WinInfo Short Takes: Week of July 10 - 07 Jul 2006

WinInfo Short Takes: Week of July 10 - 07 Jul 2006

This time of the year, I usually move into summer mode, in which I work half days and spend afternoons at the beach. This year, alas, has proven too busy for that to happen, at least so far. I'm working nonstop on a Windows Vista book, which is grueling and painful because of the never-ending changes to the OS that turn supposedly completed chapters into chapters that need heavy edits. Also, of course, I've got my normal work to do. And with Vista, Microsoft Office 2007, and Longhorn Server all still in active beta, there's a lot to cover. It's getting hard to walk away from work, with so much left to do.

One thing I've been evaluating is how I can best cover the Xbox 360. As a lifelong video gamer, I'm still excited about the Xbox 360, and I play regularly online, mostly "Call of Duty 2" these days. But with dozens of games now available for Microsoft's console, I need to settle into a mode for covering it all. I can't review every single game because that would be a full-time job itself. So I've restructured the Xbox 360 Activity Center on the SuperSite to reflect how I think I'll be able to cover the Xbox 360 going forward.

I'm starting to create pages called Game Galleries, one for each game, with links to both my own content and publisher information online. At the very least, I'll supply a screenshot gallery for each game that's released, and I'll try to review one new Xbox 360 title each month (I've already reviewed the initial 18 games that shipped for the system, along with a few others).

I've put up only one prototype Game Gallery (for "Call of Duty 2," naturally) so far because I'm trying to feel out how these pages should develop. (For example, should I list information such as game cheats?)

Check it out and let me know what you think. I realize the list of Game Galleries on the Activity Center's left side is too long, and I'm trying to figure out an elegant way to organize that. It's an ongoing process.

Microsoft Will Reportedly Bring Its iPod Killer to Market

I've known for some time that Microsoft has been working on a homegrown MP3 player to rival the Apple Computer iPod, but it was never clear that the company was ever going to bring it to market. Indeed, newer MP3 players such as those from Samsung were even codesigned with Microsoft--right down to the onscreen font, which is a version of Windows Vista's Segoe font--further hinting that Microsoft was more interested in keeping its ecosystem going than in damaging relationships with partners. Well, the software giant is reportedly taking the gloves off. It will deliver its MP3 player in time for the holiday season, and this player has a few unique features that should set it apart from the iPod, including wireless access to Microsoft music services. But here's the thing: The word from my sources is that Microsoft's new relationship with MTV and the URGE music service has caused Microsoft to start downplaying MSN Music, and I've heard that the company eventually is going to close MSN Music down. If the rumors about this new MP3 player are true, however, Microsoft might not do that. I'm not sure what to believe, but I'll say this: If Microsoft fails with its own MP3 player, it's Game Over. At that point, Apple and its iPod will have no viable competition at all. And I have to think that that bleak prospect is the real reason Microsoft's been dithering over this MP3 player for so long.

Microsoft to Support Rival OpenDocument Format

In a surprising turn, Microsoft announced this week that it would support the open-source OpenDocument format in its Microsoft Office productivity suites via a free downloadable add-on. Previously, Microsoft had said that it would support only its own rival format, Open XML, which is similar to OpenDocument, in addition to its previously established Office data formats. Apparently, the software giant was getting a lot of pressure from governments around the world, which are interested in moving to open-document formats such as OpenDocument. What's really odd here is that Microsoft will make its add-on, the Open XML Translator, available under an open-source license.

South Korea Not Interested in Microsoft Request

This week, South Korea rejected Microsoft's request for a stay in its antitrust case there, so the software giant said it would comply with sanctions imposed by the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC). KFTC's finger-licking-good sanctions include a fine of $34 million and the release of a Windows version stripped of both Windows Media Player (WMP) and Windows Messenger. (With the recent practice it's had, Microsoft is apparently getting good at stripping out Windows features that were previously said to be "integrated" and vital to the operation of the OS.) However, Microsoft pledged to continue defending its position via the appeal process. You know, Microsoft's antitrust cases are getting so similar, I should just make a template in which I can cut and paste the names of countries, governing bodies, and the features Microsoft has committed to cut from Windows. It would certainly save me a lot of time.

