WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 2

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including CES 2006, a deadly Windows exploit, Xbox 360 supply issues, Intel's home moves, Microsoft and Opera, a Vista launch date contest, Massachusetts, an MSN Messenger virus, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

I'm in a complete funk this week. After a fairly productive week last week, I've got some kind of post-Christmas traumatic stress disorder brought on by the weird lull that is the final week of the year and two curiously bored children who are home all week and crawling the walls like the winter moths that have been cropping up here in New England for the past few years.

Part of the problem is that there is no real news per se: Virtually every tech company is now waiting on next week's massive Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2006 to disclose any truly exciting news, of course. This is further aggravated by the fact that most of what we see at CES won't arrive in product form until late next year. Why the heck is this thing in January? It should be held mid-year or in the fall instead.

One thing I'll be happy to be rid of are the constant and incessant phone calls about CES. When you sign up to go to CES as press, the PR company phone calls start, asking you to meet with companies you've never heard about, to discuss products you don't even cover. There is nothing like it, and it causes a constant din of phone ringing that you can still hear, phantom-like, even when the phone isn't actually ringing. Every year I tell myself that I won't got to CES, and every year I sign up and pack my schedule full of meetings. Don't get me wrong, most of what I do at CES is indeed valuable. But the show has gotten so big and so out of control that it's increasingly worthless to me, and I'd imagine, to many of the others who blow through it and try to get work done.

For Christmas, I bought my wife a Mac mini, which I documented in Connected Home.  I realize this isn't a particularly romantic gift, so please don't think I regularly give my wife technology gifts. And to be honest, I wasn't sure she would even be interested in switching to the Mac, as she's not into technology in the slightest. Her reaction, however, has been interesting, even enthusiastic.

Short Takes

Windows Zero-Day Flaw Bedevils Microsoft, Windows Users
A scary new electronic threat is in the wild, and many of you are in danger until Microsoft fixes the problem. According to a security advisory that Microsoft posted this week, hackers have already exploited a newly discovered flaw in the WMF image file format on Windows that would let malicious Web sites execute arbitrary PC-based code in the security context of the current user. This is scary stuff, folks, and it means that any combination of Windows with Internet Explorer (IE) is unsafe at the moment, unless you never browse the Web. Microsoft says it will post a patch for this flaw as soon as possible, but it may be tricky. Because the flaw is actually in the WMF file format, it affects a number of areas. For example, users of Google's Desktop Search product could automatically trigger WMF-based attacks because that tool automatically searches WMF metafile data, where the exploit would hide. And security experts say that it can even be triggered from a DOS box in Windows XP. More info as it becomes available.

Microsoft Ships Far Fewer Xbox 360 Consoles than Expected
Back before Microsoft's blockbuster Xbox 360 console became available, analysts reported that they expected the software giant to ship up to 2 million consoles to retail stores by the end of 2005. But there is growing evidence that part of the supply problems that have aggravated would-be Xbox 360 users is due to the simple fact that Microsoft didn't make nearly as many consoles as we originally expected. And if you don't have product to sell, people can't buy it. According to reports, Microsoft made as few as 1.2 million Xbox 360 consoles--and just 700,000 to 800,000 for the US market--in time for the holidays. That's a tiny number for a company that could have sold five times that many if they could have just made them. The problem here, of course, is that if Xbox 360 gets off to a bad start, as it arguably has, its early-to-market advantages compared to the PlayStation 3 simply vanish. And next year, when Sony ships the PS3, it could likely dominate the market again, as it does now. I'm eager to hear an inside account about what exactly happened to make the Xbox 360 so difficult to manufacture in volume. It's not like Microsoft and its suppliers were surprised to discover they had to actually make these things on a certain schedule.

CES Takes Over for COMDEX
In years past, COMDEX was the big computer show in the US, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to Las Vegas every November. With COMDEX long gone, CES has become the biggest tech trade show in the US, and now the business customers that long plied the halls of COMDEX are starting to come to CES instead. The problem, of course, is that CES is already too big. My advice is simple: Break CES up into several smaller shows. For example, there's no need for all the insane car audio stuff to occur at the same time as the rest of CES: It just takes up a lot of space and is only tangentially related to the rest of the show. Stop the insanity, guys, or you'll crash just as hard as COMDEX did.

