WinInfo Short Takes: Week of May 21

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including WinHEC 2007, Paul's experiences traveling home, Halo 3 multiplayer beta, Microsoft's big acquisition, Apple iPhone clears a hurdle, Wii sales, Microsoft vs. Linux, and so much more...

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As a pretty frequent traveler, you'd think I'd be interested in articles about flying and being more efficient and so forth, but the reality is, I don't agree with much of the advice I read, whether it's aimed at business travelers or tourists. So with the hypocrisy of this situation admitted right up front, I'd like to offer my own advice about flying. But this advice is aimed at the people flying the planes, not at the airlines customers who are jammed six to a row back in coach. It's very simple: Stop talking. And if you do have something to say, just say it and stop talking again. I'm getting very tired of the pilot jumping on the all-too-loud intercom to announce something about the weather, wind speed, or whatever nonsense he feels the need to discuss, while I'm watching a DVD on my laptop. So I pause the movie when I hear his voice. And the following silliness ensues...

Captain: "So the weather in Boston is a chilly 42 degrees...." \[long wait\]

\[I un-pause the movie and 10 seconds elapse.\]

Captain: Winds are out of the northeast and ... uh... are 12 miles per hour.

\[I pause again. And wait. Nothing. So I resume watching.\]

Captain: We're told there's a bit of a stack up at the airport, so we might need to circle over Providence for a 10 minutes. But we'll still get you into the gate on time.

\[Again, I've paused it. And I wait. He's done, I hope. I start watching again.\]

Captain: We hope you've enjoyed flying today. We know you have a choice of airlines....

Paul: Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

You get the idea. This happens about three times a flight, on average, and I seem to be under a speaker every time. You'd think that people who fly as often as these guys do would understand that it's miserable enough sitting next to the portly people from Ohio and getting jammed by the drink cart every time it comes up the aisle. How about a little peace and quiet?

OK, so I hate the act of traveling. Which is unfortunate, because I like to visit places. It's just the process of getting there that's so painful. It shouldn't be this terrible. But it is. The silliness of traveling has only increased since 9/11, of course, and if the intent of terrorists is to horribly inconvenience people, they've certainly made their mark on the travel industry.

Here's how I spent Thursday. I woke up at 4:00 A.M. Los Angeles time, packed, showered, dress, and raced to the airport (literally, at 80 mph) by cab. I arrived to a variety of lines to choose from--check-in, curb-side check-in, and electronic check-in--and chose the latter. After declining (three times no less) the option of a fourth line, for those not checking luggage, just around the corner to the right, my ticket prints out as, "Cannot process this request. Please proceed to the gate for seat assignment." I speak with the attendant, get a boarding pass, and wait in a line so my luggage can be x-rayed. Then I wait in a line so I can go up an escalator. Then another line that lets me choose between two security lines. Then I wait in line for security. And to top off my LAX experience, I then wait in three separate lines for a newspaper, breakfast, and the plane (twice, of course). That's a lot of standing in line, and at least at a place like Disneyland there's a potentially fun ride waiting at the end. My so-called direct flight required me to switch planes, and, seriously, terminals in Dallas, causing a 40-minute layover to turn into a cross-airport marathon starring me as the idiot who didn't look at his flight information carefully enough before pressing "purchase." And those two screaming kids right in front of me on the way back to Boston? Absolutely adorable. I could just see them above the protruding gut and elbow of the aforementioned gentleman from Ohio who was sitting beside, and as it turns out, partially on me. At Logan Airport, being the hive of efficiency it is, it took 30 minutes for my bags to arrive, but at least I can't complain about the traffic: We were so late getting in that rush hour had already come and gone. I stepped foot in my house at 8:00 P.M., which, when you factor in the 3-hour time change, was exactly 13 hours after I had woken up. It was a great day.

As you're quickly realizing, I could go on and on about this. And maybe I will. I guess I've still got that happy buzz that everyone has when they get home from a trip. Or something. The good news is that the LA trip and Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2007, the reason I was there, were both good. I got physically accosted, literally, by some street people, which was interesting in a George Romero zombie movie kind of way. I also got to hang out with some friends from Microsoft and the tech press that I don't get to see very often. And only one of those was actually any fun. (Yes, it's the second one. Geesh.) LA was accommodating with wonderful weather, though I would have preferred Seattle to LA. I'm hoping it will be back in Seattle, where it belongs, next year.

The big controversy at WinHEC this year was that Microsoft decided to focus on Windows Vista (and, to a lesser extent, Windows Server 2008--formerly code-named Longhorn) rather than future versions of Windows. I have my suspicions about this--after all, the highly secretive Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president in charge of Windows and Windows Live Engineering, is now running the Windows show at Microsoft--but there's some truth to what I was told on the record at the show: For most people, Vista is still the future. OK, fair enough. But given the impending release of Vista SP1, it seems like Microsoft is running out of places where they can educate developers and others about the changes coming down the pike. I guess we have Microsoft TechEd 2007 next month and PDC 2007 next Fall. And then it's 2008.

