WinInfo Short Takes: Week of June 26 - 23 Jun 2006

My post-TechEd 2006 experience hasn't been the greatest. After six days of early mornings and late nights in Boston--and I'm not exactly the most graceful commuter--I came down with a bizarre cold/virus and at one point somewhat humorously ended up wearing a Michael Jackson-style paper mask in a doctor's office with a suspected case of the measles. I've been cleared of that, although my illness has been declared "mysterious" and I'm still suffering from it. Basically, it amounts to cold-like symptoms (a fever, stuffed-up nose, coughing, headache, general pain) along with a lovely rash and, more recently, a nice bit of peeling skin. Taken in context with my near-death experience in Colorado last year, I'm one more illness away from buying a permanent Hazmat suit. Long story short: It hasn't been the greatest week.

Which is too bad, because the beautiful weather we were graced with during TechEd is still here. If this is what global warming has in store for Boston, maybe we need to stop trying to prevent it. Relax: I'm kidding. Sort of.

Of course, being this sick makes it hard to get anything done, although I've been racking up some serious frequent flyer miles on Call of Duty 2 online, much to my wife's chagrin. Like me, she works at home, and although she appreciates that I'm sick and everything, I can tell from her overly subtle comments ("You play that game too much,") that's she's even more eager than I am for this bout of illness to be over. I'm not the greatest patient, I guess.

One thing I accomplished last week during a fit of feverish work was to migrate my family's Windows Media Center PC from Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 to Windows Vista Ultimate Beta 2. It's kind of been a disaster, with horrible performance issues and some serious bugs, but we're all going to suffer through it together as a family trust exercise. That is, they'll trust that Vista will only get better over time, and I'll trust that they won't try to kill me in my sleep. So far, so good.

Windows Vista Back on the Monthly Release Bandwagon

Give Microsoft some credit: Even though Windows Vista has been delayed innumerable times and has suffered through some horrific growing pains, the company just keeps plugging away. Now that the lackluster Vista Beta 2 release is out the door, Microsoft intends to ship monthly Community Technology Preview (CTP) builds to testers, the first of which should appear any day now (the builds are in the 54xx build-number range). Meanwhile, consumers who signed up for the Windows Vista Customer Preview Program (CPP) and installed and activated Vista Beta 2 will be eligible to receive the Release Candidate 1 (RC1) version of Vista when it ships in August. The idea is to put the pre-release versions of Vista in front of as many eyeballs as possible during the time period where Microsoft is doing performance and fit-and-finish work. Hey, it can only get better.

Microsoft Throws PC Makers, Customers a Vista Bone This Holiday Season

With Microsoft not shipping Windows Vista to consumers until January 2007--or "early in the first quarter of 2007," as I'm suddenly hearing--one might expect the software giant to do something to alleviate any issues PC makers might have during the lackluster holiday 2006 selling season. Put simply, why would anyone buy a new PC in December 2006 if they know new models with a major new Windows version are coming out a month later? This week, Microsoft said it would offer consumers deals through PC makers that are designed to keep PC sales from faltering in November and December. There are very few details so far, but one might imagine the deal being a "buy an XP now and get Vista for free"-type promotion. On the other hand, upgrading a Windows XP PC to Vista isn't recommended: If you want the best experience, wait for Vista to be preinstalled on new PCs before taking the plunge. In fact, you might want to even wait for the second generation of Vista-based PCs.

Novell Fires CEO, CFO

Although there were changes at both Microsoft and Novell this week, the way in which those changes were meted out is somewhat dramatic. At Microsoft, company icon Bill Gates announced a graceful, Sun God-like "Plan de Retirement" during which he will continue to run the company while working less (which is no small feat). Meanwhile, Novell went for the Caesar and Brutus method: The company's board of directors voted Thursday to fire its CEO and CFO in a bid to jump-start its sales growth. I'm curious. How many years of stagnant growth and lack of success in new markets will Microsoft need before its board of directors wakes up?

Microsoft Announces Quarterly Dividend

And speaking of its board of directors, Microsoft announced this week that it will issue a quarterly dividend of $0.09 per share this quarter. And I thought they weren't doing anything.

