An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Allchin Verifies Longhorn Timeline
During his keynote address at Windows Server DevCon last Friday in Seattle, Microsoft group vice president Jim Allchin verified the timeline for Longhorn, the next version of Windows. Allchin said that Microsoft would deliver the far-reaching Windows version, in desktop and server editions, in 2005. This Longhorn roadmap has actually been known for some months, but it's always nice to have a high-ranking company official just come out and state it emphatically. Given his admission, I think it's safe to say we won't see Longhorn until at least 2006. As Allchin admitted, "We're not going to put something out there just to meet some date," though, of course, the company does just that on a regular basis. (In one recent example, Microsoft has already committed to a mid-2003 release of Office 11, which isn't even in beta yet.) Another related thought: Given the 3+ year gap between Windows XP SP1 and Longhorn, I think it's safe to assume that we're going to see a few interim Windows releases in the meantime. Whether that takes the form of WinXP SP2 and SP3, or something called WinXP Second Edition, is simply a matter of semantics. It will happen.
And What About Yukon?
Meanwhile, Longhorn can't happen until the SQL Server-based file system work is ready, and that technology is being developed as part of "Yukon," the next major SQL Server version, which Allchin said was due in late 2003 or early 2004 (actually, he said "fiscal 2004," which runs from July 1, 2003 until June 30, 2004). Again, given the company's history, I think the first half of 2004 is probably a more reasonable estimate. The Yukon technology will be used to unify Microsoft's many storage schemes, including the afore-mentioned Windows file system, Active Directory, Exchange Server, and, of course, its numerous database products. Expect a Yukon beta in early 2003.
Why Linux Will Never Beat Windows on the Desktop
A growing number of desktop-savvy Linux releases, including a polished looking Red Hat Linux 8.0 that's due this fall, have analysts wondering if maybe, just maybe, the open source solution has what it takes to steal Windows' thunder. But the analysts all seem to fall back on the lack of a Microsoft Office version for Linux as the main reason why Linux will fail. This is ridiculous: Consider Mac OS X, which has a wonderful Microsoft Office version, Office v. X, featuring 100 percent document compatibility with the Windows versions. If Mac OS X can't steal market share from Windows, how the heck is Linux going to do it? The problems with Linux on the desktop run far deeper than Office, and it's going to take a lot more refinement and improvement before anyone will even seriously consider such a thing. As I noted this week in Connected Home Express, the competition can't just be as good as Windows to succeed: It has to be two or three times as good. Otherwise, the cost and aggravation of switching is just too high.
Office Subscriptions Dumped? Don't Believe It
And speaking of Microsoft Office, there are reports circulating this week that Microsoft is dropping its Office XP software subscription scheme in Australia, France and New Zealand because of consumer confusion. It seems that the subscription pilot program, which would have been rolled out worldwide for Office 11 if successful, didn't make it clear that consumers were simply getting one-year of use out of the product, and that buyers were simply picking the cheapest Office version without understanding the ramifications. You know, if you can't get people to understand that, they're never going to read an End User License Agreement (EULA). But I wouldn't close the coffin on subscription software just yet. Something tells me Microsoft won't let this crucial business opportunity die without a fight.
The Mystery of the Uninstallable Windows Media Player 9
And speaking of people not reading EULAs, we present Windows Media Player (WMP) 9 Beta 1, which was released to much fanfare earlier this month. User and press reaction to WMP9 has been overwhelmingly favorable, with one small exception: It seems that there's no way to actually uninstall the product, short of resorting to the System Restore feature in WinXP and Windows Millennium Edition (Me), which lets you "roll back" your OS to an earlier point in time. Naturally, Microsoft warns users of this issue before they can even download the beta, and even explains that this style of uninstallation makes sense since, naturally, WMP is part of the OS, and not a separate application. Ahem. Seriously, guys, you better fix this before WMP9 is completed.
Windows XP SP1 Already Hacked
Just days after WinXP Service Pack 1 (SP1) was released, hackers issued a patch that lets illegally obtained copies of the OS upgrade to SP1, an ability the service pack was supposed to prevent. Microsoft says, however, that the feature was intended to prevent casual copying only, and that the company knew all along that it couldn't prevent the hacker community from finding a way to upgrade. Circumvention of the no-upgrade policy is made possible by a Product Key changer program, which lets users change the XP Product Key to a new key that isn't on Microsoft's no-upgrade list. Sneaky, but predictable.
Handheld Sales Tank Alongside PC Sales
Sales of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs, or "handheld computers" as normal people refer to them) apparently tanked last quarter, thanks to high prices and market saturation. PDA sales fell 9.3 in the second quarter of 2002, with 2.62 million units sold, compared to 2.89 million in the same quarter a year earlier. Market researcher IDC says that PDA sales are expected to be flat for the remainder of the year as well. Interestingly, Dell Computer has chosen this climate to announce that it will have a Dell-branded PDA available for sale as early as mid-2003. Sounds like an Enron move to me.
