An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Two Portable Media Centers Available for Preorder at Amazon.com
Two Windows-based Portable Media Center models--the Creative Labs Zen Portable Media Center and the Samsung Yepp YH-999 Portable Media Center--are now available for preorder at Amazon.com. Microsoft announced this week that the two units will ship in August and September, respectively. Both feature a rather meager 20GB hard disk and will retail for about $500, or the same price as a 40GB Apple iPod, which only plays music and features a low-resolution black-and-white screen. By comparison, the Pocket PC-like Portable Media Center devices feature beautiful color screens and can play back recorded TV shows (if you have a Media Center PC), music, videos, and photo slideshows. Also, despite the small size of the hard disk, Microsoft says the units are capable of storing up to 80 hours of video, or about 5000 songs. One impediment will be the price: $500 is a lot of smack, especially when you consider that most consumers don't even own a portable audio player yet, and that many full-fledged PCs cost only a bit more. Expect the prices to come down as the capacity goes up, however. I'll be interested to see how these units fair in the market.
Microsoft, EU to Meet with Judge
Officials from Microsoft and the European Union (EU) will meet with the president of the EU's Court of First Instance on July 27 to discuss the software giant's request that the court suspend the EU's antitrust sanctions against the company. You might recall that Microsoft was fined over $600 million and was required to decouple Windows Media Player (WMP) from Windows and provide its competitors with more technical information for interoperating with Windows Server products as a result of an antitrust investigation in Europe. Judge Bo Vesterdorf (yes, Bo) invited both parties to an informal meeting in which the judge will at some point jump through the window of the General Lee and drive off with Roscoe P. Coltrane in hot pursuit. Or something.
Microsoft Gets Antitrust Warning from Japan
The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) in Japan said Friday that it will likely issue a warning to Microsoft after investigating the company for antimonopoly law abuses. Although details are scarce and will remain so until Tuesday, the FTC has said that it won't levy any fines against the software giant. My expectation is that Magnum will call TC for a helicopter ride and Rick will use his contacts in Honolulu to find out what the Japanese FTC is up to. OK, I need to get off of this classic TV kick.
Last Week's IE Fix Comes Under Fire
Last week, Microsoft issued a bizarre "configuration change" fix to partially patch the Internet Explorer (IE) vulnerability that contributed to the now-infamous Download.Ject electronic attack. There's just one problem: The fix might not work. According to security researchers, hackers can relatively easily work around the fix and exploit patched systems. For this reason, many experts are recommending that, except for trusted Web sites, users disable IE's Active Scripting (the configuration of which is rather Byzantine). Here's a better solution: Don't use IE. Again, I recommend Mozilla Firefox, but you should also consider Opera, which has improved dramatically in recent releases.
Mozilla Gets Its Own Vulnerability
On the other hand, maybe IE isn't the only hackalicious Web browser out there. In the wake of the Mozilla Foundation's obvious and deserved cackling over the problems with IE, that organization's products were found to have their own security flaw. This news is both good and bad, however. The good news is that the Mozilla folks fixed the bug--which afflicts the Mozilla browser suite, Firefox, and the Thunderbird email application--extremely quickly, and you can now download a patch or a new version of each product that includes the fix. (For further information, go to http://www.mozilla.org .) The bad news is that it's now clear that Mozilla, like Mac OS X and other untested products, is simply benefiting from the fact that so few people use its products. If usage increases, Mozilla will suffer many other attacks, and it's unclear at this point how the product will fare. In any event, I still recommend Mozilla Firefox, although this week's vulnerability is a sobering reminder of the realities of the PC world today.
Heads up, Mozilla Foundation: IE Team No Threat ... Yet
And if I could beat this topic to death a bit (what the heck, it's Friday), I should also mention a bizarre public chat that the recently reconstituted IE team had with users. I'm mentioning the chat only because the IE team said so little and was incapable of specifying what, if anything, it would add to future IE versions. Yes, they're aware that a lot of people want tabbed browsing and better standards support. Yes, they promised a more comprehensive fix for the Download.Ject issue. But specifics? No, they would have none of that. So what can we expect of future IE versions? Not much, in my opinion, and not anytime soon. This is a huge opportunity for Mozilla or for any other company that makes browser products that compete with IE. Step it up, guys.
