WinInfo Short Takes: Week of July 18

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Harry Potter and the Derivative Tome, Microsoft and Creative, Office 12 Ribbons, XP SP2 at 218m downloads, Media Center keyboard, spyware, Palm fun, Mozilla Firefox and so much more...

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According to several sources, Microsoft is hosting a Longhorn Labs event for technology enthusiasts and industry influencers next week in Redmond. The event is timed to coincide with the company's official press and reviewer briefings for Longhorn Beta 1, which is still on track to ship by the end of the month. Meanwhile, I continue to be ambivalent about Longhorn. I hope something exciting happens soon.

I've heard some silly talk about Microsoft's dealings with Claria, the spyware maker formerly known as Gator. Let me clear up a few things. First, Microsoft has allegedly given up on purchasing Claria because of the bad PR that would result, although the software giant is still very much in the market for technology that will help it monitor user behavior online. The bigger question is why Microsoft changed its policy for dealing with Claria software in Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware. Previously, Windows AntiSpyware detected Claria spyware and recommended quarantining it. But now it recommends ignoring Claria spyware. Microsoft says that it made this change to make the Claria recommendation in line with what it recommends for similar software, not because of any concession it made to Claria. Yes, I wish Windows AntiSpyware would just delete that junk. But if you see a conspiracy theory here, you need to get out more. Seriously.

Microsoft Office Outlook pet peeve: You have an appointment in an hour, and a Reminder dialog box pops up and chimes to alert you. You want to snooze the Reminder for 30 minutes, so you click the drop-down list next to the snooze button. Because the event is in 60 minutes, you might expect to see choices for less than 60 minutes because a snooze time of, say, 2 hours doesn't makes sense in this context--unless, of course, you're Microsoft. In the Outlook Reminder dialog box, the drop-down list displays only times greater than the current choice (which is the number of minutes/hours/days until the event). To see the choices that actually make sense (i.e., the choices that represent less time), you have to manually scroll up the list. That's both illogical and stupid. Please fix it.

After a mechanical problem Wednesday, the space shuttle might take off for space sometime this coming week after a 2 and a half year layoff since the Columbia disaster. I haven't been this excited about a shuttle launch since I was a kid. This is taking way too long.

So another Harry Potter book is ready to take the world by storm. Instead of reading yet another derivative children's book this summer, why not check out some of the excellent fantasy titles that inspired J.K. Rowling, such as CS Lewis' amazing Narnia series ("The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe") or Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books ("The Black Cauldron"). Or God forbid you read a title written for adults, such as JRR Tolkein's epic "Lord of the Rings," or Isaac Asimov's original Foundation trilogy. Besides, you're going to kill yourself if you fall asleep reading the latest Potter book on your back. The thing is 672 pages long and, in hardback form, could be considered a lethal weapon in some states.

I've always argued that the choices in the Windows market are, perhaps, the major factor that makes Windows superior to the Mac. But I've heard some talk lately about consumer choice and how too much choice is almost as bad as no choice at all. It seems that some choice is fantastic but, say, 175 different salad dressings is out of whack. The BBC News is the latest entity to discuss this phenomenon in an article about author and scholar Barry Schwartz, who appeared at the Technology Entertainment Design (TED) conference in Oxford, England, recently. Click the URL below and scroll down to the bottom for some interesting reading.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4682123.stm

Short Takes

Microsoft Preps Investment in Creative
   In its latest bid to compete with Apple Computer's stunning iPod success, Microsoft is considering investing in or even buying portable device maker Creative Technology and potentially other device makers. In the meantime, Microsoft is working to ensure that Creative's products integrate better with Windows Media Player (WMP), a capability that will be key for WMP 11, due in beta form this November. After initially promising to beat Apple in the MP3 player market, Creative now plans to simply "survive," which is a slightly lowered outlook, I guess. Unless Microsoft plans to purchase Apple, I don't see how the software giant can ever stem the flow of iPods coming out of Cupertino. It's newsflash time, Creative: Get used to being number two.

Office 12 to Feature New UI and This Time It Won't Be Lame
   The Microsoft Office team has historically done its own thing with UIs, eschewing the standard Windows way of doing things and creating something slightly unique and, often, confusing. For Office 12, the next major version of Office, Microsoft plans to change the UI yet again. But this time the company might get it right. Instead of making a different UI for no good reason, Microsoft is actually thinking about the way people use the Office applications. One of the big problems is icon overload: The sheer amount of toolbar buttons confuses people. So the company is developing a new ribbon UI element that in many ways will replace the toolbars in Office. In each application, the ribbon will change its icon set based on what you're doing. So if you're writing text, you'll see text-oriented icons, but when you switch to an embedded graphic, the ribbon will display only those icons that are related to graphics. As with Office 2003, the goal of the UI is to expose existing functionality so that users can discover it more easily. But unlike Office 2003, this change might actually work. Whether it will be enough to make customers upgrade remains to be seen.

Windows XP SP2: 200 Million Downloads and Counting
   At the Microsoft Worldwide Partners Conference this week, Microsoft noted that it has distributed more than 218 million copies of Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) via Windows Update and Automatic Updates. In February, Microsoft reported the figure as 170 million downloads. According to the company's internal figures, SP2 makes XP 13 to 15 times less likely to be hacked when compared with the base version of XP or XP with SP1. Meanwhile, since March, Microsoft has also distributed more than 2 million copies of Windows Server 2003 SP1, an update that provides many of the same security features that XP SP2 provides.

