An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news ...
Road trip! My brother Jonathan is moving to Florida, so on Sunday we're going to pack up his beater box like a couple of college students and drive there from Massachusetts over two days. I can't claim to be literally excited by this trip, but it should at least be interesting. And I'm sad to see Jon go, although I suspect we'll be visiting fairly regularly. If you happen to live along I-95, give a wave this weekend. And pray that his car doesn't explode. Seriously, it's a piece of junk.
Leo and I recorded the Windows Weekly podcast at our regular Thursday time, so it should be available by the end of the weekend, as always. I'm still recovering from a cold after surviving the winter without getting sick, but we were able to put a regular-length show out despite my worries that the voice would dry up and put a halt to the proceedings.
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No TechEd For You!
I was talking to some Microsoft folks the other day, and the topic of the company's upcoming TechEd tradeshow came up. The show takes place in early May, and I didn't recall getting an invitation, so I asked Microsoft's firm about it. A few hours later, the invitation arrived—but with the following curious language: "You are invited to attend Microsoft TechEd North America 2009 (May 11-15), the preeminent annual technology education conference for IT Developers and Professionals ... We are recommending that this year you attend virtually, rather than in person ... That said, you are still welcome to come to TechEd in person, but please note that executive access and onsite activities will be limited." Huh. So am I invited or not? I asked what was up and was told that Microsoft was trying to be respectful of travel expenses during the current economic crisis, which certainly makes some sense. But TechEd is a huge show, and I had expected the company to launch the Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) there. Now I'm just confused. As usual, I guess.
Microsoft: Windows 7 Starter Will Be for $200 Netbooks Only
In an interview with TechRadar, Microsoft Director Mark Croft said that concerns about the low-end Windows 7 Starter edition being relegated to netbooks is unfounded. "We are clearly going to market to customers that Home Premium is the default," he said. "We've made our case to the \[PC makers\] and we've shared some analyst data with them about customer preferences." The benefit of Windows 7 Starter, however, is that it will cost next to nothing, so its very presence will let PC makers usher in an era of even-cheaper new netbook systems. "We're anticipating opening price points to reach about $200 at least in the US market this holiday season, and another $50 maybe for NVIDIA Ion machines." Sounds good to me.
Microsoft Warns of PowerPoint Zero-Day Vulnerability
Microsoft sent out an emergency warning yesterday about a zero-day flaw in its PowerPoint presentation software that hackers are activiely exploiting. There's no fix yet, but the flaw has already been given the most severe rating possible by every security firm on Earth, ranging from "severe" to "extremely critical" to "eat only followed by ice cream," depending on which company we're talking about. The flaw affects the Office 2000 and Office 2003 versions of PowerPoint but not the one that comes with Office 2007. So far, the workaround appears to consist of "don't use PowerPoint" or "just don't open PowerPoint presentations with PowerPoint"—again, depending on who you're asking. I think we can expect an out-of-band fix for this problem in the days ahead. Or the coming Cybergeddon, which I'm still holding out for.
Throwing Good Money After Bad? Or Just an Investment?
So, you're Microsoft, and you've got this search engine that no one uses or has even heard of. And it's competing with a market giant whose name (Google) has become as synonymous with search as Kleenex is with tissue. How do you make it successful? Microsoft has tried a lot of things, from paying users to paying partners to bundle the service on their PCs and devices. Now, Microsoft is apparently going to try something new: It's going to pay an ad company to market the heck out of the search engine. According to reports, Microsoft will spend $100 million this year on a spring relaunch of Live Search that will most likely also include a branding change to Kumo. And as previously suggested by the software giant, the underlying strategy isn't to go head-to-head with Google (because the score there is already 80 to 7 against, and in any sane world a ref would have put a stop to it). Instead, Microsoft will focus on the things its search engine does better than the competition. And all joking aside, there are definitely some advantages there. If only the world knew.
Bach Talks Up Microsoft's 'Three Screen' Approach
During a keynote address at CTIA yesterday, Microsoft President Robbie Bach provided some excellent overviews of both Windows 7 and Windows Mobile 6.5, the company's upcoming OSs for PCs/netbooks and mobile devices, respectively. But I think the biggest take-away from the talk was his reiteration of Microsoft's "three screen" strategy, which explains how the company sees Windows being relevant going forward. "We think the world is going to have three very important screens, the PC, the television, and—increasingly important now—the mobile phone," he said. "And those three screens are going to be connected through a set of cloud-based services. What's important is that our customers can get the services, products, and capabilities they want delivered to whatever device and whatever screen they want, whenever they want. That's the critical thing that we're trying to build. At Microsoft, we're very well positioned with a set of capabilities to be able to deliver that." This really makes a lot of sense when you think about it, although I'd imagine the exact capabilities he's talking about will dribble in over time.
Microsoft Offers New Version of Windows Live for Windows Mobile
Speaking of Windows Mobile, Microsoft on Thursday delivered a new version of its Windows Live for Windows Mobile software suite, a downloadable install that adds a bunch of new functionality, including push and pull Hotmail sync, a new version of Windows Live Messenger, contacts sync, photo uploading to Windows Live Photos, and Live Search. The software is free, and can be downloaded from your phone. http://mobile.microsoft.com/live/en-us/mobile/default.mspx
Microsoft Office on the iPhone? Seriously, Who Cares?
There seems to be some legacy belief that for a new computing platform to be successful, it has to run Microsoft Office. So, getting Office on the iPhone is a big deal for some reason. But seriously, who's going to edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations on a 480 x 320 screen with a virtual keyboard? And I mean really edit them, not just try it out once and walk away. No one! But there's still this big hope and expectation that Microsoft will pull the trigger and make it happen. And Microsoft isn't helping matters. This week, Microsoft President Stephen Elop was asked a roundabout question involving the iPhone, the native iPhone Facebook application, and Microsoft productivity apps, to which he replied, "Not yet, keep watching." Hey, thanks for stoking the rumor mill again, big guy.
More Indications of Zune on Xbox 360 Emerge
A couple of Microsoft job postings seem to confirm that Microsoft is moving its Zune digital media-management software to the Xbox 360, bolstering the console's non-gaming functionality. The first describes a Zune engineer position for someone who will "help deliver great digital entertainment features into the living room, including on-demand music and video," while the second regards expanding the Zune Marketplace globally. "We have big plans that extend around the world," the posting reads. "Are you ready to see your ideas come to market in months versus years?" Sounds good to me. In fact, it can't happen quickly enough: People might make fun of the Zune for whatever reason, but the software is light years ahead of what Apple offers.
IBM/Sun Deal Apparently Happening as Soon as Next Week
It looks like IBM is ready to consummate its purchase of UNIX maker Sun Microsystems. After weeks of negotiations, the companies have agreed on a price—$9.50 per share, for a complete valuation of almost $7 billion—and various intellectual-property concerns. The announcement will likely happen next week and will create a UNIX powerhouse with few serious rivals. In fact, that might be the only serious issue facing the merger: Expect antitrust regulators in the United States and Europe to seriously examine this deal before giving the OK