an exciting event, but in the
end, Apple is a single company, and its Macintosh computers, although
excellent, don't have enough users to generate that much mainstream
excitement.

I didn't actually go to Macworld. It was just bad timing: I've got a
lot of other business-related travel occurring in January, and I didn't
want to be away from home that long. I did, however, order a 20" iMac
so I could test Windows Vista and Mac OS X head-to-head on the same
hardware. It should be interesting.

Meanwhile, after two of the most miserable winters in Boston history,
this year is turning out to be a peach. If this is what global warming
is all about, I'm all for it: We've seen sunny 50 degrees Fahrenheit
days all week and none of the bitter, biting cold that typifies January
around these parts. On the down side, our regular skiing schedule has
been completely disrupted. I'll take the warm weather if given the
choice, however.

I get the weirdest email messages. One guy has bugged me repeatedly all
week about a particular font in Vista and Microsoft Office 12, but I'm
more concerned about the bizarre spam messages with nonsense sentences
that are clearly computer-generated. Here's a typical example of the
text that appears in these messages: "Having surmounted this perilous
steep, they sat down and took a brief rest with their backs against a
sheltering rock and their heels dangling over a bottomless abyss; then
they climbed to the base of another ridge--a more difficult and
dangerous one still." Weird, eh? Does anyone know what the point of
this stuff is? There's no attachment, so it's not directly sending a
virus.

Short Takes

Microsoft will Ship All Vista Bits with Each Product Edition

Although Microsoft will market several Vista product editions, or SKUs,
the company will distribute one version of the product's DVD providing
the code for all product editions on each disc. That way, users will be
able to unlock functionality from higher-end Vista editions at a later
date, after paying for the upgrade privilege. The change in plans,
which was first reported by "CRN," means that Microsoft will need to
maintain only a single Vista master disk image rather than the multiple
images that would otherwise be required. Each time a Vista edition is
upgraded, Microsoft will provide an updated product key, as each
product edition requires different product key sequences. At that
point, your old product key will be invalidated so it can't be used on
a different system. Say what you will, but this new scheme makes a lot
of sense, given the sheer number of email messages I get about
upgrading one edition of XP to another. And with Vista, we'll see even
more product editions, each with its own specific set of features.

Windows XP Home Edition Support Extended to at Least Late 2008

For the past 2 weeks, the Windows community has been buzzing with news
that Microsoft was scheduled to halt support for XP Home at the end of
this year. (Apparently, Microsoft never expected that its next Windows
release would take so long to ship.) Well, the crisis is over.
Microsoft this week revealed that it has extended support for XP Home
(and a few other XP editions whose support was also scheduled to be
terminated this year) to "2 years after the next version of \[Windows
Vista\] is released," according to the company. If Vista ships on
schedule at the end of the year, that means that Microsoft will
continue supporting XP Home through late 2008. That's not too shabby.
Note that Microsoft's business-oriented Windows products have much
lengthier support life cycles. Microsoft is supporting XP Professional,
for example, through 2011.

Microsoft Drops Windows Media Player (WMP) for Mac OS X; Adds a   
Keyboard

After the Apple-Microsoft love fest at Macworld, two unexpected events
revealed that maybe relations between the companies aren't as rosy as
they'd like us to believe. First, Microsoft dropped its WMP for Mac
software and is pushing customers to download a third-party plug-in
that supports Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Windows Media Video (WMV)
formats in Apple's QuickTime Player. Apparently, the problem has to do
with Microsoft's audio and video files, which are protected by Digital
Rights Management (DRM); Apple wouldn't provide the technical details
Microsoft needed to support the formats on OS X, so Microsoft just gave
up. Second, Microsoft announced that it would release a keyboard and
mouse specifically aimed at the Mac market, with Apple-like styling.
There's just one problem: Apple won't let Microsoft use its Apple logo
on the keyboard, so the Apple key, which appears on every Mac, will be
replaced by a key with a clover graphic (this graphic also appears on
Apple's keyboards). Maybe I'm seeing this through Microsoft glasses,
but from where I sit, Microsoft is at least trying. How about throwing
a bone to your oldest partner, eh, Apple?

