WinInfo Short Takes: Week of March 25

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

Potential Mira Testers Complain About Cost, Age of Devices
I've received several email messages from Mira beta testers, who are upset about the beta program's cost and that they'll be testing outdated hardware. Rather than seed testers with new ViewSonic (or similar) Mira devices, Microsoft is requiring the testers to spend $800 on a Windows CE-based Web tablet that the company will retrofit with Mira capabilities. My recommendation to testers who have written me about this is simple: Don't bother. You'll be able to buy a real Mira device for less than $800 by the end of the year, and the device will have better wireless range and will weigh less.

Microsoft Remedy Hearings: Ex-Gateway, Red Hat Execs Trash Settlement
Two computer-industry executives testified yesterday that Microsoft is still a dominant force that intimidates its partners and competitors. A former Gateway executive and a current Red Hat executive told Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that PC makers can't sell Linux-based PCs because Microsoft will blacklist them through higher prices and delayed access to technology. Furthermore, new licensing rules governed by Microsoft's antitrust settlement contain enough loopholes that Microsoft could continue to bully PC makers into excluding Linux. Microsoft even referred to Gateway as "a bad partner," according to the Gateway executive. When Gateway tried to offer Linux solutions, Microsoft forced Gateway to pay higher prices than rival PC makers paid for Windows. I've seen better behavior from elementary-school children picking dodgeball teams at recess. Maybe a conduct remedy isn't such a bad idea.

Microsoft Remedy Hearings: Microsoft Claims AOL Execs are Biased
And speaking of corporations acting like children, Microsoft accused a top AOL Time Warner executive of being biased against the software giant. I suppose this charge is so obvious you can't argue with it, but aren't Microsoft executives also biased against AOL Time Warner? After all, Microsoft refused to bundle AOL 7.0 with Windows XP because AOL Time Warner wouldn't remove its integrated RealNetworks media-player software. Imagine that--Microsoft getting upset because another company integrated middleware in its product. I'm sure AOL Time Warner had sound technical reasons for the integration.

Microsoft Works on Visual Password System
Microsoft Research is working on a new type of password system that will make it easier for users to remember passwords but more difficult for intruders to crack them. Instead of typing in strings of letters and numbers (which, 9 times out of 10, are simply a child's name, a birth date, the word "password," or something equally obvious), you could tie your logon to several pixels in a particular bitmap image. The password system would then convert those pixels into a random series of 20 numbers for use as the authentication scheme. To log on, you'd simply need to remember where to click on the image. This scheme--which I think of as "Passwords for Dummies"--is probably some years away from fruition.

Study: Macintosh Isn't a Supercomputer
This item is so obvious that only a Macintosh sycophant would have a problem with it, but it's funny nonetheless. Despite Apple Computer's repeated claims that its Power Mac G4 systems are "supercomputers," independent performance tests revealed that they are simply PCs, and fairly underpowered PCs at that, compared with their Intel rivals. The "megahertz myth" might indeed be based on reality, but here's another reality for you: A new 1GHz G4 doesn't outperform a 2GHz Pentium 4 (let alone a relatively ancient 1GHz Pentium III, according to the tests). Where the Mac does charge ahead, of course, is on certain Adobe Systems' Photoshop tests, which use specially written routines that take advantage of G4 "AltiVec" features. In the real world ... well, you know.

Red Hat Has "A Good Year;" What Constitutes a Bad Year?
Like Apple, Linux-maker Red Hat likes to put a positive spin on its situation vis-a-vis the rest of the computing industry. Witness the company's recently completed fiscal year 2002, which Red Hat referred to as "a successful year for \[the company\]." How successful was the year? Red Hat reported a net loss of $139 million, a dramatic increase over its loss of $87 million the year before and a figure that's higher than the company's total sales for the year. Most alarmingly, sales of embedded products dropped dramatically--and yet we continue to read about the embedded market as the new frontier for Linux sales. After announcing its "successful" yearly results, the company eliminated its network-consulting group, cut staff, and announced a corporate-headquarters move that will save $700 million in real-estate costs. I'm coming around to the idea that the Linux phenomenon might see its best successes in the hundreds of tiny companies that support the technology, rather than large corporations such as Red Hat, which simply try to ape Microsoft.

CNN Drops QuickTime for Fee-Based RealOne Content
This news is ugly, Internet-news hounds: CNN has dropped its free QuickTime video content in favor of fee-based video content based on RealNetworks' new RealOne Player. In other words, if you want to watch CNN news clips on the Internet, you have to pay. I have a news flash of my own for CNN: The reason you're popular on TV is that you're part of the basic cable package; we're not interested in paying for you again. Insert ads, or whatever you want, but I doubt that many people will pay for a service they can get for free elsewhere. Shame on CNN for making this move and retarding the Web's growth in the process.

Apple Raises Prices
Here's one innovation PC makers won't copy: MacWorld Tokyo 2002 is underway this week, and Apple made a few announcements--all of which involved its customers paying higher prices. The company raised the price of each iMac version by $100, despite the fact that the product is now "shipping in volume" after being difficult to find for the past 2 months. A new iPod that features a 10GB hard disk will set you back a whopping $500; the previous unit, which Apple had already overpriced, is still $400. And, worst of all, a beautiful new 23" Apple Cinema HD Display will set Apple customers back $3500, a whopping $1000 more than the 22" Apple Cinema HD Display. That's a lot of moola for an extra inch, don't you think?

Netscape Releases Version 6.22: Skip It
As if we needed yet another reason to question whether Netscape could have survived even if Microsoft had just ceded it the Web browser market 5 years ago, the company released Netscape 6.22 this week. The product is based on the Mozilla code base, but it seems to ignore many of the coolest Mozilla features, including tabbed browsing and pop-up-ad elimination. My advice: If you absolutely must use a non-Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) browser, go with Mozilla 0.9.9. I highly recommend it.

Microsoft Boots PlayStation 2 Out of CeBIT
This item is humorous. This week, Microsoft officials complained to CeBIT show organizers that Sony let attendees play PlayStation 2 games in Microsoft's booth. It turns out that CeBIT has specific rules about video games because the show is designed only for business resellers and purchasers. So CeBIT told Sony to take down its PlayStation 2 displays, cart 'em up, and get 'em on out of there. Pay no attention to that maniacal laughing you hear in the background.

Correction: Microsoft Issues Fixes for .NET Framework, Java
After speaking with Mike Kass, Microsoft .NET Framework product manager, I have two clarifications to Wednesday's article titled "Microsoft Issues Fixes for .NET Framework, Java." First, Microsoft didn't issue the security update in the .NET Framework Service Pack 1 (SP1) in response to a vulnerability, per se, but because of feedback from customers who felt that, in light of Microsoft's recent security initiative, the company should change the default Internet code permissions. Second, Microsoft released the .NET Framework in January 2002, not February 2002. I confused the date with the Visual Studio .NET launch. I apologize for any confusion these errors might have caused.

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