WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 23

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Mark Twain and spam, Microsoft and Blu-ray, Windows Vista milestones, PC sales in 2005, XP SP3, WMF fix for Vista, Xbox Live Arcade, and so much more...

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I traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, this week for a long-overdue return to my one-time home, which I miss and don't visit enough. I lived here in the mid-to-late 1980's. I've had several lengthy visits in the past, but I haven't been to New Mexico for more than a decade, which is somewhat frustrating. So here I am, catching up on the place.

Last week, I mentioned the nonsensical email messages I've been getting lately. I received a huge volume of email from readers who are apparently much more up on this than I am. Thanks for the help, and I apologize for not responding to all of your messages, there were so many. You're waiting for the explanation, no doubt. First, the quote I mentioned last week is taken from Mark Twain's "A Tramp Abroad," so kudos to everyone who figured that out. (And yes, my book report will be available in the morning.) As for the point of those nonsensical email messages, the prevailing theory is that spammers are simply trying to fool Bayesian spam filters. What they're really doing, however, is ensuring that all classic literature will soon be marked as spam, meaning that Mark Twain will be relegated to the same digital junk pile as Viagra and Hot Stocks. Ah well.

Short Takes

Microsoft Clarifies Blu-ray Support in Windows Vista

Given my article yesterday about Blu-ray support in Windows Vista, Microsoft has elected to clarify what it's really doing. Adam Anderson, a product manager in the Windows division, told me, "Microsoft is adding the ability to detect a movie disc for a variety of optical formats, which is known as AutoPlay, since OEMs will have a choice of which drive they want to place in their PCs. The HD DVD AutoPlay feature is already implemented, and Blu-ray's is under study. This simply recognizes the particular media that you put into the disc drive, so implementing this feature for Blu-ray does not constitute native or platform support for Blu-ray in Vista.  As stated before, we will leave that up to third-party developers." In short, Windows Vista will "support" (i.e., recognize) Blu-ray discs, but will not natively support Blu-ray movie playback; for that, you'll still need third-party software.

Clarity on Windows Vista Milestones

In the ever-changing release schedule for Windows Vista, nothing stays constant. But according to internal Microsoft documentation, the following dates are correct for the next several major milestones in the product. Currently, Microsoft plans to ship the feature-complete internal build on January 31, 2006, and then ship a near-feature-complete Community Technology Preview (CTP) build to testers on February 17. (To date, more than 50 product teams have submitted code for the feature-complete builds.) Windows Vista Beta 2 is due on April 12, followed by a release candidate (RC) build in July and release to manufacturing (RTM) in August. Assuming this last date is met, the general release of the product will occur in October.

Microsoft Issues WMF Fix for Windows Vista CTP

In case you were wondering whether that Windows Metafile Format (WMF) file format flaw--you know, the one that Microsoft fixed a week before the regularly scheduled monthly security update--was really all that serious, consider this evidence: Microsoft has issued a version of the fix for the December CTP build of Windows Vista. It's pretty rare for the software giant to release a security patch for a beta OS. Heck, it's pretty rare for Microsoft to release anything for a beta OS.

About that XP SP3 Confusion

It seems like every time I go away, some Microsoft release jumps up to bedevil me when I can't get online easily and figure out what's going on. This week, it wasn't a release per se but the delay of the Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) release. Microsoft didn't announce the delay, it just updated a service pack life cycle page on its Web site. What's curious is that after various Web sites began posting information about the delay, Microsoft's Web page was temporarily changed to remove the XP SP3 references. This happened while I was on an airplane, of course, but by the time I got online, the correct page had been put back on the site. Fun, fun, fun. Anyway, I wish Microsoft would just fess up to the delay: The company is now claiming that no one ever promised XP SP3 before Windows Vista, but in reality a 3-year break between SP2 (which shipped in 2004) and SP3 (now due in late 2007) is unprecedented, especially when you consider today's security climate. I hope Microsoft gets the message that such long delays are unacceptable, because they are. In fact, XP SP3 should have shipped last year. What ever happened to predictability?

