WinInfo Short Takes: Week of June 8

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

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Short Takes

Ozzie Talks Up Microsoft Commitment to Cloud Computing, Netbooks
Speaking at a business forum in California, Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie talked up Microsoft's commitment to cloud computing and dumped some criticism on Google's recently announced Wave product. "\[Wave\] violates one principle that I hold so true right now, which is complexity is the enemy in the ethos of the Web," he said, which is interesting because it echoes comments I made in my own preview of Wave, noting that it was very much unlike other Google products, which are typically UNIX-like in their simplicity. The goal of cloud computing, Ozzie says, is to make things simpler and more seamless, not more complex. He also took on the topic of netbooks, sort of. "The reality is, I don't know what a netbook is," he said. "It's a laptop." Just want to point out that this guy is leading the technical direction of the company. Moving on ...

Microsoft Fears the Netbook
Actually, let's not move on. Microsoft is apparently trying to put its branding genius on the netbook, because the name "netbook" is apparently too simple for consumers. They would prefer that these low-cost devices be called "low-cost small notebook PCs," or LCSMPCs, instead. And no, I'm not joking. The rationale is understandable—most netbooks are really used as low-end PCs and aren't just for surfing the web—but come on. Replacing something easily digestible and commonly known with a tongue-twisting, complicated phrase like that is just ... it's just ... I mean, come on. So, why is Microsoft even attempting such a thing? Simple: The company fears the netbook. It's the only bright spot in the PC industry right now, but each netbook sale means less money in the company's coffers because each netbook sale comes with a very "low-cost Windows version," or LCWV. And if the pressure around Windows 7 Starter continues, Microsoft might even have to give the thing away. This isn't the PC market Microsoft envisioned, and it's certainly not the one it rode to the top of the PC industry food chain years ago. Let's turn back the clock, people.

Microsoft Keynotes JavaOne as Hell Experiences Cooler-than-Expected Temps, Some Snowfall
A Microsoft executive stepped onto the stage at Sun's JavaOne conference this week for the first time and came away unstained by tomatoes or other vegetables. Microsoft Senior Director Steven Martin (the funniest man in tech business) talked up interoperability at the event, which is appropriate enough, and highlighted ways in which developers can connect .NET code to Java code. Exciting stuff, sure, but it's nice to see more generally how relations between the two companies have evolved to the point that they're actually working together.

Microsoft Office Has Nothing to Fear but Office Itself
A Forrester Research report has come to a startling conclusion about Microsoft Office: Despite the fact that it has dozens of competitors on the PC desktop and in the cloud, Office actually has no competition at all. That might seem like a paradox, but only if you'd never looked at any of the competition. "The bottom line is Microsoft Office is quite entrenched in the global large business organization today," Forrester analyst Sheri McLeish said, noting that her company found that only 8 percent of businesses were using any kind of Office competitor. Apparently, 80 percent of the remaining business market for office productivity suites is already on Office 2007, while the other 20 percent is on previous versions of Office.

Microsoft's Project Natal Excites Fanboys, but Fails Some Crucial Tests
In the wake of Microsoft's vaporware announcement of a "full-body controller-less controller" for the Xbox 360 code-named Project Natal, some people are finally beginning to see the light. That is, it's just an evolution of the motion-sensing controllers that Nintendo first introduced with the Wii. The problems with these types of controllers, however, are many, and they're not suited for all games and applications. The biggest concern is feedback, because there is none. In many games, the very act of repeatedly hitting buttons provides the kind of tactile feedback that's necessary to emulate real-world activities, and in others, simple feedback such as controller vibration provides more subtle cues that something is happening. People who stand in the middle of the room miming activities quickly tire and get frustrated because there are no physical cues that anything is happening. The best example I read about this involved playing a piano. Imagine three levels of feedback: Playing an actual piano, playing a virtual piano on a flat surface such as a screen, and trying to pretend to play the piano in the air. The third level just doesn't work. Put simply, Project Natal will simply work like the Wii controllers and will thus be of interest in only a very small subset of game types and titles. You won't be jumping around in your den, playing Halo 10 or Call of Duty 27 any time soon.

Nintendo Opines on Natal
I'm not the only one not buying the Microsoft hard sell on Project Natal. Nintendo this week said that the technology was just another attempt by Microsoft to copy Nintendo's success with the Wii. "The fact that \[Microsoft is\] looking at getting the gamer off the couch, taking advantage of motion control, and getting them to control the game by moving their body shows that they have looked at what we have done with the Wii," Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo game designer, said. "And now they are moving in the same direction." But surely Nintendo is worried now that Microsoft is copying the Wii (again). I mean, Microsoft is a serious competitor and all. "I'm not worried at all," he said. "Based on the announcements we've seen, they are still in the initial stages and are trying to create experiences that at this point don't seem like they have the type of depth that we're able to provide with Wii Motion Plus." Ah. In other words, Natal is vaporware. Right!

Russia Begins Monopoly Probe of Microsoft
This news should be comical, given the piracy-ripe environment that is Russia today. But the country is investigating Microsoft nonetheless. Oddly enough, the case has nothing to do with bundling or illegal competition. Instead, Russia is investigating Microsoft's decision to phase out Windows XP. In other words, Russia is suspicious that Microsoft is promoting its more recent product, Windows Vista, over an increasingly obsolete (and dare I say it, easier to pirate) older product. "Analysis of the market for various operating systems shows that the transfer to the new Windows Vista operating system is occurring while demand for the previous operating system, Windows XP, continues," a spokesperson for Russia's anti-monopoly body (presumably WZOR) said. "Demand for separately packaged and pre-installed versions of Windows XP is also confirmed by retailers and the number of orders from the government."

Microsoft: No ARM-Based Windows 7 Netbooks
Although most netbooks sold today utilize PC-style microprocessors such as the Intel Atom, a forthcoming generation of devices will utilize ARM processors, which have historically been used in smart phones and other tiny mobile devices. But Microsoft isn't interested, and it says it will not adapt Windows 7 to run on the chips. "We sort of learnt in the last year that if it looks like a PC and acts like a PC, people want the features and benefits of a PC," Microsoft Corporate Vice President Steve Guggenheimer said this week. "We don't think those will work very well." The comments come in the wake of news that netbook pioneer Acer will soon begin selling an ARM-based netbook running Google's Android software, which was originally developed for smart phones. But Microsoft might have a point. When you see a laptop-type machine, you expect it to work like a laptop. And when that thing doesn't work with your printer or external display, you're not going to be happy.

Ballmer Threatens US Government, Risks Nuclear Exchange
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer this week threatened to move US jobs overseas unless President Obama reverses a decision to more heavily tax US companies' international profits. Ballmer says the new tax will make it even more expensive for companies to keep jobs in the United States. "We are better off taking lots of people and moving them out of the United States \[if this tax change is implemented\], as opposed to keeping them inside the United States," he said. "It makes US jobs more expensive." Not everyone sees it quite the same way. Economist Barry Bosworth says that Microsoft has been "exploiting" current US tax and trade rules to achieve a low overall tax rate. The Obama plan, thus, would correct these loopholes.

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