WinInfo Short Takes: Week of October 6

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...

Watching the Web Milk Longhorn for All It's Worth
   WinInfo Daily UPDATE readers know to what source to turn for the most recent and most accurate Longhorn news, but I've been amused as I watch the rest of the Web try to milk Longhorn for all it's worth. Longhorn hasn't produced any news for more than 2 weeks, other than my story about Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2003 attendees getting only an Aero demonstration during the keynote address, but that fact hasn't prevented every remotely tech-related Web site from posting nonstories about the OS virtually every day. PDC 2003 previews are everywhere, all with similar titles (e.g., "Microsoft Preps Longhorn Preview") and all offering the standard analysts comments. (My favorite: "You can sum up what they're going to be talking about \[at the PDC\] in one big word: Longhorn." Riiight. That was news in April.) PDC 2003 opens October 26, and I'll be in Los Angeles for the duration, so stay tuned for some real Longhorn news. I hope to get my hands on the Longhorn PDC build before then; I hear Microsoft could finalize the build in a week or so.

Let's Not Forget the Yukon Wave, Shall We?
   Looking at Microsoft's platform road map reveals that the Yukon (i.e., Microsoft SQL Server 2004) wave precedes the Longhorn wave, making one wonder what all the fuss is about Longhorn, which is still 2 years away. But fear not, Microsoft hasn't forgotten Yukon, and even though analysts are billing PDC 2003 as "all Longhorn," the truth is that Yukon and its associated technologies will get at least equal billing at the show. Developers and other interested attendees will receive technical previews of Visual Studio .NET 2004 (code-named Whidbey) and Yukon, along with software development kits (SDKs) for Longhorn and the Next Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB). Interestingly, these releases aren't true beta milestones; they're interim preview releases that either follow or precede major beta releases, depending on the technology. For example, Microsoft issued its first external beta of Yukon earlier this summer, but the PDC build will be newer.

MSDN Longhorn Developer Center to Open October 27
   And speaking of PDC 2003, Microsoft will launch the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Longhorn Developer Center on October 27, the day after PDC 2003 starts in Los Angeles. The Longhorn Developer Center will include feature articles and discussion groups to help you take full advantage of Longhorn's next wave, Microsoft says. You can find the center on the Microsoft Web site.

Next-Generation Smartphone to Debut October 8
   Microsoft will launch its next-generation Windows Mobile-based Smartphone October 8 and will offer, for the first time, a slew of cell-phone-maker partners that will ship devices based on the new platform. To date, the reaction to Microsoft's Smartphone among cell-phone makers has been lukewarm at best, but the quality of the new release has apparently changed some people's minds, including the people who matter at one of the largest, but as-yet-unnamed, cell-phone makers. Stay tuned.

Palm Launches Three New PDAs
   This week, palmOne announced three new PDA devices based on the Palm OS. The models include the $100 Zire 21, which features a black-and-white screen; the $200 Tungsten E, which eschews the sliding-case design of other Tungstens but offers a high-resolution color screen; and the new high-end Tungsten T3, which features a new landscape viewing mode and 50 percent more onscreen real estate. The new devices are Palm's most recent attempt to stem its slipping market share, which has fallen sharply since the release of strong, low-cost Pocket PC competitors.

Debunk Alert: Notebooks Aren't Driving Media Center PC Sales
   As a tech reporter who spends a lot of time examining news reports, I read stories that amuse and shock me each day. One such story bears comment. A strange report from various Web site authors claimed this week that notebook computer designs will drive sales of Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) 2004; the story is ludicrous, according to my conversations with the people who make the devices. With the notable exception of Toshiba's interesting 17" Media Center PC notebook, none of the XP MCE notebooks have sold particularly well, and this week more than one PC maker described the products as a "niche market." Instead, consider the fact that more than 40 PC makers are offering Media Center PCs, but only a handful are making notebook versions. Although notebook sales are rising--notebooks sales surpassed desktop sales briefly in the first half of 2003--Media Center PC notebooks lack some of the features that make Media Center PC desktops viable, including enormous hard disks and the most recent graphics chips. This situation might change over time, but for now Media Center PC notebooks are more curiosity than sales momentum.

