WinInfo Short Takes: Week of September 24

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a month of travel, Office 2003 SP1, Vista SP1, Xbox 360 sales, Windows Server 2008 and Viridian, Steve Jobs on the SEC hot seat, Gates as a Bond villain, Halo 3, and so much more...

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Next week starts a busy month of travel for me. First up is a nearly week-long trip to Redmond, where I'm going to help judge Microsoft's Windows Home Server Code2Fame contest. I'm really looking forward to this, of course, and I padded the trip out for various Microsoft meetings and to visit with friends I haven't seen in a while. After that, I'll be going to Phoenix, Arizona and Washington D.C., in that order, with a few days home between each trip.

Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this week, and that should be made available by the weekend as usual. Sadly, we're going to be off for the next two weeks because of our complicated travel schedules.

And speaking of the SuperSite, I'd like your help.

In addition to the on-going (and apparently never-ending) design change, I'm working on two series of articles, both of which I think it makes sense to update over time, and I'm curious what you'd like to see happen with both. The first I think of as Digital Media Core. The theory is that when you consider all the major digital media subjects--music, photos, video, as well as related issues like backup and sharing, especially online and to TVs and other non-PC places in your home--you can arrive at a set of guidelines that make sense for most Windows users. Take digital music as an obvious example: At this time, in mid- to late-2007, what is the best digital music format in which to record your audio collection? Which software should you use for that purpose, and to manage your collection? Which portable device(s) should you use? Which online services will you use to purchase content, and what software will you use to convert that content to non-protected formats, if at all? How will you backup that content, and how will you share it with others in your home? I have my own ideas, of course. But I'm curious what readers think about this, and obviously this is the type of thing that should be updated over time, as this technology changes rapidly. Perhaps it makes sense to do a good-better-best type thing rather than choose a single answer for each category. I'm honestly not sure.

The second regards green computing. I'm thinking specifically about the desktop right now, though there can obviously be a big series about server-based computing as well. There are two aspects to this as far as I can tell, hardware and software. For the hardware side, I'm speaking with some hardware makers (Lenovo, etc.) and for software, I'm trying to get Microsoft to speak to what it's done in Windows Vista with regards to power management and other green computing topics. My question is this: Does this matter to you? And if so, what would you like to know about these initiatives and how they can potentially save you money while doing the right thing for the environment and the world around us? This is a topic that's increasingly important to me, but I'm not sure how it resonates with the wider user base. Let me know what you think, please.

You can email me at [email protected]. If that doesn't work for some reason, try [email protected]. Thanks for any feedback you may have.

Short Takes

Windows Vista SP1 Beta Invites Go Out
I've heard from a number of lucky beta testers who were invited into the Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) beta this week, which suggests that the formal external beta is finally happening. Microsoft had previously promised to ship a public SP1 beta by the end of 2007, so my guess is that testers will see at least one major drop before that happens. Of course, having seen SP1, I can't imagine this beta will be all that exiting. Stay tuned.

Microsoft Comments on Windows Update Conspiracy Theories
While Microsoft has yet to make the huge apology I think was warranted after it was discovered that the software giant was silently and suspiciously updating Windows Update software components on Windows XP- and Vista-based machines even after users had turned off automatic updates, the company did this week finally address the matter. In a blog posting to the Microsoft Update blog, Nate Clinton, a Windows Update program manager, wrote that the company needs to update Windows Update periodically in order to "maintain the quality of the service." But here's the important blurb: "Why do we update the client code for Windows Update automatically if the customer did not opt into automatically installing updates without further notice?" he writes. "The answer is simple: any user who chooses to use Windows Update either expected updates to be installed or to at least be notified that updates were available. Had we failed to update the service automatically, users would not have been able to successfully check for updates and, in turn, users would not have had updates installed automatically or received expected notifications. That result would not only fail to meet customer expectations but even worse, that result would lead users to believe that they were secure even though there was no installation and/or notification of upgrades." Clinton admits that Microsoft was not as transparent as it should have been about this process, though he notes that Windows Update has been updating itself like this since XP first shipped, so this isn't exactly new behavior. You can read the post in its entirety at the Microsoft Update blog if you'd like further explanation. My take on this is simple: I don't care that it works this way. But Microsoft should have been more upfront about this, given the privacy concerns this behavior generates.