Individual Can Sue Microsoft for Antitrust Violations
   A Wisconsin state court has ruled that a Milwaukee man can sue Microsoft for antitrust abuses. According to the complaint, Microsoft created a monopoly and artificially inflated prices for consumers. This case is especially interesting because the man purchased Microsoft software outside of Wisconsin (the state in which Milwaukee is located). According to the Wisconsin supreme court, Wisconsin's antitrust laws apply to interstate commerce in this case because the effects of the alleged abuse were felt primarily within the state. Microsoft, which has successfully beaten up on companies both large and small in court, feels certain it can outspend this man and bring about a happy resolution. "We are confident we will prevail on the merits of our case," a Microsoft spokesperson said, apparently oblivious to the numerous examples of similar lawsuits that have been filed against the company.

Microsoft to Ship Media Center Device This Month
   I got a peek at this device in May. Microsoft this week revealed that it will soon ship a wireless Media Center keyboard and remote control that will help people who have Media Centers in their living rooms interact with the machines. The device features beveled edges for easy two-handed holding, an integrated pointing stick, full Media Center remote-control functionality, a full-sized keyboard with special Media Center buttons, and even power buttons for the PC and TV. I fell in love with the device the second I saw it, and I suspect that most Media Center users will, too. It should cost about $100 when it goes on sale later this month.

Microsoft Releases Windows Automotive 5.0
   In its latest bid to redefine the term "car crash," Microsoft announced the release of Windows Automotive 5.0, its OS for in-car devices. Based on Windows CE .NET 5.0, Windows Automotive 5.0 will show up in a number of aftermarket devices and maybe even stock vehicles by the end of the year. Just don't let those guys get into the navigational system.

HP Snags Dell Executive
   Dell CIO Randall Mott has jumped shipped and joined HP, Dell's mortal enemy in the PC space. Mott will serve as HP's executive vice president and CIO, the company reports. Before joining Dell, Mott served 22 years at Wal-Mart, apparently moving beyond the position of welcomer at some point. For HP, Mott is just a piece of the puzzle: Ever since new CEO Mark Hurd (remember him?) took over after the biblical fall of Carly Fiorina, he's been trying to redefine the executive staff and get HP moving in a positive direction once again.

Spyware Defined
   We might be unable to define pornography but spyware got an official definition this week when the Anti-Spyware Coalition (ASC)--a collection of consumer groups, ISPs, and software companies--announced its mutually agreed-upon choice. According to ASC, spyware is technology that "impairs users' control over material changes that affect their user experience, privacy, or system security; use of their system resources ... and collection, use, and distribution of their personal ... information." That explanation is reasonable, if a bit long (the original document breaks out those points into bullets, which is a bit much). I think of spyware as being software that's installed on your system surreptitiously, period. If you didn't want it in the first place or it misrepresented its intent, it's spyware. What it does after infecting your system is almost immaterial to the definition, in my opinion. Spyware is bad, and it needs to be stopped regardless of whether it's malicious.

Digital TV in 2009?
   Oh, pity us poor fools in the United States. We've been planning and prepping for digital TV for lo these many years, but broadcasters, consumers, and the federal government can't seem to get together and decide when we, as a nation, should flip the switch and move to completely digital television. The problem is the so-called "last grandmother," that fictional old woman--in rural Iowa, no doubt--who will upgrade her 1962 RCA television when you pry it out of her cold, dead hands. But progress is progress, and this week the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation recommended that analog over-the-air TV signals go dark on January 1, 2009. There's also talk about making selling analog TV illegal after a certain date.

Seriously, We're Palm Now. We Think.
   Thanks, Adrian: As you might recall, Palm became palmOne, then recently switched back to the Palm name again. But if you think that's confusing, consider how confusing it is for the company. If you visit palmone.com right now (with the understanding that the company will probably fix this soon), the title bar reads: "Welcome to palmOne, formerly Palm, Inc." However, the home page reads, "Palm, Inc. (formerly palmOne, Inc.)." Which is it, guys? Actually, don't tell me; it'll just hurt my head.

Mozilla Firefox 1.0.5 Available
   Firefox users will want to upgrade to the latest version, Firefox 1.0.5, which the Mozilla Foundation released this week. Firefox 1.0.5 is a minor update but adds security and stability features. On a related note, the Mozilla Foundation also updated its excellent email client, Thunderbird, to version 1.0.5.
   http://www.mozilla.org

Mozilla Gains on IE Again
   And speaking of Firefox, my favorite Web browser on Windows continues to chip away at market leader Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), which has been locked in a stagnant, unimproved state for several years. In June, Firefox snagged 8.71 percent of the market, up from 8 percent in May. Meanwhile, IE's share dropped from 87.23 percent to 86.56 percent in the same time period. Analysts expect Firefox to gain significant traction when it hits the 10 percent mark, probably in July or August, although the impending IE 7.0 beta should have people worried.

Finally, Some Great News for AMD
   Have I mentioned recently how much I like AMD? For a company that's technologically kicking butt, it's kind of sad to see it lose ground consistently to the monopoly superpower with which it must compete (Intel, in this case, and, yes, I see the parallels between AMD/Intel and Apple/Microsoft). This week, however, AMD got some good news. The company greatly exceeded analyst expectations and posted its first profitable quarter in 9 months. AMD cited strong microprocessor sales as the reason for the turnaround. Chips sales were up 3 percent quarter over quarter (although they were flat year over year). But AMD has a long way to go: Intel controls more than 80 percent of the microprocessor market, or more than 90 percent when revenues are measured.

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