WinInfo Short Takes: May 13, 2011

An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...

Defying Trends, Windows 7 Infection Rates Are on the Rise. So What?

Security experts will tell you that hackers are turning increasingly toward native applications (like those made by Adobe) and web apps (Facebook) because OSs are getting progressively more hardened and secure. Likewise, these same experts will tell you that modern versions of Windows—like Windows 7—are more secure than older versions—like Windows XP—for basically the same reason: The newer versions have better and more modern security defenses. But according to Microsoft's latest Security Intelligence Report, Windows 7 malware infection rates bucked all previous trends by unexpectedly rising in the second half of 2010, while infection rates in the older XP OS, also unexpected, actually fell in the same time period. Now, I wouldn't jump off a bridge just yet: Overall Windows 7 infection rates are still dramatically lower than those of XP; it's just the rate trends that have changed. So, here's why this doesn't matter. According to the report, four Windows 7-based PCs out of every 1,000 were infected in the second half of 2010, up from three out of every 1,000 in the first half of 2010. Meanwhile, a comparatively huge 14 XP-based PCs out of every 1,000 were infected, down from 18 out of every 1,000, in the same time periods. What's the take-away here? That Windows 7 infection rates are on the rise? No, it's that only .4 percent of modern PCs are actually infected with any kind of malware.

Microsoft Puts the Hype in Skype

This week's blockbuster deal, in which Microsoft announced its intention to purchase Skype for $8.5 billion, sent the tech industry into a weird tailspin. On the one hand, we have that minority of people who love and use Skype, people who are convinced that Microsoft will simply kill their beloved product. On the other hand is the majority, who had never heard of Skype before Microsoft's purchase announcements. (Heck, most people have never even heard of Luxembourg, where Skype is based. Bonus round: How many of you ignorant Americans could find Luxembourg on a map? That's what I thought.) But I think the biggest impact this deal is going to have isn't on users but rather on the wireless carriers and broadband providers that will be forced to handle the increased network traffic that, quite frankly, most Skype users don't even really pay for already. (Yes, I know. Most of us pay for connectivity, so we're indirectly paying for Skype usage. But Skype is an inefficient bandwidth hog, and if people had to actually pay for what they use, most would have abandoned Skype long ago.) I'm curious to see how or whether wireless carriers, in particular, allow (or limit) new Skype clients on their devices going forward.

With a Whimper, US Antitrust Oversight of Microsoft Comes to a Close

Did you pass the time last night with a candle in the window, as I did? The US government's decade-long antitrust oversight of Microsoft came to a quiet end at 12am this morning, with neither side marking the milestone in any way. Of course, the world has changed dramatically since Microsoft settled its case with the US government in 2001, and even more so since the US Department of Justice (DOJ) launched its case against the software giant in 1998. Back then, Microsoft dominated the tech industry and was capable of keeping other companies from entering new markets simply by subtly suggesting that it, too, wanted a piece of that market. In the years since, Microsoft has continued to generated mountains of cash from its legacy software products, sure, but it's also been severely diminished from a competitive standpoint, and now faster-moving rivals such as Apple and Google are gobbling up new markets that, in the past, would have belonged to Microsoft. If the goal of the US antitrust case against Microsoft was to hobble the company—perhaps irretrievably—well, consider the job done. I don't see Microsoft ever waking from its decade-long coma. But I do have some advice: Look for "How Microsoft Can Fix Microsoft" next week on the SuperSite for Windows.

BPOS Hit by Multi-Day Outage

While Microsoft is busy working to finalize Office 365—its friendlier, less expensive and more capable replacement for the horribly named Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS)—that latter service quietly suffered a multi-day outage this week, leaving paying customers to not-so-quietly wonder what the frick was going on. The issue, apparently, was a seemingly routine upgrade to Exchange Online, which wasn't supposed to be accompanied by any downtime. But customers were having problems throughout the day on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week. I received multiple email messages about this, but as I'm using Office 365 and not BPOS, I didn't experience any outage experiences myself. Fortunately, I didn't have to dig too hard, as Microsoft issued a statement. "On May 12, some BPOS customers began experiencing delays sending and receiving email. Microsoft Operations and Engineering teams are actively working the incident, and we are communicating with customers via our normal incident communication channels. We sincerely apologize to our customers for any inconvenience this incident may have caused them." Microsoft later determined that it had resolved the problem, restored the service, and will later provide "a full post mortem of this incident." Oddly, the company has yet to acknowledge the first two days of outages. Stay tuned.