Intel Targets the Home ... Your Home
And speaking of CES, Intel is cleaning the slate at next week's show, dropping its decade-old marketing slogan and some of its most well-regarded product brands. The "Intel Inside" slogan, in use since 1991, will be replaced by "Leap Ahead," because "everything Intel does is a leap ahead." (Groan.) Intel is also replacing its Pentium M chips with new Core microprocessors (codenamed Yonah), which will ship in both single core (Core Solo) and dual core (Core Duo) variants, and unlike its predecessor, these chips will be appropriate for both notebooks and desktop PCs. Future Core processors will likely replace Pentium-branded chips as well. Additionally, Intel is launching its ViiV brand at CES. This brand will be used to identify PCs that have been specially formulated for Media Center-type scenarios, such as those targeted by Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 today. And then there's the Apple connection. Intel is reportedly helping Apple create the motherboards for new Intel-powered Macs that will debut a week after CES. In short, Intel's got a whole lot of consumer-oriented work going on. Stay tuned.

Rumor Busting: Microsoft Has No Plans for Opera
This week, a bizarre rumor cropped up that Microsoft was purchasing Opera, which makes an eponymously named Web browser that's well-regarded but underused. Those rumors, as it turns out, are untrue. While Microsoft hasn't publicly commented on the supposed Opera deal, representatives from Opera say it's not true. The Opera browser, which is now available for free, is used by less than 1 percent of Web users, compared to 86.9 percent for Internet Explorer (IE) and 7.55 percent for Mozilla Firefox.

Microsoft Offers "Guess the Vista Launch Date" Contest
Feeling lucky? Microsoft is offering a fun contest in which you guess the date it will launch Windows Vista during 2006. Winners will receive an exclusive invitation to the launch event with all expenses paid, and the company is offering various Xbox 360 related prizes as well. Find out more at the Microsoft Web site.

Massachusetts Open Source Proponent Resigns
The CIO who unsuccessfully tried to push the US state of Massachusetts towards open source file formats and away from Microsoft Office has resigned from his post. Peter Quinn, who will leave his position January 9, says the move is directly related to his failed bid to move Massachusetts to open standards. "Over the last several months, we have been through some very difficult and tumultuous times," he wrote in a memo describing his resignation. "Many of these events have been very disruptive and harmful to my personal well being, my family and many of my closest friends. This is a burden I will no longer carry."  Quinn, of course, came under a lot of fire for his efforts, including a nice smear campaign by Governor Romney's office, which alleged that Quinn traveled too much; a subsequent investigation found, however, that he had done nothing wrong.

Virus Poses as MSN Messenger Beta
A new virus is posing as an invitation to join the MSN Messenger 8 beta, which is cute because there won't be an MSN Messenger 8; instead, Microsoft is calling the next version Windows Live Messenger. "The anti-virus community is currently tracking a malicious threat which poses as 'MSN Messenger 8 Working BETA' and may spread to users via MSN Messenger," a Microsoft's spokesperson said this week. "We highly discourage anyone from downloading any betas from any site other than Microsoft/MSN sanctioned sites as we are not able to guarantee the authenticity of the files." Good advice.

Sony Settles 15 Class Action Suits in Wake of CD Copy Protection Fiasco
Sony has reached tentatively settled at least 15 class action lawsuits that were brought against it in the wake of the company's recent audio CD copy protection usage. You may recall that Sony actually included rootkit software on some of its audio CDs this year, which would silently install software on users PCs and track their activities. Sony stopped selling the CDs and offered ways to remove the software, and as part of the settlement it will replace the suspicious CDs and pay each affected customer an unspecified amount for their troubles. Some estimates place the value of the class action settlements as high as $50 million, but we should know the full value soon enough.

Happy New Year: Short Week Next Week
As with this week, next week will be truncated somewhat with no newsletter on Monday, this time because of the New Years holiday. So please have a safe and happy New Year, and we'll see you again next week as I gear up for the grudge match that is CES.

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