An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including IE phishing filters, Exchange 2003 SP2, Google profits, Microsoft's Media Player demands, Hotmail and Media Center, the Xbox 360 controller for Windows, Steve Ballmer, and so much more ...
A number of readers were curious about the FIOS Internet service, which was finally installed here last week. I haven't run any speed tests yet, but the results are encouraging: According to the Verizon Web site, the FIOS service I'm receiving achieved 15 Mbps downstream and 2 Mbps upstream, which is quite a bit better than the 7 Mbps down and 800 Kbps up I was getting from RCN cable. In real world use, it's definitely faster, but it's still hard to say how much faster. Web pages seem to pop to the screen, reminiscent of my early days with cable modem 10 years ago. I'll run both side-by-side for a few weeks and perform a few ad-hoc download tests to see what's up. I would have done this already, but of course I spent the week in Montreal...
Speaking of which, Montreal was a good time. I had been there once before, briefly, about 15 years ago, but that almost doesn't count, as I barely remember it. Montreal is humongous--closer to the size of New York City than Boston--and thus benefits from, and suffers from, all the attributes of a truly big city. But we were there for the French food and culture. Outside of Paris, Montreal is the largest French-speaking city on earth, and we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Vieux Montreal ("old Montreal"), which is as European as it gets in North America, and basically spent the time exploring (we walked across a good portion of the city) and eating out. In other words, it was a real vacation. The weather didn't really cooperate--it rained or was cloudy almost the entire time--but that actually made the walking easier, so it all worked out. By comparison, I think that Quebec City is a more quaint and idyllic setting, but Montreal has a lot going for it, not the least of which is its big-city services, and it's barely over an hour away by plane. I need to get back here in the winter.
Not News: IE 7 Phishing Filter to Ship for IE 6
In the latest bit of non-news to circulate around the cesspool we call the Internet, we learn--for the second time---that Microsoft is "quietly" shipping the Internet Explorer (IE) 7 Phishing Filter for IE 6 users via the MSN Search toolbar. No offense to the intrepid reporters who looked high and low for that news, but Microsoft announced its intentions to do this in July. More egregiously, they shipped the first version of this add-on back in September. Stamp this one, not news.
Exchange Server 2003 SP2 Ships
This week, Microsoft finally shipped its long-awaited Service Pack 2 (SP2) update for Exchange 2003, which, from what I can tell, is the only regularly-updated messaging server on earth now. Unlike many service packs, Exchange 2003 SP2 is a major release that adds major new functionality to Exchange, and is thus an update that Exchange users will want to gauge carefully. Among the new features are support for the Direct Push technology that will enable Windows Mobile 5.0-based smartphones to automatically wirelessly synchronize, an integrated an updated version of the Intelligent Message Filter (IMF) anti-spam protection, and support for SenderID. There's a lot more, but I'll be writing a lot more about Exchange 2003 SP2 in the near future. In the meantime, you check out the Exchange Web site for more information and the free download.
Google Rockets to Profits
This week, search engine giant Google announced unexpectedly strong revenues and profits for its most recent quarter. The company doubled its revenues to $1.6 billion and increased its profits seven-fold to $381 million. The results startled even Google, whose executives had previously noted that the "summertime seasonality" would result in a downturn. Now, Google is claiming that its product improvements were responsible for the unexpected gains, and that the company is suddenly seeing a lot of interest from Fortune 500 companies. Google, of course, makes most of its cash from search-related keyword advertising. So you can sort of see why it would be a darling of the Web cognoscenti. Or something.
Microsoft Accedes to Antitrust Demands, Drops Exclusive Media Player Deals
Just when you thought that Microsoft had learned its lesson, you discover new reasons to distrust the company. This week, Microsoft backtracked from demands that its portable device partners bundle only Windows Media Player (WMP) with their Windows Media-compatible products after the US Department of Justice (DOJ) complained that that requirement represented a breach of the company's antitrust settlement. Now, portable product makers can bundle other media player software if they so choose, as one might expect in an open and free market. Frankly, the funniest part of this story is that there are any companies left selling Windows Media-compatible portable devices.
Access Hotmail from Media Center
Microsoft will soon ship a free add-on for Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) 2005 that will let you access your Hotmail account from your TV screen. Why anyone would want to do this is unclear--we only have to point to the weak MSN Messenger client in MCE 2005 as proof that text-based applications don't translate well to the Media Center environment. But heck, this is Microsoft, so the add-on will only let you read email, not respond to it, delete it, or edit new email. Why not just turn it into a screensaver? That makes about as much sense.