Xbox Live Arcade for Xbox 360 Off to Fast Start

This week, Microsoft said that the new version of Xbox Live Arcade for Xbox 360 has done unexpectedly well. The Xbox Live Arcade online service lets users download free trial versions of classic arcade games and other casual game titles, then purchase the full versions by using a micropayment system called Microsoft Points. Although total sales figures for Xbox Live Arcade are unavailable, the top-selling Arcade title, Geometry Wars, has garnered more than 200,000 trial downloads and 45,000 paid downloads. That's not too shabby when you recall that Microsoft has sold just 600,000 Xbox 360 consoles in the US since November. Other top Xbox Live Arcade downloads include Gauntlet, Smash TV, Bejeweled II, and my personal favorite, Zuma. If you're interested in Xbox Live Arcade, I recently wrote a review of this service on the SuperSite for Windows:
   http://www.winsupersite.com/article/reviews/xbox-live-arcade-for-xbox-360-review.aspx

Sony to Bolster Walkman Division

Sony's Walkman division used to be the company's crown jewel, but with Apple's iPod garnering all the press, praise, and sales these days, Walkman isn't doing so well. So Sony is going to move the division into its audio business, which will be renamed to Connect Business Division (Connect is the name of Sony's online music store). Sony can use the streamlining. The erstwhile product consumer electronics giant has struggled mightily in recent years, largely because it hasn't been able to create digital devices that protect Sony's music rights without hampering customers. The needs of the device and audio businesses, of course, contradict each other. Sony wants to prevent users from making unauthorized copies of music created by Sony Music, but it also wants its Connect customers to easily copy music from CDs to their Sony portable devices. I have no idea how they're going to reconcile these needs.

Google, Other Search Engines Subpoenaed by DOJ

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has demanded search logs from Google, AOL, Yahoo!, and Microsoft as part of a court case involving a controversial Internet pornography law. The request for the logs might ultimately prove to be more controversial than the law the DOJ is trying to defend: The DOJ has demanded that these companies show it what terms people search for in a certain time period, as well as a list of the Web sites that the company's search engines index. So far, AOL and Yahoo! have complied with the request without turning over any personal data, but Google vows to fight the request. The good news, I guess, is that the DOJ hasn't asked for IP addresses, and thus names and addresses, but as it turns out, this kind of personal information is often saved every time you type in a search topic. Worried yet? Yeah, I don't care either.

Apple Rushes iMac, MacBook Pro to Market, Countering Sales Dip

Apple Computer says that Macintosh computer sales in the previous quarter were lower than expected because users were holding off on new purchases while they waited for the company to ship its Intel-based Macs. However, massive iPod sales made up for the deficit, and Apple was able to ship its first Intel-based Mac, the new iMac, about 6 months earlier than originally promised (a second Intel-based Mac, the MacBook Pro, is scheduled to ship in February). The early shipment of Intel-based Macs is, of course, designed to send a message to two groups: IBM, which couldn't deliver a 3GHz microprocessor as promised, and Apple's customers, to make up for the previous promise about the 3GHz chip that never materialized. The point is that now that Apple is partnering with Intel, Apple can deliver.

PC Makers Ship More than 208 Million PCs in 2005

PC sales were up 16.4 percent in 2005, with PC makers shipping a whopping 208.9 million PCs, according to IDC. That's some serious growth, especially when you consider that sales had been soft for the past several years. However, 2006 sales should prove to be tamer, IDC says, although I have to wonder whether the combination of Windows Vista and new Windows-compatible Macs might help jump-start things a bit. IDC says that PC sales will grow by about 10.5 percent in 2006, which, let's face it, isn't shabby. In 2005, Dell was again the largest PC maker, with 20.1 percent of the market, followed by HP, Lenovo, Acer, and Toshiba. Although final figures aren't in yet, Intel apparently lost shares to AMD in 2005. All in all, a great year.

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