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Mailbag: December 4, 2011

In this edition of the mailbag: Why Microsoft charges so much for multi-language functionality in Windows and Office, whether the 2012 Kinect will be for the Xbox 360 as well as the PC, what the licensing difference is between the various Office versions you can buy online, choosing between a Samsung Focus S and HTC Titan, buying AV for the Mac, some parting notes about the Kindle Touch, choosing a Kindle, and yet another pass at a Windows Phone-based Zune device.

If you have questions, please email me at [email protected].

Why does Microsoft charge extra--a lot extra--for multi-language support in Windows and Office?

Paul M. asks:

I wonder if you can shed any light on why Microsoft insist on charging customers (a lot) extra to switch language on their computer. I have the feeling it's only Windows and desktop Office who charge you to change the language of a product. Secondly, surely this only affects a relatively small number of people. There can't be that many users who buy a computer in one country, and then want to change to [another language]. It seems quite unfair, and I can't really see where Microsoft would lose a lot of money by letting you change language as much as you want. If anything, it would make their products more attractive.

I can't say why definitively, but it's not hard to look at this situation and make an educated guess.

In the absence of true competition--the Mac still accounts for 5 percent or less than the desktop PC OS market and there are in fact no credible alternatives to Office at all--Microsoft hasn't been forced to make multi-language capabilities a feature of these products but instead uses them as a differentiator to justify higher-end versions. And certainly, the company has latched on to a multi-SKU strategy for both Windows and Office because this has made them more money, with people often choosing a higher-end SKU/version out of the perception that there's more value to such a thing. It's all rather arbitrary, in my opinion, what features get put into which product versions.

I do feel that this strategy is wrong-headed. Microsoft may realize some palpable benefit from having multiple product versions--the strategy was SO successful with Office they did it to Windows, too--but I don't think the company has factored in the long-term effects of this penny pinching. I think many PC users are tired of being treated this way, and that this is one of many, many factors that has consumers looking elsewhere for products that are much simpler than Microsoft's core platforms.

Anyway, just my opinion. I hope they wake up to the fact that their policies are alienating users.

New Kinect in 2012: Only for the PC, or for the Xbox 360 as well?

Dan L. (and others) asks:

So, will the new Kinect hardware be in the Xbox 360 Kinect as well? or will there be a PC Kinect and a 360 Kinect? Should I wait until the new hardware comes out to get a Kinect for our 360 at home rather than buying one before Christmas?

Microsoft has only announced it for the PC, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't for the Xbox as well. It will most likely ship next holiday season, it's just an announcement for now. In fact, it's vaporware as far as I'm concerned. Microsoft has never publicly shown off this product or proven that it will be as advanced as they claim. Based on how well the original Kinect works--which is to say, not very--my hopes aren't very high.

Buying Microsoft Office online: What's the difference between the one- and two-/three-license versions?

I mentioned on this week's Windows Weekly that I had noticed on Microsoft's online store, the Microsoft Store, that you could purchase electronically downloadable versions of Microsoft Office from the company in a variety of versions. That Microsoft sells Office this way isn't news, but I wasn't aware that certain versions--like Office Home and Business 2010--could be purchased for one PC ($199 in this case) or for two PCs ($279). What was the difference, I wondered?

A friend from Microsoft wrote in with the rationale behind this.

You are correct that there are two license schemes for purchasing Office online.  One version is called PKC (Product Key Card) and is licensed to a single PC (and is non-transferable). This version doesn't come with physical media (the bits are already on all new PCs anyway as part of the Office Single Image/Office Starter) and is slightly less expensive. The second or traditional version of Office has 2-3 transferable licenses, and also includes the physical media.

I was initially confused by the "2-3" transferrable licenses bit above, but then I remembered that Office Home and Student 2010 is licensed for three PCs. All other retail versions are licensed for one (electronic purchase) or two (retail purchase with physical media).

So there you go.

Choosing between a Samsung Focus S and HTC Titan

It's pretty clear that the Samsung Focus S and HTC Titan have emerged as the two near-perfect second generation Windows Phone handsets so far. But Mohammed O. is wondering how to choose between the two:

I cannot seem to decide between the Focus S and the Titan, since the Nokia phone is not coming this year. I love my [first generation] Focus, but I really like the solid build of the Titan, they seem to be almost identical in specs, anything in particular that would cause you to lean towards one over the other.

The Titan is bigger. That's about it. If you prefer a humongous phone, the Titan is bigger. This may please some people, and may turn some people off. Oddly enough, once you see the Titan screen, the fonts on other Windows Phones almost seem too small. But many people simply won't want a phone this big.

