WinInfo Short Takes: Week of November 19 - 16 Nov 2001

Tablet PC Suddenly Not So Exciting
Amid all the hype about Tablet PCs and handwriting recognition at this week's Comdex show, I had a sobering thought: Who needs these things? Most people have horrible handwriting and, indeed, all the examples I saw of onscreen writing were miserable at best. Further, you can type much faster than you can write, making the Tablet PC's note-taking capabilities an occasional benefit at best. All in all, I'm not so sure that the Tablet PC makes any sense. In fact, the one type of unit that people were most excited about at the show was Acer's so-called "convertible" model; you can spin the screen around and latch it in place so you could use the device like a laptop. And I suspect that that's how most people will actually use Acer's device, too. But here's the most telling problem for the Tablet PC: The number-one PC maker, Dell, isn't making a Tablet PC. Neither are Gateway, IBM, or Hewlett-Packard (HP). The bottom line is this: There's a big gap between cool and necessary.

US Government Defends the Indefensible
The US government has submitted a 68-page court filing in which it outlines why it believes that US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly should accept its proposed settlement with Microsoft. The filing--which promises to end Microsoft's illegal practices, prevent the company from continuing the behavior that got it in trouble, and restore competition to the computer industry--is far more sweeping in promise than the actual settlement, unfortunately. The judge will decide whether the deal is fair in February, until which time any naysayers can complain. You have less than 60 days to write [email protected] and give them hell. And yes, I'm sure some flunky reads the messages.

Here's What They Should Have Done
And speaking of the government's ineffectual settlement with Microsoft, court records now show some of the penalties that the government rejected during settlement talks. Looking over the list, you have to wonder what the world could have been like if the government had just stuck to its guns. Consider these possible penalties: Require Microsoft to reveal the Windows source code to competitors; require Microsoft to distribute competing products bundled in Windows; and force Microsoft to sell a stripped-down version of Windows that doesn't include bundled applications--and require that version to cost less than the version with bundled software. (In the actual settlement, the unbundled version could cost more--go figure.) Ah, what could have been.

Dell: Sun Is the Apple of Servers
And, no, I don't think this statement was meant as a compliment: Dell CEO Michael Dell referred to Sun Microsystems this week as "the Apple of the server world" because the company keeps its flagship OS (Solaris, in this case) and underlying CPU architecture (Ultra SPARC) closed and proprietary instead of working with the software and hardware the rest of the industry uses. Dell says his company can keep costs low, sell more units, and come out ahead by sticking with Microsoft and Intel solutions.

Dell: Income Falls, But We're Kicking Butt
And speaking of Dell, the company announced this week that its third-quarter income of $429 million represents a 36 percent drop year over year, thanks to a weakening demand for PCs. But the company was able to meet or exceed expectations, and its market share has soared in recent days. Dell is credited with launching a price war on the PC industry, which has bolstered its position against weaker rivals such as Compaq, Gateway, and IBM. And, Dell says, the company will be in good shape to continue dominating when the economy--and IT spending--heat up again.

HP and Compaq Merger Now Likely
The on-again, off-again romance between Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Compaq is at least temporarily on again, despite complaints from HP founder families. HP met its quarterly forecast for the first time in more than a year this week, which will probably give CEO Carly Fiorina the votes she needs to consummate the merger between her company and Compaq. The $361 million profit, which was better than expected, also bolstered the company's stock price and shareholder confidence.

Opera Releases New Windows Browser
Tiny Norwegian browser firm Opera Software this week released a beta version of Opera 6, its alternative browser for Windows and other platforms. Opera says that the new version brings its product up to date with competitors such as Internet Explorer (IE) and Netscape, giving its users international language features, faster browsing speeds, more efficient memory use, and support for Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) standards. Whether Opera can continue rowing against the tide is unclear, but you have to give the company credit for trying. You can download the beta from the Opera Web site.

Gates Sells Microsoft Shares
Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates has sold approximately 2.5 million shares of Microsoft stock, reportedly in a bid to diversify his financial holdings. But don't worry about Gates' control of the company. Aside from the obvious emotional, almost Borg-like pull he has on all Microsoft employees, Gates still owns 659 million shares of Microsoft stock and is the company's largest shareholder.

Ellison Talks Trash About Exchange
I didn't get to hear this talk because I was attending a meeting, but Oracle CEO Larry Ellison gave an interesting keynote address at Comdex this week in which he trashed Microsoft's Exchange Server. Stating that Exchange users should "throw it out for a server that works," Ellison recommended--surprisingly--Oracle's new email server product, which works with Oracle's 9i database on the back end. The move to a database server for email storage isn't new--indeed, Microsoft is also making the move with the next version of Exchange--but the problem isn't Exchange, it's Outlook. Why can't anyone make a decent replacement for that product?

Microsoft IT Academy Beckons Geeks
Gosh and golly, maybe it will be just like Star Trek's Starfleet Academy! Geeks of the Microsoft world, unite. First, Microsoft had ClubWin and ClubIE, and then the XP Associate Expert program. Now, the company has introduced Microsoft IT Academy, a breeding ground for young geeks-to-be who wish to be anointed in the ways of Redmond from an early age. Microsoft vows to "prepar\[e\] them for careers in high tech." Right.

Microprocessor Turns 30
Wait, you mean I'm older than the PC industry? Thirty years ago this week Intel released its 4004 microprocessor, widely considered the first true computer on a chip. Manufacturers used the 4004 and its follow-ups primarily in traffic lights and calculators, and even Intel didn't realize the chip's importance until years later. Today, every PC houses descendants of this chip, and manufacturers use them in everything from cameras and cars to cell phones and refrigerators. The microprocessor's small size and capabilities, of course, made the PC industry possible; previous computing devices tended to be large and expensive. And the microprocessor gave all of us jobs.

VA Linux Releases Proprietary Software, Temperatures In Hell Said to be "Down"
VA Linux, which will soon drop the Linux name, has released its first proprietary product in yet another example of how the open-source community can't make money by simply giving away software in volume. I'm not saying that Open Source isn't a viable business model, I'm saying that VA says that Open Source isn't a viable business model. And who would know business better than VA? After all, during the dot-com era, VA rode the Linux hype to stellar stock prices but then rode the Linux bust to unbelievable depths after the company, as did most such companies, revealed it had no business plan at all. VA started life as a white-box PC maker, bought bunches of Linux Web properties when its stock price was high, and then exited the hardware market earlier this year.

Ask and You Shall Receive
Both privately--and publicly in last week's WinInfo Daily UPDATE--I have asked why Microsoft hasn't released hard numbers for Windows XP sales. After all, I said, if the company's going to tout how well XP is selling, it had better back that statement up with some numbers. So imagine my surprise this week when Microsoft released said numbers. It seems that XP has sold 7 million licenses in its first 2 weeks of availability, which is twice the rate of Windows 98, the company's previous sales champion. And it took Windows 95 2 months to hit that mark. These numbers mean that more people use XP already than both Linux and Mac OS X, by the way. And by the end of the year, XP users will likely outnumber all non-Microsoft OS users.

Microsoft Releases IIS Lockdown Tool
And finally, a little bit of good news for anyone who uses Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS). This week, the company released its IIS Lockdown Tool, a free download that turns off the Web server's unnecessary features, reducing the ways in which outside attackers can compromise the system. The tool is available for IIS 5.0 (for Windows 2000) and IIS 4.0 (for Windows NT 4.0). For more information and the free download, visit the Microsoft Web site .


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