An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Confirmed: Windows XP SP2 Still on Track for Early 2004
I confirmed with Microsoft yesterday that the schedule for Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) hasn't changed. The service pack will appear in early 2004, as planned, not by the end of the year. The confusion started when a Microsoft executive misspoke at Citrix iForum 2003 earlier this week; ZDNet quickly published his comments. As first reported in WinInfo Daily UPDATE, XP SP2 will include all the post-SP1 hotfixes as well as Microsoft's Springboard security technologies (e.g., a new version of Windows Update, an improved firewall, new protections against buffer-overrun attacks). The inclusion of this technology explains XP SP2's late schedule.
Hell Hasn't Frozen Over: Apple Needs Windows Users to Succeed
Apple Computer launched iTunes for Windows yesterday at a predictably glitzy event that was big on pomp but fairly uninspiring when viewed in the cold, flat light of the next morning. Apple did what it needed to do, duplicating the successful (and excellent) iTunes application on Windows, although the company might have been a little too successful. iTunes for Windows is such a copy of its Macintosh counterpart that it supports Mac-style--rather than Windows-style--resizing (meaning windows don't truly "maximize," which stinks); uses Mac OS X-style "candy drop" user controls; and supports Apple's idiosyncratic Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) audio format (in addition to MP3), but not Microsoft's widely used Windows Media Audio (WMA) 9 format. iTunes for Windows users can sync with only Apple's iPod, not with the 40+ portable audio devices that support WMA 9. This shortcoming is unfortunate and a strange reversal of the norm for Apple and Microsoft, in which the latter is usually the company accused of locking users into its integrated solutions. Today, Apple is locking users into its products, and it's too bad because iTunes is otherwise an excellent application, well worth looking into. On the good-news front, iTunes for Windows fully supports Apple's online music store, which will have more than 400,000 songs by the end of October, according to the company. I particularly love Apple's "Hell froze over" tagline because it's silly: If Apple didn't support Windows users, the iTunes Music Store would be just another innovative also-ran. Apple is being practical: With BuyMusic.com, Musicmatch Downloads, Napster 2.0, and other PC-based music services breathing down its neck, Apple had little choice but to support more than 1 percent of computer-using public.
Microsoft to Issue Reply in EU Antitrust Case Today
Microsoft is scheduled to deliver its reply today to the antitrust charges that the European Union (EU) levied against the company. The EU charges might ultimately prove to be more damaging to Microsoft than similar charges brought against the company in the United States, however, because EU antitrust laws stipulate some serious potential consequences, including a large fine and the possibility of requiring Microsoft to unbundle certain features in Windows. Will any of these things happen? Microsoft has dodged so many bullets in the decade since I first began studying the company that I don't see how it will do anything other than escape scot-free, but I guess we'll see.
Microsoft Expands 64-Bit Versions of Windows Server 2003
This week, Microsoft revealed that the company is bolstering its 64-bit server product line with some previously unannounced products. These new Windows Server versions support the AMD Anthlon 64 platform in addition to the Intel Itanium; Microsoft previously announced only 64-bit Windows Server products that run on Itanium. The new versions include Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems (AMD64) and Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems (AMD64), both of which will launch with Windows 2003 SP1.
MSN Broadband to Provide Antivirus Services to Subscribers
Microsoft revealed today that subscribers of the upcoming MSN Premium 9 will get new antivirus and firewall features, courtesy of a licensing agreement with security firm McAfee Security. MSN Premium subscribers will receive McAfee VirusScan and McAfee Personal Firewall Plus desktop-protection products as part of their subscription, Microsoft says, whereas MSN Plus and MSN Dial-up subscribers will be able to access trial versions of the services and purchase them through the MSN site for a discounted price. MSN Premium, MSN Plus, and MSN Dial-up? Aren't all those choices a bit confusing? These new products will ship as part of MSN 9, due this winter. Seeing how consumers react to the multiple offerings should be interesting.
Microsoft, Partners Prep for Office 2003 Launch
On Tuesday, Microsoft will launch Microsoft Office 2003 in New York, and I'll be there to provide a full report. But despite a radically improved Microsoft Outlook, two new applications--Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 and Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003, the latter of which won't see much use outside of large corporations--and a slew of small improvements, Office hasn't changed much with this release. So how will Microsoft sell users on yet another Office version? With its partners, naturally. This launch event will be notable almost solely for the sheer number of Microsoft partners that will show up for the event, hawking wares and services that run on top of the Office platform. Microsoft says that by 2006 this market will be worth $117 billion to partners--a heady sum. More about Office 2003 next week.
Office 2003 Developer Tools Debut. But What About Access?
In the early days of Office, "Office development" essentially referred to Microsoft Access and the Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) environment, which let programmers access various Office application features. Today, Office 2003 is quite different: It includes Visual Studio Tools for Microsoft Office System, a mouthful of an add-on product for the professional Visual Studio .NET environment that raises the bar both for developer sophistication and for the quality of the add-ins developers can now create for Office. Using Visual Studio Tools for Microsoft Office System's advanced tools and programming language, developers can create applications that run in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word task panes. But am I the only person who noticed that Microsoft has completely abandoned Access users with this release? Shouldn't the suite's most programmable application have enjoyed some advances as well?
More Losses for Sun
Sun Microsystems has watched its earnings tumble year over year for 10 consecutive quarters, and the company's financial picture is getting uglier these days. This week, Sun posted a $286 million loss on revenues of $2.54 billion, down 8 percent from the same quarter a year ago. The company also warned investors that its loss for the upcoming quarter will be far worse than previously expected. The news sent Sun's stock price tumbling to as low as $3.58. No matter how you feel about Sun, the company is in trouble. It sells an aging, expensive, proprietary version of UNIX that runs on aging, expensive, proprietary server hardware in an era when inexpensive Linux and Windows servers that run on commodity PC-based hardware offer similar or superior performance for far less money. The company has refused to change course or lay off workers, causing a Merrill Lynch analyst to publish a rare public letter to the company in which he blasted its management for not seeing the light.
HP Catches Up to Dell in PC Market
Recently released PC sales figures revealed an unexpected trend: Sales of HP PCs are gaining on Dell PC sales, causing some people to wonder whether HP is poised to regain the number-one position. Dell commanded 15.3 percent of the market in the quarter ending September 30, but HP held the number-two spot with 15.1. Rounding out the top five were IBM (5.3 percent), Fujitsu (3.7 percent), and Toshiba (3.1 percent). But the big news is HP, which saw its gap with Dell shrink. In the second quarter, HP sales trailed Dell by 400,000, and that gap fell to 62,000 units in the third quarter. Will we see a price war in time for the holidays? Now wouldn't that be a sweet Christmas present?
Opera 7.21 Arrives with More New Features Other Browsers Can Shamelessly Steal
Opera Software unveiled its Opera 7.21 Web browser this week, giving other browser organizations fresh fodder from which to copy new features. This version of Opera includes some innovative new ideas, including an Undo feature that lets you reverse accidental window closures and a new version of the kiosk mode, which had been missing in action for a few releases. Kiosk mode is designed for public computers in which you don't want the user to have any access to the underlying system or unrelated Web pages. Opera 7.21 also features less obtrusive advertisements and is now available for Windows, Linux, Sun Solaris, and other platforms.