An irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
DirectX 9.0 Beta 1 Released
Microsoft released DirectX 9.0 Beta 1 to its beta testers this week; a final release is scheduled for sometime this fall. But the real news is that Microsoft chose to announce this beta release--which isn't available to the public, incidentally--with a press release, rather than the company's typical method of leaking the release to Warez and kiddie-computer-news sites, who then trade it on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels, discuss how it screws up their systems, and provide free feedback by whining about it on those same IRC channels. Now that I think about it, maybe that system isn't such a bad idea.
Microsoft to Bundle Antivirus Software with Windows
Given all the fluff that Microsoft throws into Windows these days, I've been wondering for a long time why the company doesn't bundle technology everyone needs, such as antivirus software. The wondering is over. According to a report this week in TheStreet.com, everyone's favorite software monopolist is striking an exclusive deal with McAfee.com to bundle, integrate, and otherwise commingle antivirus software in future Windows releases. The most exciting part of this news (for me, anyway) is that the companies are handling the project exactly as I suggested last summer--through a Windows antivirus plug-in engine similar to the plug-in technology that Windows XP's Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) uses. Windows will ship with only the barest of antivirus functionality and will give third parties an opportunity to plug their own technology into the OS (again through ICF, as ZoneAlarm has done). This plan is good news and certainly more useful to the average Windows user than Windows Movie Maker (WMM) or Windows Messenger.
Pirating Xbox the Hard Way
The Xbox hacks are flowing fast and furious, but Xbox pirates will need to be a lot more dedicated than PC-software pirates if they want to rip off Microsoft. Microsoft designed the Xbox to prevent the execution of unsigned code, so simply copying an Xbox game disk and using it on another system is next to impossible. To counter this seemingly insurmountable problem, several hardware solutions have arrived, all of which require soldering-iron proficiency. So if you don't mind taking a miniblowtorch to your new $200 toy, go nuts. A similar cottage industry for Sony PlayStation 2 pirates also exists.
Microsoft Gets Failing Grade with Schools
Last week, I mentioned that Microsoft found itself in hot water after the company tried to audit dozens of schools in the Pacific Northwest, forcing them to pay for any unlicensed software they might have been running by mistake. Since then, the furor over Microsoft's behavior has increased, and the company said this week that it will hold off on its attempt to find out which schools are "under-licensed" (yes, that's how Microsoft describes the situation). Instead, the company will graciously give the schools more time to complete the audits, which would have been difficult to complete at the end of the school year. But no one seems happy with the company's attitude, and with each passing week reports of schools moving their PCs to Linux this summer increase.
Microsoft Licensing Plan Comes at Bad Time
And speaking of heavy-handed Microsoft licensing, the company's upcoming Licensing 6.0 scheme isn't winning any fans. With customer enthusiasm for Microsoft at an all-time low and viable free alternatives showing up in droves, it seems odd that the company would push increased licensing costs on enterprise customers (let alone schools), but that's exactly what the company is doing. With only a few weeks remaining until Licensing 6.0 takes hold, fewer than 30 percent of Microsoft's customers have signed on. And another 30 percent say that they'll never sign on because of much higher costs. Note to Microsoft: No one is particularly emotional about sticking with you. But lots of people are emotional about leaving you. The time to set this straight is now, before it's too late.
Palm Continues to Struggle
Rudderless without strong leadership for too long, Palm announced this week that it will miss its quarterly sales target by more than 20 percent and won't meet its goal of reporting an operating profit. Palm stock thudded to the ground at the news, trading in the $2 range. The company had already posted embarrassing results in 2001, when competition from Palm OS licensees and Pocket PC competitors consistently trounced Palm products. But I have a suggestion that might save the company: Reunite with Handspring, bring the company's founders back into the fold, and start innovating again. Otherwise, you'll be the latest example of a company that underestimated the Microsoft threat.