OpenOffice.org 1.1 Launched
   This week, OpenOffice.org launched a new version of its imaginatively titled OpenOffice.org office-productivity suite, which offers a free alternative to Microsoft Office. OpenOffice.org 1.1 is available for Linux, Sun Microsystems' Sun Solaris, and Windows, and the new version features better compatibility with Office document formats, even if it does look like an Office suite Microsoft would have released about 10 years ago. UI changes are in the cards, however. OpenOffice.org says that the 2.0 release, due in early 2005, will feature a nicer, more modern UI, and--potentially--a free database application to rival Microsoft Access. With more than 20 million downloads, OpenOffice.org has been successful thus far, and the organization hopes to see uptake grow dramatically with this release. For more information and to get the free download, visit the OpenOffice.org Web site

India Rejects Windows Source-Code Offer
   India has rejected a Microsoft offer to view the Windows source code under the company's Government Security Program (GSP), which was designed to make governments more comfortable with the security and overall software architecture Microsoft uses in its products. India's rejection follows agreements with NATO, Russia, and the UK, all of which agreed to sign the GSP and examine the Windows source code. India's decision apparently hasn't adversely affected the country's relationship with Microsoft; the company recently revealed that it will double the number of developers in the country during the next 5 years and invest more than $100 million in India. Currently, India accounts for about $2 billion worth of outsourcing from Microsoft.

Microsoft Exec: Fear Microsoft? But We're So Cute!
   Microsoft chief technology officer (CTO) Craig Mundie says that a recent security report claiming that the company's software is too dangerous for governments to use is simply the work of anti-Microsoft groups and shouldn't be taken seriously. Mundie even offered a solution to the waves of viruses and worms that constantly affect Windows systems and, no, his solution wasn't to adopt Linux. Instead, Mundie suggested that users can rearchitect machines and networks as electronic immune systems, preventing attacks from reaching the machines they're targeting. That idea might sound great, but it reminds me, vaguely, of plot lines from "The Terminator" and the "The Matrix." After the "immune system" becomes sufficiently powerful, won't these machines simply (and accurately) determine that users are the biggest source of problems?

Tablet PCs Set to Soar
   Tablet PC sales account for only about 1 percent of the overall market for notebook computers, making them a niche market at best, but various trends and changes to the underlying platform will result in a sales surge, analysts say. Two huge problems hobbled the original generation of Tablet PC devices: poor performance and poor battery life, the latter of which is obviously a deadly sin for machines that are designed to be used untethered. The Centrino platform, which combines Intel's Pentium M processor with dedicated chipsets and wireless functionality, should solve both problems, leading to excellent performance and stellar battery life. Another change involves the commonsense move away from slate designs--which target certain niche markets but aren't viable for typical office use--to the so-called convertible laptop, which can work like a typical notebook when needed or can be switched into slate mode for handwriting-based work. Market research firm IDC predicts that Tablet PCs will thus account for 20 percent of the notebook market by 2007.

So Where's Tablet PC "V2"?
   The Microsoft's Windows platform road map indicates that the company promised Windows XP Tablet PC Edition "V2" by the end of 2003. But the company told me recently that version 2 won't happen this year. Instead, the next Tablet PC OS will launch next year, although I haven't heard a thing about new features or changes. The lack of news might seem like bad news, but in actuality XP Tablet PC Edition is incredibly full-featured and mature, and only the hardware concerns mentioned above--not the software--have held back the platform. All the new Centrino Tablet PCs this year will run the original Tablet PC software, not a new version.

HP Drops Transmeta Like a Bad Habit, Adopts Intel for Tablet PC Update
   And speaking of underperforming hardware, the worst machine of the lot--HP's gorgeous but lackluster-performing Compaq Tablet PC TC1000 series--is getting a much-needed processing boost. According to sources close to HP, the company will drop Transmeta's Crusoe processor that powers the current version and move to a Pentium M processor/Centrino solution for the new version, which will debut later this year. The move could make HP's design the most desirable Tablet PC on the market. I was extremely impressed last year when I first saw the TC1000, but the device's poor performance in the real world has been shocking. The Crusoe processor was the problem, and now HP appears to be righting that wrong.

Nintendo Posts First-Half Loss, Lowers GameCube Prices in Europe, Japan
   This week, Nintendo announced a $361 million loss for the first half of 2003, thanks largely to soft sales of its Nintendo GameCube hardware and associated software. To bump earnings, the company also announced lower GameCube prices in Europe and Japan. Last week, Nintendo dropped the US price of the GameCube from $150 to $100. During the first half of 2003, the company sold only 800,000 GameCube systems.

Apple Finalizes Mac OS X 10.3 Panther
   Apple Computer finalized Mac OS X 10.3 (code-named Panther) this week, setting the stage for a late October or November rollout of the product. The so-called "Golden Master" version of Panther will no doubt destroy Microsoft's market share and raise Apple like a phoenix out of the depths of the PC industry. But as miraculous as Panther is, how successful the product can be is unclear. Apple is charging yet another $129 for the upgrade--the second such costly upgrade to Mac OS X since the product first debuted--meaning that the Apple faithful will have spent more than $375 on the OS if they've upgraded each time (and you know they have). Meanwhile, Microsoft has released a slew of free upgrades to Windows XP--such as Windows Media Player (WMP) 9 and Windows Movie Maker 2--and several low-cost add-ons, such as the excellent $15 Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition. Does low pricing qualify as innovation?

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