Windows 9x Bites the Dust

In case you missed that sad, flatulent sound that resonated through the Redmond area earlier this week, that was the sound of the Windows 9x family of OSs finally biting the proverbial dust. On Tuesday, Microsoft ditched support for the last Win9x stragglers, including Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition (Win98SE), and Windows Me, the latter of which was widely viewed as an April Fool's joke gone horribly wrong. ("Hey Bill, let's see if we can foist one more version of DOS on our customers! Come on, it'll be funny.") Describing the "architectural obsolescence" of these products, Microsoft says it would be "irresponsible" to continue supporting products that can never be made safe for regular use. And now you can sit back and watch as I (painfully) try not to make a crack about Windows XP.

Microsoft Undergoes Massive Redmond Expansion

This year, Microsoft will spend about $2 billion expanding its Redmond campus, the largest real estate growth the area has ever seen. The campus, which currently houses about 30,000 people, will support 42,000 souls by the end of next year and will grow physically by more than a third, to 3.1 million square feet. Microsoft's campus used to have the feel of a leafy college campus, but with such massive growth, it's starting to look more and more like the huge corporation that it is. And that's too bad, especially if you need to buy a home or commute to work in that area. I'm pretty sure Chicago's O'Hare airport is less frantic in the morning.

France Adopts iTunes Law

Ah, France. How I marvel at your beauty, your food, your wine. And now I can marvel at the common sense of your laws. This week, France's Senate and National Assembly voted to approve a new copyright bill (the so-called iTunes law) that will force music services to offer customers software tools that let their purchased music be used on any PC or device. The idea, naturally, is to let, say, iTunes customers convert their music to a format that works on non-iPod devices, breaking the stranglehold that Apple has on the digital music market. Apple calls the law-to-be "state-sponsored piracy," but really, how can you complain about fair use? Obviously, people shouldn't be able to give music to friends, but they should be able to listen to the music they buy however they choose.

CodeWeavers Brings Some Windows Applications to the Mac

CodeWeavers, famous for a Linux utility called CrossOver that lets Linux users run Windows applications, is porting the technology to Intel-based Macintosh computers. Imaginatively dubbed CrossOver Mac, the software, which is currently in early beta, will let Mac OS X users run Windows applications such as Office and Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) without having to dual boot or launch an emulation environment such as Parallels. I'm beta testing CrossOver Mac: It's very similar to the Linux version and integrates nicely into the underlying system (for example, files saved in My Documents actually go into the Mac's Documents folder). However, it's also pretty darned buggy and needs a lot of work. Still, it's a great idea, and it removes yet another barrier to Mac adoption.

Incoming Virginia Tech Students Require Tablet PC

(Cue joke about the lack of success of Tablet PCs.) Incoming freshmen at Virginia Polytechnic Institute's engineering school will be required for the first time to use Fujitsu Tablet PCs in class this year, a change that should double Fujitsu's Tablet PC sales in the United States, if I understand the math. Aside from some child-abuse concerns, I think requiring Tablet PCs seems like a decent idea. Besides, it could be worse. Some less serious schools--such as Duke University--are actually giving iPods to students. And we all know how much of a study aid iPods can be.

Apple Abandons the CRT--Again

Apple got a lot of press this week for abandoning its line of CRT-based Macs and moving solely to an LCD product line when it axed its eMac in favor of a low-cost LCD iMac aimed at the education market. But this is actually the second time Apple has abandoned the CRT. The first time was when it launched the first LCD iMac. Back then, schools complained that the iMacs were too delicate and expensive, so Apple backtracked and shipped the CRT-based eMac within the year. In fact, the eMac proved so popular that Apple had to make it available to non-education customers. Anyway, the CRT is now gone for good at Apple, I guess, unless the company surprises us with a video iPod that's based on vacuum tubes. It could only aid battery life.

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