An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Gartner: Microsoft Changed Longhorn Plan to Appease SA Customers
The busy bees over at Gartner have leveled an interesting charge at Microsoft: According to the company, the software giant ripped WinFS out of Longhorn and will make a 2006 release date solely to appease its Software Assurance (SA) customers. "Microsoft's earlier assertions that Longhorn was not a date-driven release no longer seem accurate," Gartner noted. "Clearly, the desire to get out the software in 2006 has required compromise at the highest levels of the company." SA customers, of course, pay subscription fees to license Microsoft software over several years. And although Microsoft typically denies that this practice is a huge concern, those customers are promised that they will be able to get the next version of whatever product they've licensed for free, as part of their subscription. However, many products, such as Microsoft SQL Server and Windows, have been delayed enough that the next versions won't ship until well after many SA contracts expire, leading to widespread complaints.
Microsoft Touts WMV 9-Based HD Systems
At the IBC2004 trade show in Amsterdam this week, Microsoft announced that various companies would be showing off end-to-end high-definition (HD) broadcast and content-delivery solutions--including real-time software- and hardware-based HD encoding solutions--using Microsoft Windows Media 9 Series. Products based on this technology include next-generation set-top boxes and DVD players, the company said. "We will be demonstrating how Windows Media 9 Series is enabling Windows-based PC, consumer electronics, and television experiences in HD," said Amir Majidimehr, corporate vice president of the Windows Digital Media Division at Microsoft. "The quality and compression efficiency of Windows Media 9 Series, combined with its momentum with industry standards organizations, have fueled a wealth of adoption, making a broad range of leading-edge high-definition scenarios available today." Windows Media Video (WMV) 9 has made amazing headway in recent days: The WMV 9-based VC-1 standard is being prepped for final approval, and VC-1 was recently made a mandatory video codec for next-generation HD optical media in both the Blu-ray Disc (BD) and HD DVD formats. Microsoft notes that WMV 9 provides three times the compression efficiency of MPEG-2 and can deliver HD content at bit rates as low as 6Mbps to 8Mbps. If you haven't seen an HD WMV track yet, it's pretty impressive. Check out the Microsoft Web site for some clips.
Microsoft Unveils New Hardware Products
Microsoft announced a bunch of new mouse devices and keyboards this week, which isn't exactly big news per se, but I'm continually amazed at how the company pushes its wireless products over more typical (and desirable) wired versions. There was one bit of interesting news in the announcement, however, although I think that past users of the company's excellent USB speakers, telephone products, and wireless gear can be excused for being a little jaded about the upcoming fate of these new devices. The company has announced a set of fingerprint-reader products that make it easier for users to log on to their PCs. Fingerprint readers are cool--I've tested them on an HP iPAQ and on a Tablet PC--but come on guys. Does anyone expect Microsoft to still be making these things 2 years from now? Anyone?
Microsoft Tests New MSN Radio Service Beta
Microsoft unveiled a preview version of its MSN Music online service with a lot of fanfare last week, but one related service got little attention. In addition to MSN Music, Microsoft is also publicly testing a preview version of its upgraded MSN Radio service, which will integrate with MSN Music. The service culls playlists from more than 1000 traditional radio stations in the Unites States, Canada, and Puerto Rico and provides virtual stations that Microsoft says are "like your favorite local stations, but with fewer ads, no DJ chatter, and less repetition." A free version of the service is available, as is a subscription version that costs $5 a month but provides higher quality streaming and no ads. Microsoft's tactics, however, have once again gotten the software giant in trouble, this time with traditional radio stations. "Radio stations will see this as piggybacking on their hard-earned brand awareness and potentially cannibalizing their success," "Inside Radio" editor Tom Taylor said. Wait a minute. Are you saying that Microsoft is capitalizing on the success of others? Say it ain't so.
Open-Source Backers Fear Microsoft Anti-Spam Plans
The Microsoft-backed Sender ID email authentication standard might seem like a great idea, but various open-source backers are charging that the software giant's plan includes too many unresolved patent and licensing problems. As a result, some key players, such as the Apache Software Foundation and the Debian Project (which makes a Linux distribution), say they won't support Sender ID in their products. The problem is with the Royalty-Free Sender ID Patent License Agreement, which licensees will have to sign to use the technology. Because this agreement prevents companies from changing, distributing, and sublicensing Sender ID, which are common practices in the Open-Source world, these companies say they can't use the standard. Another problem is that Microsoft hasn't yet documented which parts of Sender ID are patented, and the fear is that the company's eventual claims will be quite broad. So what we have here is a classic Microsoft dilemma: The company thinks it has something valuable that it would like others to use. However, no one trusts the company, so no one is biting. Get used to it, guys. You've burned too many bridges to be accepted with open arms.
Oracle Defeats DOJ, Can Pursue PeopleSoft
In a rare legal defeat for the US Department of Justice (DOJ), a federal judge has ruled that database giant Oracle can pursue its hostile takeover bid for PeopleSoft. The DOJ was trying to block Oracle's $7.7 billion offer for the smaller company, citing antitrust concerns. However, Judge Vaughn Walker of the Federal District Court in San Francisco disagreed with the DOJ's "narrow" definition of the market, noting that the software market is worldwide and ever changing, with new competitors and threats appearing every year. "Plaintiffs have not shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the merger of Oracle and PeopleSoft is likely to substantially lessen competition in a relevant product and geographic market," he wrote in his ruling.
Intel Talks Up Dual-Core Processors, WiMAX
At this week's Intel Developer Forum (IDF) Fall 2004 conference in San Francisco, microprocessor giant Intel unveiled two of the products the company expects to drive sales in the future: dual-core processors and WiMAX, a so-called "broaderband" wireless technology. Intel says that all its microprocessor product lines will offer dual-core variants in 2005, significantly improving performance. Intel will also offer multicore processor variants, which are chips that integrate the processing power of three or more CPUs into one chip. As for WiMax, also known as IEEE 802.16-2004, Intel says the wireless technology will provide faster connectivity than today's Wi-Fi solutions and do so over very wide areas. Intel predicts that WiMAX will do to today's cable modem and DSL broadband solutions what cell phones did to terrestrial-based telephones (i.e., kill them). "We are on the cusp of the WiMax era," Intel President Paul Otellini said.
Microsoft Ships Streets & Trips 2005 with Optional GPS
Microsoft recently shipped Streets & Trips 2005, but the big news is a version of the software that comes with a hardware-based Global Positioning System (GPS) solution that plugs into a laptop. Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS Locator helps travelers know where they're at all the time--that is, assuming they're traveling with a laptop. Still, it's a cool-looking product that I plan to check out. If you do a lot of car travel, this product is definitely something to investigate.
AOL Spams Burger King Whoppers with Free Music
AOL Music has teamed up with Burger King to offer consumers a digital music promotion in which buyers of Burger King's Whopper sandwiches get a coupon for a free music download. The deal is similar to one between McDonalds and Sony, and let's hope it will be a lot more successful than the Pepsi/Apple Computer iTunes promotion, which netted, at last count, about three free downloads. The Burger King/AOL deal lasts through October 3 and provides customers with a choice of more than 700,000 songs (AOL Music is actually a front end for the MusicNet service). "It's easy to move files," said Gartner analyst Mike McGuire. "The technical barriers are fewer than providing free CDs with burgers." I guess that's why analysts get the big bucks.
Various Microsoft Software Updates
I'm pretty sure none of these updates warrant individual blurbs, but Microsoft did release some potentially interesting software updates this week. So take a gander and grab any you deem essential.