There's no Windows Weekly podcast this week: After spending most of the week in LA, I spent all of yesterday travelling, and Leo is away in Vancouver. We'll be back next week.

Finally, I should note that we finally have a date for Mark's surgery. My 9-year-old son is getting a second cochlear implant the first week of June. This is about three months later than the original date, but I guess surgery is like anything else in life in that you pretty much need to keep on things if you want it to get done in a timely manner. Anyway, it's scary and everything, but I'm eager to get this over with. The bad news is, I won't be able to go to TechEd (which is in Orlando this year) as a result. Actually, maybe that's not a bad thing.

Short Takes

Halo 3 Multiplayer Beta Goes Live

Well, Microsoft finally launched its long-awaited Halo 3 for Xbox 360 multiplayer beta on Wednesday... well, on Thursday. Apparently, a number of technical glitches caused the software giant to delay the availability of the beta for 24 hours, which, as you can imagine, thrilled gamers to no end. I tried to download the beta several times late Thursday night but failed miserably each time (nice work on that UI, Microsoft). This morning, I snagged it on the first try, however, and did get to have my virtual behind handed to me in two different matches. Halo 3 looks an awful lot like Halo 2, but there's a decided graphical improvement, some new vehicles and weapons, and a shiny new sheen to the whole thing. I'll be reviewing the beta in the next week or so, but my first-glance opinion is a qualified thumbs-up.

Microsoft Purchases aQuantive for $6 Billion

With all the talk recently about a Microsoft purchase of Yahoo!, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's assertion that big company buy-outs were possible but unlikely, no one saw this one coming: Microsoft announced this morning that it will purchase aQuantive, a digital marketing services agency, for $6 billion to help jumpstart its Internet advertising business. Microsoft can use the help. Although its Xbox Live service is an unqualified success, Windows Live, Office Live, and MSN continue their unimpressive performance.  Note that $6 billion is almost twice what Google is paying for DoubleClick.

Microsoft: No Linux Lawsuits, for Now

In the wake of a "FORTUNE" magazine article in which Microsoft executives asserted that they would require Linux and other open-source companies to pay up for the Microsoft patents they are violating, the software giant is taking a slightly softer stance this week. Bill Hilf, general manager of platform strategy at Microsoft, told "Information Week" that the company's strategy hasn't changed. Microsoft would like open-source companies to strike deals with it, as Novell did, to cross-license patents. But it doesn't intend to sue anyone. At least not yet. "We have no plans to litigate," he said. "You can never say we'll never do anything in the future, but that's not our strategy." Hilf was also fairly antagonistic toward "FORTUNE," which he said played up the attack stuff to be controversial, which ended up just making Microsoft look bad. "Don't look at "FORTUNE" magazine as the manifestation of the Microsoft strategy," he said. Put simply, this is as I reported it the other day: Microsoft does want open-source companies to pay for their use of Microsoft patented technologies. But Microsoft doesn't want to sue them to make that happen.

Wii Continues to Outsell Xbox 360, PS3

According to NPD Group, the Nintendo Wii continues to outsell the Xbox 360 and, dramatically so, the Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3), suggesting that the post-holiday sales surge is only continuing for the underpowered Wii. Nintendo sold 360,000 Wiis in the United States in April, according to NPD, compared with 174,000 Xbox 360s and a woeful 82,000 PS3s. That means that Nintendo is now selling four times as many video game consoles as is Sony; that figure is up from the beginning of the year, when the ratio was 2-to-1. The Wii benefits from its low price, $250, compared with $600 for the PS3. (Xbox 360s cost $299 to $349 depending on the model.) But as I've noted before, serious gamers shouldn't even consider the Wii: It sells well, but it's a junk console, and I wouldn't wish it on my grandmother. If you like gaming and plan to use the thing more than once a month, go beyond novelty and consider one of the real consoles. Remember: Sales do not equate to quality.

Apple iPhone Gets Regulatory Approval

Apple Computer announced this week that its upcoming iPhone, which is essentially a $600 iPod (not including the required two-year service agreement) with cell phone features, has gotten regulatory approval from the FCC. That means Apple is cleared to begin selling the device in the United States, and the company says it's still on track to do so beginning late next month (which is Apple-speak for "we'll ship it in volume by September, really."). Apple predicts it will sell 10 million iPhones by 2008.

Check Out WinHEC Photos on the SuperSite
And finally, if you haven't seen it, check out my WinHEC 2007 photo gallery on the SuperSite for Windows. Most of it is pretty informal, but it should give you an idea of what my experience was like this week at the show.

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