Steve Ballmer on ... Linux
Yesterday, I discussed some of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's comments about Microsoft innovation and the "reset" that the company did on Windows Vista last year. But Ballmer had a lot more to say during his appearance at the Gartner Symposium and ITxpo 2005 in Orlando this week. Regarding Linux, Ballmer said that Microsoft was now targeting those few bastions of functionality in which Linux still outperforms Windows Server. These areas include high-performance clusters, Web hosting, and even UNIX migrations. "We ... deliver better results at lower costs \[than Linux\]," Ballmer said. Thus, people will choose Windows.
Steve Ballmer on ... Google
Ballmer also waxed philosophic on Google. He noted that more people spend more time online with MSN services than with those offered by Google, though much of that, of course, is because of the popularity of MSN Messenger, which Google only recently began competing with. When confronted with the fact that people associate the Web, and Web searching, with Google and not Microsoft or MSN (heck, the word Google is now used as a verb), Ballmer turned to the audience and claimed that Web search would be much better in ten years and suggested that things could change dramatically in the market. "If you read the newspapers today, other than curing cancer, Google will do everything," he said. "But the truth of the matter is, we've got our heads down, we've got very, very smart people just working on innovation, innovation, innovation, and we think that gives us a great opportunity." I guess we'll see. I really like what MSN is doing these days, but I have a hard time picturing it catching up to Google anytime soon.
Microsoft Preps for Xbox 360 Launch
In preparation for the launch of the Xbox 360 game console next month, Microsoft will take down its Xbox Live service and Xbox.com Web site for one day so that it can make the internal changes required to support the new system. Xbox Live and Xbox.com will go dark on October 24, 2005, and will then come back online with a variety of new features aimed at Xbox 360 users. These changes include the Xbox Live Marketplace, a new achievements-based ranking system, and gamer info card support. Xbox 360 launches in the US on November 22, in Europe on December 3, and in Japan on December 10.
Xbox 360 Controller for Windows Now Shipping
Despite the fact that Xbox 360 is still a month away from its first public availability, this week, Microsoft shipped its first Xbox 360 peripheral, a wired game controller that's designed for Windows XP, but will also work with the upcoming console. Featuring a USB connector, the Xbox 360 Controller for Windows gives gamers an advance look at Microsoft's new controller type, which looks and feels a lot like the old Controller S for the original Xbox (which is to say it's almost perfect). I took a bunch of photos of the new controller, which are posted to the SuperSite for Windows.
iPod Sales: Apple's Bane?
Here's a curious proposition: What if the runaway success of the iPod could actually harm Apple Computer in the long run? According to financial experts, Apple's increasing reliance on iPod sales could soon start hurting the company's finances, because Apple makes a much smaller margin per iPod than they do on their expensive Macintosh computers. They point to Apple's financial statements, which show the company's gross margin going down quarter over quarter as iPod sales begin to outpace Mac sales. And gross margins on consumer electronics devices tend to nosedive sharply because of competitive concerns. So when Apple releases new iPod models--as it does every week, or so it seems--it can't raise prices even though it's adding new features and capabilities. My expectation is that Apple will manage the transition to lower margins quite nicely, thanks to huge volumes of sales. This is an advantage the company never had with its Macintosh systems.
OpenOffice.org 2.0 Released
After delaying the product for several weeks, OpenOffice.org finally released its eponymously named OpenOffice.org 2.0 office productivity suite yesterday, providing users with a free alternative to Microsoft Office 2003. OpenOffice.org 2.0 now includes a database and, like its Star Office 8.0 brethren, supports the suddenly crucial Open Document format, which is increasingly necessary for government contracts around the world. Hey, it's certainly worth trying.
Mozilla Foundation Celebrates 100 Million Firefox Downloads. However...
This week, the Mozilla Foundation celebrated the 100 millionth download of its Firefox browser. The event should be a blockbuster for the organization, which can rightfully point to the milestone as a huge achievement. There's just one problem: After several months of steady market share gains against Internet Explorer (IE), Firefox market share has stalled and, in some places, even fallen in the past two months. With IE 7 set for an early 2006 release (preceded by a December Beta 2 release), it's unclear what the Mozilla Foundation can do to increase this product's visibility. I still vastly prefer Firefox over IE and can't imagine why anyone would use today's IE versions on the live Internet. But IE 7 will change all that, and now it's just a waiting game. What's next for Firefox?