How is the Xbox 360 Really Doing?
Microsoft this week announced that it has sold 11.6 million Xbox 360 video consoles worldwide to date, refuting--if very temporarily--that the Nintendo Wii, which has been on the market for a full year less than the 360, has already outsold Microsoft's offering. (The Wii has sold 11 million units so far.) Market researchers at NPD have some even better news about the 360, however: Gamers purchase far more game titles per console on the 360 than they do with the Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) or Wii, meaning that the 360 market, in general, is far more lucrative and important than the market for the other consoles. Also, over 7 million Xbox 360 owners have joined Xbox Live (though Microsoft declines to offer figures that separate the free Xbox Live Silver accounts from paid Gold accounts), and Microsoft expects that figure to rise to 10 million by mid-2008. What this all means is murky. The Xbox 360 has not sold as well as Microsoft had predicted, and this year's $1 billion warranty scare hasn't exactly helped. It will be interesting to see if even Halo 3 is big enough to turn things around.

Microsoft Ships Office 2003 SP3
Microsoft this week shipped Office 2003 Service Pack 3 (SP3), it latest collection of bug fixes for the previous version of its office productivity suite. The company reports that SP3 includes a bunch of new security fixes as well, which makes it sort of a must-have upgrade for all Office 2003 users. As is always the case with service packs, Office 2003 SP3 includes all the fixes from SP1 and SP2 as well. You can grab Office 2003 via Office Update or from this handy direct download link.

Windows Server 2008 Release Candidate Next Week
At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this week, Microsoft revealed that it will ship a release candidate (RC) version of Windows Server 2008 next week and given that the company was demonstrating its upcoming Windows Server Virtualization (codenamed Viridian) technology at the show, I think we can expect a happy little surprise along those lines when the RC ships. More news as it develops, but suffice to say I'll be looking at the Windows Server RC and Viridian code on the SuperSite for Windows as soon as is possible.

Microsoft Completes Windows Home Server Mega-Patch
Microsoft confirmed this week that it has completed the so-called mega-patch for the recently completed Windows Home Server (WHS), which, depending on how you look at it, actually completes the product so that it can be shipped in new home servers by HP and other hardware makers. The mega-patch was created at the request of HP, which said it wouldn't ship its new WHS-based MediaSmart Server until the update was ready. Now, we can expect various WHS-based servers to ship between October and December of this year, though it's unclear when HP's will ship. I can't wait to get my hands on one: The new WHS servers look really interesting.

Gates is World's Richest for 14th Year in a Row
Just a quick heads-up for those who are interested: Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, with a net worth of $59 billion, is still the richest man in the world. This means he can buy me, you, and every other person who will ever read this about 1000 times over and still have money left over to buy a small island off the coast of Viet-Nam from which he and his white cat can plot a merciless attack on the rest of mankind. Not that he'd ever do such a thing. But it's funny just to think about it.

Tired of Apple Slowness, Mozilla Patches QuickTime Flaw
Irritated that Apple has yet to fix a year-old security flaw in its QuickTime software, Mozilla this week shipped an update to its Firefox Web browser that prevents the flaw from affecting the browser. Mozilla included a nice jab at Apple in its release notes for the fix, I assume in an attempt to get the lacksidasical company to do something other than give keynote addresses all the time.

Steve Jobs Subpoenaed, But Not for Antitrust
And speaking of Apple keynotes, Apple CEO Steve Jobs will take a stage of a different kind sometime in the next year when he's interviewed by the US Securities and Exchange (SEC) in regards to its investigation into Apple's stock options backdating case. The good news for the subpoenaed Mr. Jobs, however, is that the SEC isn't investigating him (at least not yet): Instead, they're going after former Apple general counsel Nancy Heinen, who is accused of manipulating stock options on behalf of herself and Jobs and then falsifying corporate records to hide the acts. Jobs might want to get used to the legal hot seat, given his company's increasing dominance of the digital music market and the questionable product tying strategies he's employed to both gain and maintain that dominance.

Here Comes Halo 3
Next week promises to be a busy time, given that I've foolishly agreed to fly to Seattle on the night that Halo 3 is shipping. My hope is that my copy of Halo 3 arrives by then, as I'm staying with friends in the Seattle area (Redmond), and they do have an Xbox 360, and I've already informed them of my fervent need to commandeer that console and their TV for the duration. I expect many sleepless nights, as I also need to actually perform work of some kind during this trip. Should be exhausting, but if everything goes very well, fun as well. I'm looking forward to it.

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