Portable Version of OpenOffice.org Now Available

This one is kind of interesting. An open-source community Web site
called PortableApps.com has released a portable version of the
OpenOffice.org office productivity suite--including full versions of
the desktop application's word processor, spreadsheet, presentation
tool, database, and graphics packages--that will fit on a USB key,
giving users a complete productivity solution on the go. The Portable
OpenOffice.org suite takes up just 144MB, can run from USB memory keys
and other storage devices, and can be used on shared PCs found in
libraries, Internet cafes, coffee shops, and the like. It's a nifty
idea; even if you regularly use Microsoft Office on your home and work
machines, you might want something for those times when you're sans PC
and yet need to churn out the next "War and Peace." If you were to
combine the suite with portable versions of Mozilla's Firefox Web
browser and Thunderbird email client, you'd have a complete office in
your pocket. Without the blithering idiot in the next cubicle, of
course. For more information, check out the Portable OpenOffice.org Web
site.

http://portableapps.com/apps/office/suites/portable_openoffice


Robert Fripp Recording Sounds for Vista

Dinosaur rocker Robert Fripp, who cofounded the British progressive
rock band King Crimson, recently spent time at Microsoft's Redmond
campus, recording sounds that will be used in Vista. A guitarist by
trade, Fripp reportedly recorded numerous futuristic sounds that will
likely show up in various Vista sound schemes. However, one must
question the Vista team's hip quotient. Couldn't Microsoft have gotten
a musician more in touch with today's PC users? You know, someone like
Frank Stallone? Of course, this isn't the first time Microsoft turned
to an aging rocker to provide sounds for Windows. In 1995, the company
hired electronic rock pioneer Brian Eno to provide sounds for Windows
95. And we all know how cool he is.

Microsoft Wins File System Patent Challenge in United States

Microsoft this week revealed that its patents for the FAT file system
were upheld after a lengthy legal battle. The software giant had
apparently requested that various portable device makers pay for a
license to the FAT file system they were using. Some of those companies
challenged Microsoft's patents, but more than 2 years later,
Microsoft's patents were ruled valid. From Microsoft's perspective, the
case is closed. But opponents say that the decision this week only
confirms that the US patent system is flawed, because no rebuttal is
allowed after a patent challenge has been settled. Microsoft still
faces similar patent challenges in Canada and Germany.

New Version of Apple iTunes Is Spyware

Though Apple released several high-profile products this week, a small
update to its iTunes media player software didn't receive much
attention. But iTunes 6.0.2.23, as the update is known, is causing a
bit of a stir online now that Apple's millions of users are finally
getting around to installing it. The new version adds an unwelcome and
busy new panel, called the Mini Store, to the bottom of the application
window. The Mini Store displays ads for music sold on Apple's iTunes
Music Store. You can turn it off easily enough, though Apple fans are
quick to point out that its very presence mars the Spartan iTunes
interface in ways they'd never expect from Apple. The big problem,
however, is that the new Mini Store feature installs spyware on your PC
or Mac. In order to offer up targeted advertising, the Mini Store
examines the music you're currently playing and transmits that
information to Apple, which then provides relevant ads. iTunes never
mentions that it's doing this, nor that it's also secretly transmitting
the user's unique iTunes account information along with the song data.
The revelation about Apple's secret transmissions has even the
staunchest Apple supporters questioning their allegiance, as this isn't
exactly the kind of behavior they'd expect from Apple. RealNetworks,
yes. Microsoft, maybe. But not Apple.

Finally, Dell Opens Door to AMD

That PC giant Dell will soon offer a gaming PC with an Intel chip
overclocked (and warranted) to 4.26GHz is a milestone, but the fact
that Dell even has to modify an Intel microprocessor to make it perform
at a high level hints that Dell isn't too happy these days about its
Intel-only policy. Dell CEO Kevin Rollins said this week that the
company is open to selling PCs that use AMD's microprocessors, which
are widely acknowledged as being technically superior to Intel chips
while offering better performance. "We're always open \[to different
microprocessors\]," he said. "We want the very best technology for our
customers." Performance and technical superiority aside, there's
another reason to switch to AMD, and one that would surely warm the
cockles of Dell's corporate heart: AMD chips are cheaper than Intel
chips.

Mozilla Ships Thunderbird 1.5

This week, Mozilla Foundation finally shipped a long-awaited update to
its email client, Thunderbird, bringing the version number of the
product up to 1.5. Like its Firebird cousin, Thunderbird 1.5 is free
and offers Really Simple Syndication (RSS) integration, antiphishing
capabilities, various security updates, and other new features. I've
had a hard time switching to Thunderbird from Microsoft Outlook because
Thunderbird lacks integrated calendaring and tasks, though Mozilla is
working on that. But if you need just email, newsgroups, and contacts
management, Thunderbird is a great solution, vastly superior to and
more secure than Outlook Express. Check it out on the Mozilla Web site
below.
http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird/

No WinInfo on Monday

Because of the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday on Monday, we will not
be publishing WinInfo on that day. See you again on Tuesday!

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