Short Takes: June 27, 2014

Short Takes: June 27, 2014

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including a 15-year old Microsoft IP theft, Windows 8.1 Update 2 and 3, Microsoft's offer for MacBook Air users, Larry Page is a robot and can't see that Google is creepy, protesters accuse Google of Skynet-like killing spree, a reviewer spends 30 days with Windows Phone and lives to tell the tale, and Xbox One family sharing could be making a comeback.

Amazing new accusation of Microsoft intellectual property theft

Here's an interesting story: A Venturebeat report says that two men approached Microsoft in 1996 with an idea for "web widgets," a way to componentize a web browser and use that functionality in other applications. Microsoft said the idea was of no interest, so the two men, doing business as V_Graph, proceeded to sell their own web browser components. Then, the weirdness happened: Microsoft applied for, and later received, a patent for "incorporating web browser functionality into application programs" in January 1997, and this patent was used as a basis for its defense against IE bundling in Windows in its US antitrust case. More to the point, this patent has resulted in over $3 billion in licensing fees ... for Microsoft. The company that told V_Graph that the technology Microsoft is alleged to have stolen was not interesting. "I didn’t think [Microsoft would] actually get a patent on it, because for a patent you need something novel," V_Graph's Rob Morris told Venturebeat, "and we'd been selling it already for well over a year." So now V_Graph's two members have launched an IndieGoGo effort called Free the Browser that seeks to have the US Patent Office reexamine the patent and act accordingly.

So what's the deal with Windows 8.1 Update 2? And 3?

To say that Windows development is in flux is a major understatement and it seems like each week we have no information about how and when Microsoft will get from the current version—Windows 8.1 with Update 1—to Threshold, which will or will not be called Windows 9. At first, Microsoft was going to deliver a new Start menu and floating Modern app windows in Threshold (in April 2015). And then it was going to rush things and do so in Update 2, possibly by the end of the summer. Then we heard those features were back in Threshold. So now we're hearing that Update 2 could ship as soon as next month, sans the Start menu and floating windows, and it's unclear what the point of that release even is anymore. But now there's another rumor that a new Update 3 could hit before Threshold and bring at least one of those features into Windows. Confused yet? Don't worry, it will change again by next week.

Microsoft's MacBook Air offer: Genius or desperation?

In writing tech news for so many years, I've found that your attitude about certain headlines or stories can be drastically colored by your preferences for different technologies, companies, or products. And here's a great example: When you hear that Microsoft is offering (up to) $650 to Surface Pro 3 buyers who trade-in a MacBook Air, do you see this as an act of genius or a sad act of desperation? From what I can tell, there's no middle ground on this one, though I do sort of see both sides of the argument. Frankly, when you're coming from behind, it makes sense to offer this kind of deal, so I'm not sure what all the squeamishness is about. But what I'd really like to see Microsoft do is a Signature program for MacBook Air, where new Air buyers can bring their pretty bauble over to the nearest Microsoft Store and pay $200 (or whatever) for Microsoft to configure a perfectly-working and optimized version of Windows 8.1 on the device. Now that would rankle people, wouldn't it?

Larry Page: Google isn't creepy, it's here for the benefit of mankind

Or put another way, Larry Page doesn't care if you think Google is creepy. Speaking to The New York Times in the wake of this week's Google IO keynote, the search giant's enigmatic CEO said that opposition to the firm boiled down to one thing: Technology is moving so fast that people are distrustful. He used Street View as an example: At first, he said, there were lots of complaints, but now people see the benefit of the service. Right. Here's what's really happening: People are distrustful because you don't respect their privacy, and Street View, while absolutely useful, has also improved—thanks to complaints—to blur out people that were once clearly recognizable. "We [can] get so worried about these things that we don't get the benefits," he said. No, Larry. We just want you to bring those benefits after at least thinking for 10 seconds about absolutely valid privacy concerns first.

Oh, and one more thing about Google

During the Google IO keynote, a protester actually rushed the stage yelling, "You all work for a totalitarian company that builds robots that kill people!" Now I want you to close your minds and remember—just for a second—whether such a thing ever happened to Microsoft at the height of its power. No? It didn't? Right. It didn't.

"30 Days with Windows Phone 8.1"

Really impressive. By comparison, I've been using Windows Phone for four years this month—I got a prototype Windows Phone device in the summer of 2010 to write "Windows Phone 7 Secrets"—and have been using the same Windows Phone 8 handset, the amazing Lumia 1020, for a year now, despite ready access to any smart phone handset—Windows Phone or otherwise—I care to use. So call me back when you've actually given the platform a chance.

Family sharing could be coming back to Xbox One

In the wake of last year's E3 debacle, Microsoft did everything it could to answer all the complaints that people had about Xbox One, and they completely changed the product in the process. There were two problems with this action: One, the people complaining were never going to buy the console anyway, so Microsoft made changes for a customer base that didn't even exist. And two, it removed some of what would have been the Xbox One's best features. Case in point: Family sharing, which would have let families and close friends share a digital game library. But behind the scenes, Microsoft has been planning to bring back some of the features it killed, and apparently family sharing is among them. "We look at the digital features that we had talked about last year and as a gamer, there were a lot of those features that I think really resonated and were smart features for people who really have a lot of games and maybe play on a couple consoles or have bunch of people in the house or want to share with friends," Microsoft's Phil Spencer said on a recent episode of Gamertag radio. "As I look at our monthly update roadmap, those kind of features are in our roadmap." Make it so, Phil. Make it so.

But Wait, There's More

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and the Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows.

Buy the books!

I'm trying to change the book publishing model, and would appreciate your support: Windows 8.1 Field Guide is available directly from me for only $2 in PDF, MOBI and EPUB formats. And it is now available on Amazon Kindle for $4.99 too. I also have other free and inexpensive e-books available too, including Windows Phone 8 Field Guide (free from that site, or available from both Kindle and Nook too) and the in-progress Xbox Music Field Guide and Windows Phone 8.1 Field Guide. Coming soon: Surface Pro 3 Field Guide!

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