VMWare Wants Open Standards in VM Market

Last week, I spoke with VMWare CEO Diane Greene at TechEd. One of the most interesting themes she's pushing these days is the need for standardization in the virtualization market. VMWare, as you might know, is the leader in the standardized virtualization market by a wide margin, and its virtual machine (VM) format is already the standard. But with Microsoft now offering free virtualization products and threatening to include a virtualization layer in its server OSs in the near future, Greene has decided that it's time to talk. Interestingly enough, she's not involving lawyers, although I think she could make an excellent antitrust case. Instead, Greene would like to see standards bodies agree on various format standards for virtualized hardware, then see vendors such as VMWare and Microsoft use those formats in their own solutions. I'm kind of curious to see how this plays out. After all, why wouldn't Microsoft agree to this solution? More important, don't you just know they'd never agree to this?

Verizon Sues Vonage

As if Vonage didn't have enough to worry about, this week telephone giant Verizon sued the company for violating "at least" seven Verizon patents. Verizon launched the suit after examining technical documentation that Vonage supplied to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). According to Verizon, Vonage is using proprietary technology that was developed by Verizon and its predecessors. However, Vonage says all of its technologies were developed internally and licensed from third parties and vowed to "vigorously defend" itself against Verizon. The patents cover connecting Internet calls to landline telephone networks, voice mail, and call waiting. It should be an interesting battle, and one that could help determine whether established telephone giants or new startups deliver Internet-based telephony to the masses.

Most Microsoft Employees Use Google

Well, duh. That's like saying most Google employees use Microsoft Word. (Which they might not.) Some Web researchers began examining whether Microsoft's employees were using Google's search engine or the company's own MSN Search. It turns out that 80 percent of Microsoft employees use Google, compared to just 20 percent for MSN. Although this information might trigger some cheap chuckles in certain corners, I have a different perspective. How sad would it be if Microsoft actually required its employees to use its own search engine? The fact that the statistics at Microsoft so closely mirror the wider world shows you that the company isn't overbearing to its employees. And these statistics should inspire the people working at MSN Search to make it better. If you can't get your own employees to use the product, then what's the point?

Microsoft Begins Testing of Windows Server 2003 SP2

This week, Microsoft started the first external tests of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2), which will include all previously released security bulletin updates, individual hotfixes released to customers since the initial release of Windows 2003, and additional fixes to increase reliability, robustness, and security. Put simply: There are no major new features (unlike SP1). No word yet on when Windows 2003 SP2 is due.

EU Still Waiting on Adobe's Vista Complaint

For the past several weeks, we've been eagerly awaiting Adobe's antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, but according to regulators at the European Union (EU), it's not coming. "We have not ... received any complaint from Adobe," an EU spokesperson said, noting that he, too, had been expecting one. Adobe, of course, is freaking out about Microsoft wanting to include support for Adobe's PDF format in Office 2007 and for Microsoft's PDF competitor, XML Paper Specification (XPS), in Windows Vista and Office 2007. I just have two questions. Why would Microsoft make a technology that's similar to PDF but not as good? And why would Adobe try to prevent Microsoft from distributing PDF and therefore making it more widely available?

New Tool Prevents Microsoft Spyware

If you're worried about Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) notification tool, which security researchers have labeled as spyware because it silently phones home to Microsoft, I might have a solution. (Calm down, it doesn't involve buying a Mac.) Guillaume Kaddouch, a French developer, created an application called RemoveWGA that stops the notification tool but leaves the core part of WGA, called WGA validation, intact. In other words, you can't use RemoveWGA to run a pirated Windows version, but you can use it to stop the constant revalidations. Sounds good to me. (The site is currently down but should be back up soon.)

Just in Case You Were Still Wondering: Linux Isn't a Threat to Windows Desktop

One of the comical things I enjoy doing every year is collecting all of the inevitable stories that seem to arrive each January declaring that, yes, this year will be the year of desktop Linux. It's been going on for a decade now, and in case you haven't noticed, Linux-based desktops aren't exactly sweeping across the world in record numbers. This week, Bill Hilf, Microsoft's general manager of platform strategy, finally explained why he believes Linux is never going to be a desktop application. "The loosely coupled model of development prevents Linux from being successful on the desktop," he said. "It's not a Red Hat or IBM problem. It's a model issue." Hilf also noted that once you get past the mythology of Linux, the truth is that the quality of most open-source software is below that of commercial software. And when you get right down to it, consumers don't want bits and pieces, they want the whole thing, and they want it to work. Say what you will about Windows, there's an entire industry built around supporting that OS with hardware, software, and other accessories. Windows isn't something you can easily replace.

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