WinInfo Short Takes: Week of November 6 - 03 Nov 2006

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including MSN Music biting the dust, departures at Microsoft, a bizarre Microsoft embrace of Linux, Ozzie on Web-based office productivity, how I'll be spending the next week, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

Leo and I are taking the week off from Windows Weekly this week, which is a shame since things are starting to really heat up. But we should be back next week with some blockbuster news for Windows fans. Leo, as I mentioned last week, is off sunning himself on a Geek Cruise.
http://www.twit.tv/ww

Observe as I stumble over my obligations here. If you've been following the progression of Microsoft's latest OS and productivity software betas, you're probably aware that both are winding down. And while I can't really discuss any impending releases specifically, one might correctly assume that I'll be posting reviews of such products as soon as they're available. You know, whenever that might be. Sometime soon. So stay tuned to the SuperSite for Windows. The amount of content I'll be generating over the next month certainly isn't unprecedented, but it will be commensurate with the scope of the releases in question. Is this sufficiently obvious yet? Or vague? It should be both.

Next week will see the release of two absolutely critical games for the Xbox 360: Call of Duty 3 and Gears of War. This is problematic for me, because I will need to get both immediately and then waste epic amounts of time playing ... er ah, I mean, review the products for work. As quickly as possible. I can't wait.

Short Takes

Yikes. MSN Music Closes Shop
Just two years after trumpeting the service as the future of online music, Microsoft this week announced that it was shuttering MSN Music for good. Now, the site will simply redirect music purchasers to either the Zune Marketplace or RealNetworks' Rhapsody service (the latter of which isn't even based on Microsoft's Windows Media platform). "After November 14, the 'Buy' buttons that you're used to seeing on MSN Music album and artist pages will change to links that connect you to Zune and to Real Rhapsody," Microsoft's Rob Bennett wrote in an email message to MSN Music customers. While Apple fanatics will no doubt cheer this victory, the truth is, MSN Music was a decent offering with extremely high quality music (twice as good as Apple's offering) and a nice interface that was usable from both a Web browser and Windows Media Player. In any event, Microsoft says customers who purchased songs from MSN Music will be able to continue using them as before.

Microsoft Embraces Linux, Sort Of
Yesterday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced that his company had formed an alliance with SuSE Linux maker Novell and will work with Novell to build "an intellectual property bridge" between open source software and the proprietary software world. More specifically, Microsoft and Novell are collaborating on technologies, like management software, document format compatibility, and virtualization, and working together to market a collaborative solution that will let enterprises combine Windows- and Linux-based servers in ways that are today difficult or impossible. This "embrace" of Linux is, however, purely a pragmatic business decision. Parts of Microsoft no doubt still believe that Linux is Evil (with a capital E) and that its own solutions are better. The issue is that many of its customers actually own mixed environments now due to company purchases and merges, and it makes sense for Microsoft to facilitate interoperability. Frankly, most individuals will never see or understand the fruits of this relationship, and it's unclear to me how long Microsoft and SuSE will remain in bed together. (For example, if they succeed in knocking Red Hat Linux off its current perch atop the Linux world, will Microsoft lose interest in ailing Novell? My guess is yes.)

Microsoft Not Prepping Web-based Office
Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie this week said that while it would be a fairly easy endeavor to release a Web-based office productivity suite (as Google has done), it has no plans to do so. "People have been trying to create applications with Web technology since the Web began," Ozzie said this week. "Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should. We are in the productivity business ... Some scenarios are about documents, some are with sharing and collaboration, others are standalone or with SharePoint, and some are Web-based back-ends with a rich front end and some components are pure Web. There are scenarios for high bandwidth, mobile or sitting in front of a large screen." I've tooled around with Google Docs (formerly Writely), a Web-based word processor, and while it's cute, I can't see working that way. Some services should be local, and some should be Web-based. When you make both sorts of software, as does Microsoft, you can choose the path that makes the most sense. When you only make money on ads from Web-based services, like Google does, you tend to think in terms of the Web. Obviously.

Paul Flessner, Hillel Cooperman Step Down at Microsoft
Microsoft senior vice president Paul Flessner, who oversees the company's SQL Server business, announced this week that he's be leaving the company. And he's not alone: Hillel Cooperman, the visionary UI guru who oversaw the development of Windows Vista's user interface and was, I'm told, on the team that created the final icons seen in the RTM version of Vista, is also leaving Microsoft. Cooperman's departure is said to be "amicable," but it's unclear if the same can be said for Flessner. I don't know Mr. Flessner very well, but Cooperman will clearly be missed. In fact, I'd argue that Microsoft needs more people like him.

Microsoft Provides New Theme for Windows XP
Since the dawn of the Luna UI style in Windows XP, Microsoft had promised a variety of colorful themes to replace the stock three it shipped in the first version of the OS. It even toyed with graphics-based themes for holidays like Halloween before abandoning the project due to its complexity. Since then, only one new theme--Royale, part of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005--has emerged. But this week, Microsoft shipped what we might assume to be the last official XP theme: Zune. As its name implies, the Zune theme is based around the Zune MP3 player, which is unfortunate. But it's pretty attractive looking, with black window, Start Menu, and taskbar treatments, and an orange Start Menu. And you can replace the lame Zune desktop wallpaper easily enough. You can download the new Zune XP theme from the Microsoft Web site.

Intel Previews Quad Core Chips
This week, Intel previewed its Core 2 Duo Extreme microprocessors, which pack four processor cores into a single chip, providing maximum performance, albeit it at a price. The new chips cost about $1100 apiece, over three times as much as most Core 2 Duo chips. And new PCs and workstations based on this processor will begin appearing next week, Intel says. Curiously, the Core 2 Duo Extreme doesn't perform as well as its dual core Core 2 Duo siblings when only a single application is running. (This is because the new chip is clocked slower than the Core 2 Duo.) But the benefits of the Core 2 Duo Extreme's four processor cores become obvious when two or more processor-intensive applications are run. For example: You can run high-end games like Quake 4 at the same time as encoding video, a workload most sane PC user wouldn't try today.

WinHEC 2007 Moves to LA
Microsoft announced this week that its next Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) will be held in Los Angeles California instead of New Orleans as previously planned. Microsoft had originally moved the show to New Orleans in a bid to help that city's economic recovery in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent federal debacle. The show, which had been a showcase for Windows Vista for the past few years, will be held May 15 to 17, 2007. I guess that means I'll be visiting southern California next year: Despite its dull name, WinHEC is usually a fantastic show.

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