WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 25, 2010

An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news, including an emergency fix for an overblown IE issue, Ballmer vs. China on the Google attack, Clinton vs. China, Google financials, Windows vs. Linux on the phone, Kindle apps, and so much more ...

WinInfo Blog

It's been a nice slow week (which I'm appreciating), although it's been Ice Age cold (which I'm not). Every winter, I ponder how much longer I can take it in New England, but given the ideal conditions here for the kids and school, I guess I'm going to have to suck it up.

Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday, so it should be available sometime over the weekend, as usual.

But wait, there's more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed, and the SuperSite Blog.

Short Takes

Microsoft Issues Emergency Fix for IE
All you Chicken Littles can relax: The Internet Explorer (IE) vulnerability that was targeted in the Google attack from China (and never had any chance of affecting you at all) has been fixed, and—as a bonus—you can now download the patch and reboot your computer. Come on, you know you want to. (It's in Windows Update if you simply must make this happen manually.)

Ballmer Calls Out Google on China Snafu
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer this week criticized Google for threatening to leave China because, you know, anyone who stands up to a totalitarian regime like China just makes the rest of us look bad. "People are always trying to break into other people's data," Ballmer said. "There's always somebody trying to break into Microsoft." But he actually did make some good points, such as when he noted that even the United States censors certain information (e.g., child pornography) that could be considered free speech. Plus, the United States does business with—is, indeed, in bed with—countries such as Saudi Arabia that are arguably even more evil than China. France and Germany ban Nazi imagery on the Internet, he said, and no one is calling on Microsoft, Google, or Yahoo to stop operating in those markets. Put simply, Microsoft, like other companies, must abide by the laws of the countries in which it does business. Google's stand, he said, was basically just grandstanding. What went unsaid—and I do think this is important—is that Google is losing market share rapidly in China. Maybe this was just a BS excuse to bail out of a market in which it's losing badly and go down with a patina of respectability. Don't be evil, indeed.

Clinton Calls for Global Response to China-based Electronic Attacks
Now, if she could just specify what that means, exactly, we'd at least have something to go with. Displaying the almost plodding pace that the Obama administration is known for, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the country would defend itself against electronic attack but was pretty vague about what that means. She did note that an attack on one nation's computers was an attack "on all," though I'm not sure if she meant "all people" or just "all computers." Given the various human rights disasters that are happening around the world right now, it's unclear why we should worry too much about electronic attacks, per se, and I'm sure those working to recover the mess that is Haiti aren't too excited by the prospect of the United States losing interest in it right now. To be fair, Clinton did call out China's human rights violations and censorship and even named some other countries—including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam—that aren't exactly in the running for any awards this year. What does it all mean? Not much, in the end.

Google Experiences Best Quarter in the Past Year
Online advertising and search giant Google posted net income of $1.97 billion on revenues of $6.67 billion in the final quarter of 2009, its best financial results of the year and a strong improvement over the same quarter one year ago. "We are back in business full-blast," said Google CEO Eric Schmidt. "We are optimistic about the future as a result." I wish we could all be that optimistic. Unfortunately for the rest of the industry, Google's financial results are in no way representative of the overall health of the tech or online markets. You know, just like Apple's influence in the PC industry isn't representative of the actual (low) market share of the Mac.

Windows vs. Linux on the Phone
You know, it's kind of interesting that Linux and, to a lesser extent, Mac OS X never really took appreciable share from Windows on the PC desktop, but with these alternative OSs now powering popular smart phones—Google's Android and the iPhone, respectively—it's possible that they might actually surpass Windows in the emerging new mainstream computing market. Not surprisingly, Microsoft is reacting poorly to this. While the company's inability to anticipate and then react quickly enough to the iPhone threat is already legendary, Android's sudden and rapid rise has apparently been equally surprising to the slow-moving software giant. And now it's lashing out. In a discussion with financial analysts, Microsoft's Robbie Bach (the man responsible for some of the company's most poorly performing products, such as Zune and Windows Mobile) said that there were too many Linux-based smart phone and feature phone models on the market and that these devices would fail a "quality" test. "There are too many operating systems in the mobile world today," he added. Sure. But if Windows Mobile continues on its current trajectory, that will ease some of the pain, won't it? Naturally, the Linux community—yes, it still exists—reacted with outrage to this statement, just to prove that it's still alive, I guess. No matter. Linux-based phones, especially Android, are no doubt going to surpass Windows Mobile. It's just a matter of time.

In a Bid to Counter Apple, Amazon Opens Kindle to App Makers
I'm a big fan of the Kindle. I've owned one since the day the first device appeared, and my wife and I read newspapers and books on the device every day. But the Kindle does one thing well, and one thing only: It's for reading. Amazon this week announced plans to change that by allowing developers to create Kindle applications—or what Amazon calls "active content"—for the device. These apps will include such things as interactive Zagat guides that will provide location-based content, word games and puzzles, and interactive books. (I'm sort of imagining those "choose your own adventure" books of my childhood.) The point here, as I understand it, is that Apple is about to unleash some Jesus Tablet (or whatever they're calling it) and Amazon is trying to dampen enthusiasm for that in case customers decide they'd rather take their eBook experience elsewhere. But here's the thing. No matter how good the Apple tablet is, it will never match the Kindle's digital ink screen, which doesn't strain your eyes or draw down battery power while displaying. So, yeah, you could read books, magazines, newspapers, and other content on a tablet or other computing device—but it's not as good. And it never will be.

Mozilla Delivers Firefox 3.6
Not much to say here, but Mozilla this week dropped the latest version of its flagship web browser, Firefox 3.6. And if you're a Firefox fan, you will of course want to upgrade. I've got a full write-up on the SuperSite for Windows if you want to know more.

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