WinInfo Short Takes: Week of July 14

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

Rest of the World Wakes Up to Windows XP's Quality
   A year and a half after Windows XP shipped, the OS is finally getting the respect it deserves. According to the most recent "PC Magazine" annual reader survey, PC service and reliability have improved this year, thanks mostly to XP. "XP has brought consumers the stability of Microsoft's corporate operating systems, Windows NT, and 2000, replacing the relatively volatile Windows 95, 98, and Me," the report reads. "If an OS performs better, so does the hardware it controls ... This year, 44 percent of the \[17,000\] rated desktop PCs run Windows XP. And the users of Win XP machines are considerably happier with their desktops than respondents running other versions of Windows." The report reveals that XP crashes less often than other Windows versions, too: 37 percent of respondents who use XP have never had a crash, compared with just 7 percent of respondents who use Windows 98. And although OSs such as Linux and Mac OS X got high-reliability grades, too, those OSs are barely used, the report notes: "Fewer than 1 percent of the desktop PCs in the survey are running Linux, and fewer than 2 percent are running Mac OS." As far as XP's quality goes, am I the only person who honestly isn't surprised by this news?

Adobe: XP, PC Performance, Windows Media 9 Series Determine Premiere Pro XP-Only Decision
   Adobe Systems' decision last week to release its next high-end video-editing platform, Adobe Premiere Pro, only on XP garnered a lot of media attention, with Apple Computer fans claiming that Adobe was abandoning the Macintosh only because of the quality of Apple's Final Cut Pro software. But as Adobe itself noted, the rationale behind making Premiere Pro an XP-only product was rooted in some commonsense observations. First, XP is the most stable and reliable platform for video editing. Second, the Intel-based systems on which XP runs offer the highest performance. And third, the quality of Microsoft's Windows Media 9 Series technologies lets Adobe's products support high-definition video and 7.1-channel surround-sound streaming audio. "Adobe's powerful portfolio of digital video applications ensures that Windows XP is not only the best platform for customers to enjoy digital media experiences across a variety of media, but also the best platform for developers who are creating them," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. And renaming Premiere to Premiere Pro suggests that a light, consumer-oriented version--ala Adobe PhotoShop Elements--might be coming as well. Such a product would be a welcome addition.

Microsoft Released a 64-Bit Desktop Before Apple. Well, Duh.
   This week, for some reason, several news outlets (no names, they're blushing) finally started picking up on the fact that Panther, the upcoming version of Mac OS X, is a 32-bit OS, not a 64-bit OS. This information was actually made quite clear at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2003 event 2 weeks ago, but at the time the media got caught up in the haze of Apple's antireality hype and didn't notice. Just to be clear: Microsoft shipped its first 64-bit desktop OS, Windows XP 64-Bit Edition, in mid-2001--more than 2 years ago--and Apple has yet to ship its first. Fact and myth can sometimes collide. This misreporting reminds me of the time Apple claimed the Power Mac G4 was the world's fastest PC, just 3 months after the company argued that its fading G4 system was "30 percent faster than the fastest Pentium 4 \[at certain tasks\]."

What No One Is Saying About Mac OS X Panther
   Why am I the only person who noticed how scatterbrained the UI is in Mac OS X Panther, which will be sold as Mac OS X 10.3? When OS X first shipped more than 2 years ago, the OS foisted on users a glaring "pin-stripped" window UI, which (not surprisingly) everyone is now admitting they don't like. Since then, Apple commandeered the "brushed metal" UI from its QuickTime 5.0 application and made it available to other applications, including its popular iLife applications and Safari, the company's new Web browser. But in Panther, Apple is going a step farther, and the base system UI (the Finder) is made with the brushed metal interface, too, as are other applications. But some applications ... aren't. For some reason, they use the old UI, minus the pin-striping effect. So when you pop open a window in Panther, you never know what you're going to get. It could be brushed metal, or it could be, well, a gray blob. The effect is horribly inconsistent and hardly the type of UI you'd expect from the Human Interface Guidelines experts over at Apple. If Microsoft did this, you just know Apple CEO Steve Jobs would make fun of it during a keynote address.

Microsoft Is World's Biggest Company Again
   Microsoft and General Electric (GE) continue to flip-flop in terms of market capitalization, as the world's biggest corporation. This week Microsoft is back on top, thanks to a tech-stock rally. Microsoft's market cap is now $294.4 billion, compared with $292.5 billion for GE. And, yes, you can start humming the opening notes to "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)" now, if you're so inclined.

Microsoft Donates to Iraqi Relief
   Microsoft--or, as I like to think of it, "The Great Philanthropist"--announced this week that it's donating $150,000 toward the Iraqi relief effort. Microsoft presented the gift, which will support the Iraqi people and alleviate the humanitarian suffering they endure in the aftermath of the recent war, to the UAE Red Crescent, which is analogous to the American Red Cross. "We greatly appreciate the kindness and generosity shown by Microsoft," a UAE Red Crescent representative said. "The donation will be used to increase the level of medicines and medical aid, as well as ensuring the delivery of food parcels to families throughout various locations in Iraq." Don't break the bank, Microsoft.