NVIDIA Downplays Microsoft Troubles
Graphics-card maker NVIDIA this week said that sales from yet another new line of graphics cards, due later this year, will save the company from its potentially catastrophic legal battle with Microsoft. NVIDIA makes the graphics adapter for Microsoft's Xbox game console, but the two companies apparently don't agree on the price Microsoft should pay per adapter; NVIDIA claims that the price should be far more than Microsoft currently pays. Microsoft is under pressure to keep Xbox costs low, and the price of each component dramatically affects the system's cost structure. An arbitrator will resolve the NVIDIA/Microsoft dispute, which could be financially devastating to NVIDIA if it loses (as opposed to representing a rounding error for Microsoft if the software giant loses).
Microsoft Joins Verizon in Phone Deal
Microsoft and phone giant Verizon have inked a pact to sell MSN Internet access and services to Verizon cell-phone customers. Although details are scarce, Microsoft will receive part of the $7 a month that Verizon charges its customers for Internet access, which Verizon will rename VZW with MSN. Get it? No, neither do I.
AT&T Broadband Puts the Screws to Cable Modem Owners
AT&T Broadband customers used to save $10 a month if they purchased their own cable modems and didn't lease modems from the company. But this week, AT&T announced that it is effectively rescinding $7 per month of this deal, making the purchase far less of an obvious choice. At a paltry $3-a-month savings, it would take customers 33 months to recoup the price of a $100 cable modem. By the end of that time, we'll probably have moved on to teleportation booths, anyway. Shame on AT&T for punishing people who don't want to pony up the maximum monthly fee for an already overpriced service.
XScale-Based Pocket PCs on Tap
Pocket PCs are already pretty cool, but starting this summer, they're going to be barn burners. The next generation of Pocket PCs will be based on Intel's new XScale processor, the successor to the StrongARM chip that today's devices use. Unlike today's Pocket PCs, which top out at about 206MHz, the XScale-based devices will start at 400MHz. Next month, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Toshiba, and other companies will ship the first XScale-based Pocket PCs, which will also feature advanced power-management capabilities. Good stuff.
UnitedLinux: United Against Whom?
A consortium of Linux distributors, including Caldera, Connectiva, SUSE, and TurboLinux, announced this week that they will unify the underlying technology of their products into a single code base called UnitedLinux. Their goal, they say, is to create a standardized Linux version and avoid the stratification that rocked the UNIX world a decade ago and gave rise to Windows. But is UnitedLinux united against Microsoft or against best-selling Linux vendor Red Hat? Another point to ponder: UnitedLinux won't develop any desktop products but will instead focus solely on the server. Given the recent rise of Linux desktop products such as OpenOffice.org, Mozilla, Evolution, and the Ximian GNOME environment, you have to wonder what's really happening. Stay tuned.
Linux Journal Disses Mac OS X
You'd think that the anti-Microsoft camps would just try to get along, but apparently that's not the case. A Linux Journal article this week questions the technological underpinnings of Mac OS X, Apple's latest OS. Calling the Mach microkernel at the heart of Mac OS X "obsolete," Linux Journal says that Mac OS X has "performance problems, and the benefits originally promised are a fantasy." Those are fighting words where I come from, but the article might have a point. As an historical aside, Microsoft created Windows NT more than a decade ago specifically to overcome the limitations of microkernels such as Mach. I said this in late 1997, and I'll say it again now: NeXTStep/OpenStep (upon which Mac OS X is based) is good stuff, but Apple should have gone with the Be OS. Ah well.
XP SP1: USB 2.0 In, Bluetooth Out
People seem a bit confused about which technologies Microsoft will include in Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1), due late this summer. USB 2.0, as I noted last week, is in, but Bluetooth isn't. Instead, Microsoft will eventually add Bluetooth to Windows Update and will ship the technology with products such as a wireless keyboard and mouse later this year. The company told me that there aren't enough Bluetooth devices to adequately test the technology and include it in SP1, which, if you recall, was the case with USB 2.0 a year ago when people were wondering how Microsoft could ship XP without support for that technology.