WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 24

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...

Xbox Live Hits 1.4 Million Members as Xbox Market Share Rises
   Microsoft's Xbox video game console seems to be doing even better than previously thought. Thanks in part to humongous sales of Halo 2--6.4 million worldwide since its November 2004 debut--the Xbox has experienced an unprecedented period of growth during the past several months. According to Microsoft, the Xbox has increased its market share for 14 consecutive months and now controls 37 percent of the console market. The Xbox was the only video game console to grow market share during both calendar year 2004 and the last quarter of 2004. Meanwhile, the Xbox Live online game service now has more than 1.4 million subscribers, exceeding expectations. The market includes more than 200 Xbox Live-enabled video games, the software giant says, and the most popular title--Halo 2, naturally--has had subscribers log a record 91 million hours of game play.

Microsoft Releases Avalon Beta to the Public
   Late last week, Microsoft issued a public preview version of its Avalon technology for Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP; the release is identical to the less widely distributed Community Technology Preview (CTP) release that the company shipped in November. Avalon is the new presentation subsystem that the company originally planned to release exclusively for Longhorn, the next major Windows release, but last year Microsoft decided to back-port Avalon to Windows 2003 and XP so that developers would have a wider market to target from the get-go. Like the CTP release, however, the Avalon public beta is designed for programmers and won't be of interest to the general public. If you're the kind of geek who'd be interested, you can find the beta on the Microsoft Web site.

Dell Number-One PC Maker Again
   Dell was the number-one PC maker again in the fourth quarter of 2004, edging out perennial bridesmaid HP for the top honors. Dell snagged 15.9 percent of the worldwide PC market, compared with 15 percent for HP. Shipments at the PC giant rose 21.1 percent year over year to 8.8 million units. That isn't too shabby when you consider that average PC sales growth for the quarter was about 12.3 percent. For the year, Dell sold 31 million PCs, up 23.1 percent from 2003. HP shipped 27.6 million units, up 12 percent. IBM, Fujitsu, and Acer rounded out the top five.

HP to Walk Away from Market Share, Embrace Profits
   And speaking of market share, HP is tired of chasing it. This week, HP revealed that it will stop trying to grab market share at all costs and will instead concentrate on improving profitability. The decision comes after a bruising 2 years of losing out in the market-share race to chief rival Dell and having nothing to show for it besides lower profits. But the decision was met by cheers from financial analysts, who say that HP's new tactic is the right thing to do and will lead to slower but more predictable growth. Frankly, the PC's current economics make it difficult for companies to eek out a profit because the steadily declining cost of PCs favors only Dell, which makes the majority of its profits on low-cost direct-order sales. HP, because it sells mostly through resellers and retailers, has a built-in disadvantage when competing with Dell on price. Whether the change will help HP remains to be seen.

Firefox Edges Toward 5 Percent of Browser Market
   With more than 19 million downloads of the wildly popular Firefox Web browser under its belt since November, the Mozilla Foundation now has something else to crow about: Firefox has seized almost 5 percent of the browser market from Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). According to Web research group WebSideStory, Firefox now commands 4.95 percent of the Web browser market, compared with IE's 90.3 percent. Although that gap might seem wide, remember that Firefox's entire user base comes at the expense of IE, which had a virtual lock on the market as recently as a year ago. The Mozilla Foundation has publicly stated that it hopes to seize 10 percent of the market within a year. That target is looking increasingly conservative as time goes by.

Intel Reorganizes into Five Business Units
   Everyone's favorite microprocessor giant pulled a Microsoft this week, reorganizing its business operations around five product groups. Representatives from Intel (What? You thought I meant AMD?) say that the product groups will help the company concentrate on its key markets, two of which, interestingly, weren't even on the map last year. The five product groups are mobility, digital enterprise, digital home, digital healthcare, and channel products (the last two are the new groups). Each group reports directly to CEO Craig Barrett who, thank goodness, hasn't taken on a ceremonial title such as Chief Hardware Architect. That title has been reserved for--yep, you guessed it--master thespian and crooner Frank Stallone.

EA, ESPN Sign 15-Year Exclusive Deal
   In case you weren't sure that executives from Electronic Arts (EA) signed a Faustian deal with the devil, allow me to present evidence sample 2005-3, in which EA signed a 15-year pact with ESPN to sell exclusive game titles using the ESPN brand. What, you say, wasn't ESPN working with EA rival Take 2? Why, yes it was, gentle reader. But EA has a wonderful asset that Take Two doesn't have--a bottomless pocketbook--and, well, you can pretty much guess where this is going. The ESPN deal follows a similar exclusive deal with the NFL and the much-publicized incident in which EA CEO Larry Probst cut his palm over an unholy chalice and ... well, I've said too much.

Google Releases Picasa 2
   What's the best photo-management software on the planet? I'll give you a hint: It's absolutely free and, no, Apple Computer doesn't make it. OK; that's two hints. The best photo-management software is called Picasa, which search giant Google purchased last year. This week, Google released a new version of Picasa--intriguingly called Picasa 2 because, get this, it's the second version--and it's a humdinger. Picasa 2 does everything more expensive packages such as Adobe PhotoShop Album 2 do and more, including helping you organize and catalog photos, perform simple editing operations, add special effects, and share photos online. Picasa 2 is good stuff. And did I mention it's free? Find out more--and grab that free download--from the Picasa Web site

Microsoft: Just Kidding; We'll Patch WMP
   Last week, security researchers said that the way Windows Media Player (WMP) handles Digital Rights Management (DRM) license downloads was broken and could lead to successful exploits against users. Microsoft protested, saying, "No, no, no! There's absolutely nothing wrong with the way WMP downloads DRM licenses." (I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist of what the company said.) This week, however, Microsoft announced that it will soon change the way WMP downloads DRM licenses because that mechanism--you know, the one that lets WMP download DRM licenses--is, in fact, completely, inexorably, and horribly broken. I feel safe. Do you feel safe?

Study: 650 Million People Use Email
   Although my email client and I continue to struggle under the onslaught of the spam that I receive daily, I find it somewhat helpful to know that I'm not alone. According to a new study by the Radicati Group, worldwide email traffic increased by 35 percent in 2004, with almost 77 billion messages sent each day--most of which, I've discovered, actually end up in my spam folder. Corporate email accounts for 83 percent of that traffic, although my guess is that more than half of corporate email is spam. The number of people who use email also rose by 15 percent in 2004 to 651 million users. My goodness. I won't sleep until every one of you has sent me spam.

Judge Rules Against IBM in SCO Case
   In an unexpected development, the judge who's overseeing the increasingly humorous legal battle between computing giant and Linux backer IBM and UNIX pretender SCO Group has wiped the smile off my face by demanding that IBM give SCO "unfettered access" to IBM's UNIX source code repositories. The decision is a huge win for SCO, which, let's face it, hasn't exactly seen its share of legal wins during the past year. SCO had been asking for permission to view IBM's source code repositories so it could prove that UNIX source code found its way into IBM's source code for AIX, a UNIX derivative, and then into Linux.

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