Microsoft to Integrate Search into MSN, Windows ... and Office
Microsoft has made a lot of noise about its search plans for Longhorn and MSN, but this week Microsoft Group Vice President Jeff Raikes revealed that improved search capabilities will also be an integral part of the next Microsoft Office version, currently codenamed Office 12. This makes a certain amount of sense: For many users, Office is the conduit through which most of the documents on their system are created. However, it's still unclear how Office will use this technology, which Raikes says is coming out of Microsoft Research.
Sun Java Desktop System Wins Over Windows Customer in Ireland
Allied Irish Bank, one of the largest financial institutions in one of my favorite countries, announced recently that it's migrating 7500 Windows desktops to Sun's Linux-based Java Desktop System (JDS) over the next several months. The win represents the biggest-ever financial services enterprise deal for JDS, Sun says, and it proves that Sun's fledgling Linux offering is off to a strong start. Indeed, JDS is a surprisingly capable platform, based on my informal tests, and it ships with the commercial version of Sun StarOffice, which is a good Microsoft Office alternative. How long before we start seeing major Windows defections in the United States?
Dell in New Deal to Ship Linux on Desktops ... Or Is It?
Speaking of Linux, Dell Computer was put in a weird position this week when news organizations reported that the company was shipping its first Linux-based desktop systems in Europe. The problem is, that's not what happened. Instead, an Italian PC reseller named Questar ordered a bunch of Dell desktops, loaded them with Linux, then announced the configuration as if it were a major partnership between Dell and the open-source community. Which it isn't. Dell was forced to explain the situation and say that this kind of thing had actually been going on for some time, with other small resellers. Yawn.
Microsoft Keyboard Patent Case Rejuvenated
On Tuesday, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington DC reversed a lower court's decision that had invalidated ergonomic keyboard patents owned by TypeRight Keyboard Corporation, which has been suing Microsoft for patent infringement since 1998. The case can therefore proceed, a full 4 years after Microsoft won a motion to invalidate the patents. But the appellate court ruled this week that there were "genuine issues" with the credibility of Microsoft's witnesses, who had argued that prior-use examples of ergonomic keyboards predating TypeRight's patents existed. The court wrote in its decision, "While this is a close case, we conclude that summary judgment of invalidity was improperly granted and a trial is necessary to determine whether the testimony offered by Microsoft to prove that prior art is credible." TypeRight is seeking millions of dollars in damages and would like to force Microsoft to stop shipping its ergonomic keyboards. Hey, I'm all for the latter condition: Microsoft's new keyboards stink.
Microsoft to Tout Security as an Advantage
Next week, Microsoft will begin a new marketing approach in which it will tout the security of its products as an advantage over its competition. No offense to Microsoft, but the notion of the company pushing security as a reason to choose its products right now makes about as much sense as Apple Computer pushing its enterprise credentials. Guys, you make computing easy. And we know you're working on the security thing. But give it some time: You're not there yet. And it doesn't help that all your security-related technology--XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), Windows Update Services (WUS), Microsoft Update, and ISA Server 2005, for starters--have been continually delayed.
A Couple of Thoughts on the "IBMization" of Microsoft
In the wake of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's annual letter to employees, in which he explained that the company would have to tighten its belt financially, there's been a lot of talk about how large Microsoft has become. Worse yet, it's pretty clear that Microsoft has become the next IBM, that thing it feared to be so much: a huge, bureaucratic Titanic of a company that's unable to capitalize on new technology quickly, all the while watching smaller, faster, and hungrier competitors such as Apple, Mozilla, and the Linux community Sun make it look silly on a regular basis. So what's the solution to this problem? Does Microsoft become as boring as DuPont or AT&T? As stable and yawn-inducing as a GE or Viacom? Yeah, pretty much. But here's the irony: Had Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson gotten his way, and Microsoft were split into two smaller companies, the tech industry--and Microsoft itself--would be in a far better position today as a result. We'd have two smaller, hungrier companies, and the Office-oriented one ("Microsoft Office Co.") would likely have started targeting Linux, providing itself with a bigger business and giving the Windows-oriented company ("Microsoft OS Co.") more competition. That, in turn, would have caused the Microsoft OS company to step up its development and innovate more quickly. Which would, of course, put the heat on Linux and Apple, causing them to do the same. In short, the whole snowballing effect would have been a wonderful cure for the current doldrums under which we now suffer. And let's not even get into how much the split would have benefited shareholders, who have watched Microsoft's "monostock" go absolutely nowhere since the US antitrust trial. Ah well.