That said, the Focus S is pretty big as well. Both have comparable cameras, I guess I'd give the nod to the Titan, but its close. I've been using the Focus S regularly since the day of the launch and really like it quite a bit.

Right now, the Focus S is my choice. But it's a very close race.

Best anti-virus on the Mac

Not my usual area, but Dave S. asks:

I'm buying a MacBook for my wife for Christmas. Is there a good free antivirus tool like Microsoft Security Essentials for OSX Lion?

I've never used AV on the Mac. I'm pretty sure it's not necessary.

A few parting notes about the Kindle Touch

In the wake of my very negative review of the Amazon Kindle Touch, I've received a few emails from people who own the device and like it quite a bit or are at least OK with its idiosyncrasies. A couple of points here:

-          A review is, by definition, an opinion. And we don't all like the same things. I am honestly confused by how anyone could be OK with the strange compromises of the Kindle Touch, but whatever.

-          Someone asked why the bottom-mounted power button was such a big issue on the Touch whereas the same button and button placement on the base-model Kindle wasn't a problem for me at all. As I noted in my review of the base Kindle, the two devices are different weights but are also "weighted" differently, if that makes sense. And this not-so-subtle difference means that I hold each slightly different in my hand. So for whatever reason, the power button on the Touch was always pressing against my hand. But that doesn't happen with the base Kindle. So problem solved.

-          You could probably "solve" the power button issue by purchasing a case. Amazon makes excellent Kindle cases. In fact, I'm using one on the base Kindle now. Very nice.

-          Given my lengthy experience with these devices, I have little doubt that Amazon will improve the Touch user experience over time. But for me, personally, I see no benefit at all to a touch-based e-ink-based Kindle and very much prefer the mechanical buttons of the base Kindle and the Kindle Keyboard. But again, we're all different.

And yes, I did return the Kindle Touch. I'm happier without it.

Kindle Keyboard vs. base Kindle

And speaking of the Kindle, J. Stephen R. asks:

I'm thinking about getting my first Kindle but am having trouble deciding between the keyboard and keyboard-less models. Do you find the hardware keyboard to be terribly useful?

No, you don't use it that much. Some people find it gets in the way, but I never thought so. If you live near a store that sells these devices (like Best Buy), it's probably worth it just comparing how you hold each to decide. But basically, I'd go with the base model right now unless the free 3G content delivery stuff is more valuable to you.

Have you purchased any of the Kindle "w/ Special Offers" versions? Are the ads intrusive?

I actually prefer them. Most of the ads are for Amazon services and products, and I've gotten such things as a half-priced Kindle cover through Special Offers.

Also, if you end up not liking the Special Offers, you can later "upgrade" ($30 or $40 depending on the model) to remove the ads. I just noticed this feature recently when I was moving subscribed content between devices via the Amazon web site. There's a subscribed/unsubscribed option under the "Special Offers" column for each device. For the base Kindle I just got, it reads:

"This Kindle is currently subscribed to Special Offers and was purchased at a subsidized price ($30 discount). Amazon is able to offer the Kindle at a subsidized price by delivering Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers. By unsubscribing you will be charged $30 (plus applicable tax)."


Windows Phone "Zune" device, part 217

I continue to get regular emails that basically amount to:

Do you think that Microsoft will ever release a Zune media player based on Windows Phone? That is, a device that is basically Microsoft's version of the iPod touch, or a Windows Phone without the phone functionality?

And while I've addressed this at least twice in the Mailbag before, the answer is still no, and I've heard nothing about such an effort. (Doesn't mean it's not happening. I just haven't heard a thing.)

That said, there's an interesting new possibility for Windows Phone fans now that hardware makers have moved on to generation 2 hardware devices. And as Matthew F. asks:

I’m going to buy a used Samsung Focus and use it as a Wi-F-only device. Anything you know about that would be a problem in doing so? Also, I'll want to expand the storage to be able to put my music on it and use it in place of my Zune HD. What card did you decide to use in doing that for your phone?

Wi-Fi only use will work fine. In fact, I use my first-generation Samsung Focus like this now as a media player as well.

The memory card question regards the fact that the Samsung Focus had a micro-SD slot and could be expanded to up to 40 GB of storage (8 GB internal plus a 32 GB card). Of course, since Microsoft never supported this configuration, it doesn't always work. I happened to buy a 16 GB micro-SD card from and it's always worked fine for me. But please understand that there are no guarantees here.

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