An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Microsoft: Longhorn, Not Windows XP SE, Is Next ... But How?
Now that Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) is finally out the door, Microsoft is turning its attention to its next OS releases, which include a minor Windows 2000 service pack, Windows Server 2003 SP1, and Windows 2003 Release 2 (R2), the next interim Windows server release. Longhorn is the next big client release, and this week Microsoft dispelled (or at least quelled) rumors that the company might issue an XP Second Edition (SE) release by stating publicly that it's going to "revisit the priorities" in Longhorn and see what it can do to get that often-delayed release out the door. I can tell you this much: The process is going to take a while. After running aground in its attempt to convert the existing Longhorn builds into components, Microsoft's core OS team has scrapped the current code base and is now rebuilding Longhorn from scratch based on the XP SP2 code base (existing Longhorn alpha versions are based on the Windows 2003 code base). That fact, in my mind, suggests that the final Longhorn release will be delayed yet again, but two factors could change that situation. First, the teams working on various Longhorn technologies aren't sitting still and waiting for the new component-based version of the base OS to arrive. Instead, they're moving ahead with their work, which will be added back into the new base OS when work on it is completed. Second, Microsoft could sanely decide that the company has bitten off more than it can chew with Longhorn and thus scale back its plans. Instead, the company could include in two or three OS releases the various technologies that would have shipped together in Longhorn. I'm guessing that's exactly what the company will do. The recent revelation that Microsoft will now ship the Indigo Web services platform separately from and well ahead of the rest of Longhorn--as an add-on to XP SP2 and Windows 2003 SP1--suggests we're going to see further shake-ups in Longhorn. You heard it here first.
Unleash the Hounds: XP SP2 Now Available to One and All ... in the United States
The long wait is over, assuming you're stateside. Regardless of your XP version and Internet access type, you should now have access to XP SP2, Microsoft's biggest OS update since the company released the original version of XP in October 2001. The only remaining problem is CD-ROM-based installations. Although you can order the XP SP2 CD-ROM today, you won't get it until September. But Internet-based XP SP2 downloads and installations are running full steam, and all my XP test machines--which run XP Home Edition, XP Media Center Edition, XP Professional Edition, and XP Tablet PC Edition--have downloaded and installed the SP2 update. If you live in another part of the world and need language-specific versions of XP SP2, you might have a bit of a wait. My understanding is that Microsoft will ship 25 language versions throughout September and October.
Microsoft Issues XP SP2 Compatibility Guide
This week, Microsoft issued the Application Compatibility Testing and Mitigation Guide for Windows XP Service Pack 2, which discusses XP SP2's security technologies and gives IT administrators an application-testing process to help them "test and mitigate application compatibility issues" between their applications and XP SP2. You can download the guide from the Microsoft Web site.
Microsoft Issues XP SP2 Security Guide
In related news, Microsoft has also updated the Windows XP Security Guide to cover the new features in XP SP2. "This guide includes settings for Windows XP clients deployed in a Microsoft Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003 Active Directory domain," the document says. "The document also includes guidance for an environment requiring an extremely high level of security in which application compatibility or usability may be constrained. Finally, this guide discusses procedures for implementing Windows XP security settings in stand-alone clients." You can download the security guide from the Microsoft Web site.
Separating Fact from Fiction: Microsoft Denies Recent XP SP2 Flaw Reports
In the march toward the first serious XP SP2 vulnerability (trust me, such a flaw is inevitable), Microsoft is fighting a losing PR battle, trying to deny that the most recent SP2 vulnerability reports are wrong or, at least, flawed. This week, two vulnerabilities appear to be problematic for the software giant: the so-called drag-and-drop vulnerability in Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 6 that could let attackers easily install executable code on your system and a Windows Security Center spoof that an attacker could use to make your system appear to be safe when, in fact, the firewall had been disabled. Microsoft's response to the Security Center vulnerability makes sense: "In order for an attacker to spoof the Windows Security Center, he or she would have to have local administrator rights on the computer." But I've yet to see a good excuse for the drag-and-drop problem, and the vulnerability certainly does work as advertised. My advice? Relax. XP SP2 is going to be hacked, and Microsoft is going to release fixes. Obviously. But XP SP2 is still a safer system, overall, than the base XP, and you should install the update as soon as possible. And then stop using IE. Please.
Separating Fact from Fiction: Microsoft UK Ad Is Deceptive
I often chide Apple Computer for its continuous exaggerations, false ship-date announcements, and outright lies. But this week, the liar spotlight focused on Microsoft in the UK, where the software giant published an ad in a technical journal that compared Windows to Linux. No biggie, right? The problem is that Microsoft compared the cost of Windows Server running on PC hardware to the cost of Linux running on mainframe hardware, which is obviously much more expensive, regardless of the OS. The comparison is especially curious because Linux could have been installed on the same hardware as Windows Server, which would have made the comparison more accurate. The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which says it received three complaints about the ad, presumably from readers of the technical journal, ruled this week that the ad isn't factual and told Microsoft to fix it. But Microsoft completed the ad run in May, and the ad isn't scheduled to appear anymore. More interesting, perhaps, is that Microsoft says that the ASA cleared the ad before it ran.
Microsoft to Push "Plays for Sure" Theme with WMP 10 and Devices
According to CNET.com, Microsoft will grace next week's launch of Windows Media Player (WMP) 10 with a new branding campaign designed to emulate the success of the "Intel Inside" advertising campaign. Dubbed "Plays for Sure," the campaign will identify devices and services that support the Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Windows Media Video (WMV) formats and will alert consumers that such products are interoperable. Presumably, the idea is that consumers will therefore more easily understand that, say, the Dell Digital Jukebox (DJ) personal audio player and the Napster online music store (to use two random products) are Windows Media-compatible; specifically, you can purchase a Dell DJ and know that it will play back the songs you purchase from Napster. In realistic terms, Microsoft is making it clear that virtually every digital media device on the planet--save Apple's iPod--and every online music store--save the Apple iTunes Music Store--are compatible with each other. Cute.
What Rift? Microsoft and NBC Recommit to MSNBC
The rumor has been swirling around recently that NBC is getting ready to dump Microsoft as its partner on MSNBC (which would result in--what--NBC?). And although the rumor garnered huge headlines, the fact that Microsoft and NBC jointly announced that they're committed to continuing MSNBC received virtually no coverage. Noting that the rumor was hurting morale at MSNBC, an NBC executive said, "It's just not true." Scott Moore, MSN general manager, noted that "the state of the relationship is very healthy, and from the Microsoft side we're pleased with the way things are going." Take that, rumor mongers.
You Can Feel the Tension in the Air: HP's Long-Awaited iPod Debuts
A company introduces an iPod-based portable audio player in January, silently ignores it for several months, and potential customers still can't find it. Nope, I'm not talking about the iPod Mini, although I might as well be. Instead, I'm referring to HP's horribly misguided iPod, which HP reannounced in final form today. The HP iPod, or hPod as some people call it, is a simple copy of Apple's device because, after all, HP isn't exactly the bastion of consumer cool, if you know what I mean. My take is that HP won't demonstrably improve iPod sales (which are through the roof, anyway). But the compatibility question remains. HP still hasn't announced a way of moving music back and forth between the hPod and the company's other Windows Media-based devices and PCs, making the hPod a lost cause and completely uninteresting. Sorry.
An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...