IE 6 SP1 Available
The first major conglomeration of Internet Explorer (IE) 6.0 bug fixes, also known as IE 6.0 Service Pack 1 (SP1) is now available for download, though it should be noted that WinXP users will get the fixes as part of WinXP SP1. IE 6.0 SP1 fixes approximately 70 bugs, according to Microsoft. For more information, and the free download, please visit the Microsoft Web site.
Well, That's One Way to Drive Adoption
Concerned that Apple's vaunted Mac OS X operating system isn't seeing good adoption rates? Well, Apple has a plan to fix that problem, and it has nothing to do with adding innovative new features or lower prices. No, Apple is simply going to release a new line of Macintosh computers, starting in early 2003, that refuse to boot Mac OS 9 or any other non-OS X operating system. The intriguing scheme, which would have federal regulators hopping all over Microsoft if that company tried a similar tactic, was announced last week. As Apple CEO Steve Jobs noted, somewhat dramatically, last May, "Mac OS 9 isn't dead for our customers yet, but it's dead to \[our developers\]." So I guess it's dead to your customers now, right?
Unauthorized Ballmer Biography Due Next Week
A bizarre new book about Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will hit the stands Tuesday, promising a behind-the-scenes expose about the man who really runs Microsoft. But unlike geek poster child Bill Gates, Ballmer isn't exactly a household name, and it's unclear who (besides me, of course) will be interested in this book. Further damaging is news that author Fredric Alan Maxwell was unable to gain access to Ballmer himself, making his book, "Bad Boy Ballmer" (yes, seriously) a bit less valuable than it might have been otherwise. But you gotta love Maxwell's assessment of his lack of access to Ballmer: "I have never come across a less helpful group of public affairs people than Microsoft's propagandists," he told the Seattle Times recently. However, Maxwell did speak to over 150 people close to the manic Microsoft CEO, so you never know. As always, I'm hooked on this kind of book.
NVIDIA Forced to Keep Supplying Xbox Video Chips
A federal arbitrator has ruled that video chipset maker NVIDIA must continue supplying Microsoft will video chips for its Xbox game console at the price Microsoft requests while a pricing dispute between the two companies is resolved. Microsoft says that it should have paid almost $50 million less for the chips than it paid, and the company asked an arbitration panel to order NVIDIA to cut its prices and continue supplying Microsoft will as many video chips as it needs. NVIDIA, however, says that Microsoft is already paying far less for the chips than it agreed to, and the company noticed in April that Microsoft had underpaid by tens of millions of dollars. In the cost-cutting world of video game hardware, Microsoft is obviously taking a hardball approach to component pricing, but regardless of who's right here, it will be interesting to see how other hardware companies view this bitter struggle. Why would anyone want to work with Microsoft after this?
Microsoft Circumvents Yet Another Federal Accounting Regulation
When former Microsoft president Rick Belluzzo (Yeah, Belluzzo. He worked at Microsoft for almost two years. Yes, seriously. Remember? He was from SGI. Belluzzo. Rick. President. Anyone?) left the company earlier this year to become CEO of Quantum Corporation, Microsoft forgave the executive a $15 million loan used to lure him to the company. Doing so doesn't violate any laws (yet), but failing to reveal the move until after the fact apparently violates a Securities and Exchanges accounting regulation. Corporations that fail to disclose such loans are open to an SEC investigation and, potentially, financial penalties. Unbelievable.
AMD Delays Hammer
Intel competitor Advanced Micro Designs (AMD) has delayed the release of its next-generation desktop microprocessor, code-named Hammer, until the first half of 2003. Originally set for a late 2002 release, Hammer is the desktop relation to AMD's 64-bit Opteron, which will initially target server systems; Opteron is still expected in early 2003, the company says. The AMD delay will likely buy more time for Intel, which is prepping a 3 GHz Pentium 4 for late 2002, and it's already unclear whether Hammer has it what it takes to stay competitive. Will 2003 be too late?
New Word Vulnerability Bugs Users
A wicked new vulnerability in Microsoft Word could allow hackers to electronically "bug" Word documents with hidden code that can steal other files on the user's system. The flaw will likely pose the biggest problem in workplaces where users exchange revised document versions regularly, since it relies on Word's revisioning feature. Interestingly, it affects all Word versions, though Microsoft will only fix Word 2000 and Word 2002 (XP). This could be a problem for Word 97 users, who account for over 30 percent of the Word user base. But Word 97 is no longer supported, Microsoft says. So maybe Apple's OS upgrade policy (see blurb above) isn't so draconian after all: If Microsoft's response to a major security vulnerability is "upgrade to a newer version," we've got a problem, people. I expect Redmond to do the right thing here (nudge, nudge).