WinInfo Short Takes: Week of July 15

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

Microsoft Announces Wireless-Networking Hardware Plans
Microsoft revealed this week that it will enter the wireless-networking hardware market later this year with a set of still-secret products that the company says will help consumers quickly and easily set up home networks and share Internet connections. I spoke with company representatives about this plan a few times, and although I'm not sure why they're still being so vague, the gist of the story is that wireless networking is still a niche market, especially on non-Windows XP systems. Microsoft's wireless-networking solutions will be based on the 802.11b standard technology, not the newer (and faster) 802.11a or 802.11g.

Longhorn Details Slowly Emerge
Last month's Palladium revelations were clearly the first step in a long-term plan to reveal the various bits of functionality that will be available in Longhorn, the next version of Windows. If the long Windows XP rollout is any indication, we'll hear about bits and pieces of this new product for years to come. This week, snippets of information about Longhorn's new programming interface, code-named Avalon, appeared in various places. Avalon will use elements of Longhorn's inductive UI, which will feature a docked Start Menu that some have compared, rather obviously, to the task panes in Office XP. But the notion that Microsoft is extending the task-based UI that debuted in XP isn't exactly news: The company has been upfront about that plan all along. Longhorn will abstract the underlying file system and let users interact with their data in ways that don't rely on the data's physical storage location. Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates says that, to be successful, Longhorn must answer just one question: Where's my stuff?

Making the Switch ... From Linux to Windows
We've heard a lot of news lately about Windows users switching to Mac OS X, although the number of people who've actually done so probably numbers in the dozens. And we've heard Linux-switching stories all along, although these conversions usually occur on small Web servers and tech enthusiasts' desktops, which aren't exactly huge markets. Oddly, we don't hear about the switch that must happen every day--when a Mac or Linux user gives it up and switches to Windows. So, with the caveat that the only interesting aspect of this story is that the guy chose to document his experience, we present Tony Collins, a 27-year-old Australian who made the switch from Linux to Windows on his desktop PC. Welcome back, Tony.

Maricopa County Asked to Drop Microsoft Software
It was supposed to be a shining moment for the Linux community, but you'll never get to read the stories pro-Linux sites wanted to write because the dream is over. A few weeks ago, the Phoenix Linux Users Group (PLUG) was awash with exciting news: Apparently, the Maricopa County, Arizona, government has a clause in its bylaws that prevents the county from doing business with any organization that shows "a lack of business integrity or business honesty" or has a "conviction or civil judgment finding" against it. So PLUG naturally figured it would alert Maricopa County that Microsoft meets these criteria and demand that the county stop using Microsoft software. Not so fast, guys. In a Monday meeting with the Maricopa County Chief Information Officer (CIO), 23 Linux geeks showed up and got some bad news: The county is quite happy with Microsoft, thank you very much, and the CIO noted that only 5 percent of the county's IT budget goes to Microsoft each year, meaning that a switch to Linux wouldn't save much money. Furthermore, to switch to Linux, the county would have to retrain a lot of people, accept various losses in functionality, and so on, effectively costing the county more money than it would save by simply sticking with Microsoft. So much for the grassroots approach.

Microsoft Rents Space at LinuxWorld
And speaking of Microsoft and its great relationship with the Linux crowd, here's a candidate for News from the Bizarre: Microsoft bought booth space for this August's LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco. I assume that Microsoft will design the booth to be more than a target for rotten tomatoes and other projectiles, but I have to wonder why the company would do such a thing--I'll hazard a guess that it isn't to announce a new Linux version of Microsoft Office. Maybe next year Gates can give the keynote address. Weirder things have happened.

Maine Tries to Back Out of Apple iBook Deal
In December, the state of Maine signed a deal worth more than $30 million to supply iBook laptops to every 7th- and 8th-grade student in the state--a deal that Apple and its supporters trumpeted as a major business success. Now, however, two Maine legislators are asking the state's Attorney General whether they can break the contract with Apple and walk away from the deal, stating that the $37.2 million would be better spent to offset a $180 million budget shortfall. So far, Apple has shipped 2000 of the planned 16,000 iBooks to the state. Whether Maine can get out of the deal is unclear. However it works out, Apple's shining success story is forever tarnished, which is too bad. With mounting pressure from Dell in the education market, Apple is quickly losing ground in this once-secure bastion of its power. And something tells me niche creative markets aren't the growth market Apple needs.

When It Comes to the Web, There's IE and Then There's Everything Else
Despite the best intentions of Web developers, the simple truth is that vague concepts such as "Web standards" mean little when 95 percent of the world is using one browser--Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). So Web developers do what anyone would do: Concentrate on IE, rather than the somewhat different set of Web programming standards the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has proposed. This situation has certain parties in a bit of a snit, as you might imagine, but it might explain why IE has had so many lackluster upgrades of late. After the product hit dominant market position, Microsoft started worrying about backwards-compatibility, not gaining new customers. I'm in a bit of a snit, too, but not for the same reasons that Linux advocates, Mozilla users, and others might be. I just miss the days when IE was cool and each new release brought with it exciting new functionality. Today, IE is boring.

Win2K Hits Retirement ... Is It Too Soon?
By the time Microsoft put Windows NT 4.0 out to pasture, few people would have argued that the OS was more than a little long in the tooth, thanks to the years-long development time of its successor, Windows 2000. But in April 2003, Microsoft will stop offering Win2K to PC makers for inclusion on new systems, effectively ending the product's life 3 years after the company first introduced the OS. In the consumer market, a 3-year OS lifecycle is pretty good, but for the business markets that Win2K targets, 3 years is about half as long as many customers want. Sure, XP is better, but it's also targeted largely at consumers and requires a lot of tweaking to remove the UI eye candy that so many enterprises loathe. Ah, well, time marches on.

It's About the Connectivity
Ask Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about the suddenly exploding number of Windows versions and Palladium's future, and he'll chew your ear off about Microsoft's plans. But what it comes down to is making real the company's vision statement ("Empowering people through great software--any time, any place and on any device"). That vision means we'll be connected at all times to have access to our crucial data from anywhere, regardless of the hardware that's handy at the time. So PDAs (specifically the Pocket PC, in Microsoft's plan) will evolve into Smart Phones, laptops will evolve into Tablet PCs, home PCs will evolve into digital media hubs, and the company's consumer-oriented Xbox will expand to provide hard disk-based video recording and other digital activities that people might want to perform in their living rooms. What else do all these strategies have in common? They're technically similar to previous-generation technologies but take computing into new areas (you can use natural handwriting on a Tablet PC, for example, or access your calendaring information from a cell phone). And critics say Microsoft doesn't innovate. I guess the company's recent initiatives put an end to that criticism.

A Clarification About the WiN2K SP3 Delay
Several readers misunderstood the point of a WinInfo Daily UPDATE story earlier this week that described the Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3) delay. Microsoft officials indicated this week that SP3 might very well include Microsoft Installer (MSI) 2.0, but problems with that product need to be sorted out. As the company noted last week, whether or not MSI 2.0 is included in SP3, the MSI delays have affected the company's SP3 internal release schedule.

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