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July 1, 2002—In this issue:
1. NEWS AND VIEWS
- Microsoft Preps Freon Upgrade to Xbox
- FTC Warns Microsoft, Others About Search Engine Results
- Windows Scripting Solutions for the Systems Administrator
- Struggling with IIS and Web Administration Concerns?
3. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
1. NEWS AND VIEWS
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
Microsoft's long-rumored HomeStation—a combination Xbox and UltimateTV device—never made it past the planning stages, but a follow-up to the company's Xbox game console is indeed in the works. Dubbed Freon because it's the "coolest" project at Microsoft, the Xbox successor adds important consumer-oriented capabilities such as pausing live TV and hard-disk-based digital video recording. This description sounds suspiciously like the HomeStation. What differentiates Freon from other efforts (including HomeStation), apparently, is the fact that it has the backing of Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, who is reportedly a "big fan."
A combination Xbox/DVR is almost a no-brainer. The first-generation Xbox was the first video-game system to ship with a hard disk as standard equipment, meaning that most Xbox owners already have gigabytes of unused hard-disk space. And, like the UltimateTV project, the Xbox has sold far below Microsoft's predictions. Perhaps combining the two devices would jumpstart sales. It would almost certainly lower prices: Purchasing an Xbox and UltimateTV device today would cost consumers $500 to $600; presumably a combination device would cost much less.
But Freon, which will probably ship in late 2003 or 2004, isn't just about saving money or consolidating Microsoft's product line. The company expected to make a big splash in the video-game market, and although it's definitely a player, Microsoft is also in third place behind Sony and Nintendo. Freon will help to technologically differentiate Microsoft from the competition and, perhaps more important, reduce the traditional 5-year lifecycle of most video-game systems to a time period more in line with Microsoft's successful PC software lifecycles, which average about 2 years.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sent warnings to seven companies that run popular Internet search engines, requesting that they fully disclose when they include paid advertisers in search results. The list of companies includes Alta Vista, AOL Time Warner (AOL, Netscape), IWon, LookSmart, Microsoft (MSN), and Terra Lycos (Lycos), as well as the now-defunct Direct Hit Technologies. The FTC issued the warnings after a yearlong investigation sparked by last summer's accusations from consumer-advocacy group Commercial Alert, which Ralph Nader cofounded.
"We wanted to raise a concern that we hope \[the search engines\] will take seriously," said FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Howard Beales. "What we saw ... were some pretty clear disclosures and some that weren't." Beales said that no fines are forthcoming, although the agency will continue to monitor the companies' behavior. The FTC pointed out several search-result labels that it found particularly misleading, including "featured listings," "search partners," and "recommended sites." These labels refer to paid advertising, not valid search results, the FTC said. Microsoft said that it changed the way it displays sponsored links on its MSN Search page soon after the FTC began its investigation last July. Netscape has also changed the way it delineates paid ads from search results, an AOL Time Warner spokesperson said.
The FTC warnings are a positive sign for people who are concerned that corporate concerns are tampering with their search results. "We won," Gary Ruskin, executive director for Commercial Alert, said this weekend. "This \[warning\] is the first step in the process of search engines disclosing that their ads are ads."
Of course, I still believe the best search engine available is Google (http://www.google.com). In addition to being ad-free, Google is also the most comprehensive search-engine resource online.
(brought to you by Windows & .NET Magazine and its partners)
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