Sun Admits That It's the Other High-Profile SCO UNIX Licensee
   A few months ago, when Microsoft controversially signed an SCO Group UNIX license, SCO cryptically explained that Microsoft wasn't the only high-profile company that had signed a license. This week, Sun Microsystems revealed, predictably, that it was the other company. Sun's UNIX license expands on its original 1984 UNIX license, giving Sun the right to purchase as many as 210,000 shares of SCO stock at $1.83 per share. The new license also gives Sun legal access to device driver software for UNIX System V Release 4, which will help the company deliver an improved version of Solaris that runs on Intel hardware. Sun's decision to sign an SCO license puts the company on an interesting side in SCO's fight against Linux makers such as IBM, whom SCO claims has violated its UNIX license by distributing Linux (which, SCO says, includes code that programmers stole from UNIX).

AMD Athlon 64 Set for September Release
   AMD inadvertently revealed this week through a leaked press release that systems based on its 64-bit AMD Athlon 64 processor will ship September 22. But that's not all: AMD is also shipping a special version of the chip, the AMD Athlon 64-M, for use in notebook computers. Like Apple's Power Mac G5 system, PCs based on the AMD Athlon 64 and AMD Athlon 64-M can run 32-bit software full speed but also take advantage of the vast 64-bit memory address space, opening up new opportunities in scientific computing, database work, and other high-end applications. But AMD isn't all about high-end, niche computing. The company is hoping that manufacturers will add special code to their games, video-editing products, and other consumer-oriented software to make them run better on 64-bit systems. AMD's high-end 64-bit chip, the AMD Opteron, is aimed at workstations and servers and will debut in August.

McDonald's Expands Wireless Services to San Francisco
   Wireless powerhouse and part-time fast-food supplier McDonald's announced this week that it's expanding the reach of its wireless-equipped restaurants to 75 new locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. McDonald's first began experimenting with Wi-Fi, the 802.11b wireless standard, in New York, in which the restaurant chain currently offers access at 10 stores. McDonald's plans to offer Wi-Fi in several hundred restaurants by the end of the year. I can't help but compare this initiative with the company's failed McDLT sandwich, which you might recall physically separated the cold items from the hot items. At least the McDLT had something to do with McDonald's core skill, which is making hamburgers quickly.

Microsoft Claims Windows Storage Gains
   If anything is less exciting than Pocket PC 2003, it just has to be storage. This week, Microsoft announced that the market share for Windows Powered Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices rose 8 percent in first quarter 2003 to 41 percent. However, Windows Powered NAS devices tend to be low-end hardware, meaning that they rake in less money than some devices with smaller market share. However you look at it, storage is still really, really boring.

EMC to Buy Legato
   And speaking of storage, data-storage giant EMC announced this week that it will purchase Legato Systems in an all-stock deal worth $1.2 billion. Analysts greeted the move far more favorably than Oracle's recent hostile takeover bid for PeopleSoft, a plan that garnered more bad press than Michael Jackson did when he held his baby over the edge of a balcony. But EMC's purchase of Legato is also indicative of a deeper consolidation trend in the storage industry. Storage companies are trying to offer value through their software, rather than their storage hardware, which is quickly becoming a commodity item. The Legato purchase will help EMC better compete with IBM and VERITAS Software in the crucial data backup-and-recovery market.
Next-Generation Pentium 4 to Start at 3.4GHz, Ship in October
   In second half 2003, Intel will ship its next-generation processor, possibly to be named Pentium 5. Whatever it's called, the Pentium 4 successor will start at clock speeds of 3.4GHz and will include new on-chip multimedia-processing instructions and a 1MB L2 cache (compared with 512KB on the Pentium 4). A 3.6GHz version is due by early 2004, the company says. In addition, Intel is prepping a 2.7GHz Celeron chip for low-end PCs and is supporting chipsets for its Pentium 5, Pentium 4, and Celeron systems that sport PCI Express I/O and Double Data Rate 2 (DDR2) memory. On the portable end, this fall Intel will release a new version of its Pentium M Processor, which is the thin, light, and powerful Centrino-based notebook computers use. The processor will start at 1.8GHz and will include 2MB of L2 cache, compared with 1MB of L2 cache on the current 1.7GHz processor. Generally, you find this size cache only on high-end workstation and server chips such as Intel's Xeon processor. The Pentium M Processor will hit speeds of 1.9GHz and 2.0GHz in early 2004, and Intel will ship low-voltage and ultra-low-voltage versions of the chip at 1.3GHz, 1.2GHz, and 1.1GHz in late 2003. Manufacturers will use these chips in the smallest and lightest portables.

How Microsoft Could Compete with Google
   I latched onto fairly early (I was an old AltaVista fan), one of the rare times I've ridden a technology trend from the beginning. I've been amazed to watch people adopt Google, then act like the browser has been around forever ("What else would you use to search the Web?" one friend recently asked me) when, in fact, most of the people I know still use Yahoo! as their home page. You might have heard that Microsoft is seeking to "out-Google" Google with its own search engine, and although the idea seems preposterous, so did the notion of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) back in 1995. Google is very beatable, but that fact has nothing to do with technology. Instead, Microsoft should catalog an objective majority of the Web. Google is too heavily weighted to links: If some blogger decides that a link is cool and mentions it, the linked site gets more points, regardless of relevancy. We need a search engine that gives realistic, unbiased results based on relevancy, not popularity. If Microsoft can pull that off, Google is toast. And frankly, if Google doesn't change, it should be toast. I want relevant results when I search, not a list of popular sites. And I don't care how I get those results, as long as they're accurate.

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