Xbox 360 Leads the Way Again in April

Microsoft reported this week that its Xbox 360 was once again the best-selling console in April in the United States, with 297,000 units sold. (NPD no longer releases these figures themselves but instead reports sales only to the companies involved; those companies can optionally reveal them publicly if they wish.) That's the fourth month in a row that the Xbox 360 has come out on top in the United States—and the 11th time in the previous 12 months. Not too shabby for a five-and-a-half-year-old granddaddy of a console, eh? Sales of the over-hyped Kinect add-on hit 3 million units, overall (i.e., since November), and Microsoft promised to keep Kinect "momentum" going throughout 2011 by "tripling" the size of the Kinect game catalog this year. Frankly, I see Kinect as more of a novelty than a long-term driver of growth, and I suspect that most Kinect owners are already ignoring this hunk of plastic in droves, just as they did with the Nintendo Wii before. Oddly, PlayStation 3 sales were up in the month, even though its online service, the PlayStation Network, was down. (No unit sales were provided.) The top five selling games of the month, in order, were Mortal Kombat 2011 (for some reason), Portal 2, Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters.

Microsoft, Nokia, Others Fighting Apple's "App Store" Trademark in Europe

Microsoft, HTC, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson have all launched legal challenges to Apple's attempted trademark of the term "App Store" in Europe, adding to the legal issues the Cupertino superpower faces in the United States. The four firms filed separate requests this week with the European Union (EU) trademark agency in Spain, asking the agency to invalidate Apple's trademark registration. "[The companies] are seeking to invalidate Apple's trademark registration for 'APP STORE' and 'APPSTORE' because we believe that they should not have been granted because they both lack distinctiveness," Microsoft's filing reads. If you were following along during my coverage of Microsoft's antitrust issues with the EU, you know that the continent has a lengthy and convoluted legal process that in this case will grant Apple several layers of appeals. Unless Apple just capitulates—unlikely with Steve Jobs at the helm—you can expect this issue to drag on for several years, well past the time we're still using or thinking about mobile apps.

Report: Office Competitors? What Office Competitors?

A Forrester research report has concluded something I knew was right all along—that companies might occasionally look into alternatives to Microsoft Office, but when it comes time to buy and deploy, they always come running right back to the sweet embrace of Microsoft's dominant office productivity suite. I know this because I've done the same thing, and I don't care what any unbathed, Linux-using hippie tells you, the competition, such as it is, is a joke. These jokes include such lackluster online and freebie products as OpenOffice (yep, still kicking somehow), Google Docs, Lotus Symphony, and Zoho, a rogues' gallery of missing functionality that makes the bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back look friendly and unassuming by comparison. According to Forrester, 44 percent of survey respondents looked at the web-based offerings (Google Docs, primarily), but only 3 percent admitted to actually using that junk. The consensus is obvious, if a bit jarring to those who believe that Microsoft can't do anything right: Microsoft Office, put simply, is vastly superior to the competition. And even among those companies that do actually deploy an alternative, all of them—not most of them, but all of them—also deploy Office. So these things aren't even Office replacements, they're like Office accessories. Seriously, spare me.

Months After Death, Limewire Settles with Recording Industry

Having already sent the file sharing service to an inglorious death, the recording industry this week settled with Limewire for just a fraction of the $1.4 billion it was previously seeking. Limewire and its founder, Mark Gorton, agreed this week to pay the world's 13 biggest record labels $105 million to settle the copyright-infringement lawsuit it lost last year. But Limewire had previously and permanently closed its virtual doors in December 2010, after losing the case. So what conclusion can we draw from the vastly reduced settlement? Simple: The recording industry already got exactly what it wanted—that is, Limewire being scattered to the winds—so this was just a final salt-in-the-wounds thing to ensure that Gorton and his cohorts would never have the financial wherewithal to bother them again. Mission accomplished, in other words.

This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast

Leo and I recorded the latest episode of the Windows Weekly on Thursday as usual this week, so it should be available for download by the end of the weekend on iTunes, the Zune Marketplace, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.

But Wait, There's More

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed, Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows, the SuperSite Blog, and on Windows Phone Secrets.

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