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Short Takes: May 30, 2014

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including a Microsoft/ alliance, a possible new Microsoft smart watch, Steve Ballmer's $2 billion bid for the Clippers, a major tablet sales slowdown in 2014, Apple's latest legal setback, Twitter, Google implements "right to be forgotten," iPhone and iPad users get ransom requests, and Amazon's public battle with Hachette.

And in other news, Luke Skywalker announces an alliance with the Empire

Well, no one saw this one coming. Microsoft on Thursday announced a "global strategic partnership" with arch-enemy (I know, I know, you thought their arch-enemy was Nintendo or something), ensuring that mobile app versions of Salesforce's customer management solutions would appear on Windows 8.1-based PCs and tablets and Windows Phone 8.1 handsets. The firms will also build interoperability between Salesforce and Office 365, let Salesforce use OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online as integrated storage options, and create a new Salesforce app for Outlook, among other initiatives. What the what?! "Today is about putting the customer first," Salesforce CEO and outspoken Microsoft critic Marc Benioff said in a prepared statement. "Together with Microsoft, we are building bridges that allow customers to be more productive." Queue up those "hell froze over"-type comments, because it literally just happened.

SPOT 2.0 is on the way. . . and it will work with iPhones and Android phones?!

A report in Forbes claims that Microsoft will enter the emerging (and, I bet, temporary) market for wearable computing with a new fitness-oriented smartwatch that syncs with iPhones and Android phones. Oh, and Windows Phones too. Obviously. The device will be "sensor-rich," and will continuously measure heart rate through the day and night. "The watch will look similar to the Samsung Gear Fit and feature a full-color touch screen about the size of half a stick of gum, positioned on the inside of the wearer’s wrist," the report claims. And it should ship as soon as this summer. I'm not saying the Forbes author has absolutely no sense of history per se, but one line struck me as unintentionally ironic. "Microsoft’s hardware products have a spotty history," she notes. Microsoft's first smartwatch line was of course called SPOT, so maybe that should read as "Microsoft's hardware products have a SPOTty history." Just saying.

Steve Ballmer makes winning bid for Clippers, will pay $2 billion for team if approved

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has reached a tentative agreement to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion from Donald Sterling, who is currently embroiled in a racism-related legal dispute with the NBA that could see him forced to sell the professional basketball team. Indeed, there are a lot of "ifs" around this acquisition. But we know this much: Though Mr. Ballmer had previously tried to purchase the Sacramento Kings so he could move that club to his hometown of Seattle (the Sonics left for Oklahoma years ago, leaving Seattle without a basketball team), that won't happen with the Clippers. That's because the $2 billion price tag, which is one of the highest in sports history, and almost four times the highest price ever paid for an NBA team, would require the club to stick in a major market like Los Angeles. (No offense to Seattle, but as far as sports goes, it's a second-rate town at best. Yes, I know. Super Bowl. Doesn't change a thing: New Orleans has won one too, so don't get ahead of yourselves.) So we'll see what happens. But Ballmer is absolutely a huge basketball fan, and let's face it: He'd be a million times better for the NBA, and for the Clippers, than the current jerk that owns the team.

IDC confirms tablet drop-off, lowers sales estimates for 2014

Well, it looks like it isn't just PCs that are experiencing a slowdown: In the wake of a quarter in which iPad sales and tablet sales overall fell short of the figures from the same quarter a year ago, the market researchers at IDC have reworked their predictions for the full year. And it doesn't look good: Tablet sales are now expected to be almost 6 percent lower than previously forecast, with growth slowing to just 12 percent. Which sounds good until you realize that sales growth in 2013 was 52 percent. IDC explains the unexpected and sudden slowdown to two key of factors. Thanks to maturing products, consumers are holding on to their devices longer than before, a move that is perhaps overdue. And phablets are stealing tablet buyers away, with growth in that handset segment more than doubling year-over-year. What this means is that tablet sales are now moving away from mini-tablets and towards bigger-screen devices. This sort of puts Microsoft's decisions around Surface mini (no go) and Surface Pro 3 (go for it) in perspective, no?

Federal appeals court laughs off Apple's eBook damages trial delay bid

In what I expect to be one of two major legal disappointments for Apple this week—the second will be when its request for a retrial against Samsung is denied—the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York told Apple that its eBook damages trial will head to court in July as planned. You may recall that Apple was found guilty of leading a conspiracy to artificially raise the price of eBooks with five of the world's biggest publishers, and that the US Department of Justice, 24 state attorneys general, and a class action consumer group are seeking $840 million in damages. Apple is appealing the ruling, and had asked the appellate court to delay the trial at which the exact damages will be determined. No go: Apple is heading to court.

"Twitter's head of engineering steps down"

I know, right? I sort of assumed they threw the site up and stopped working on it too.

Google adheres to "right to be forgotten" ruling, but only in Europe

In the wake of an amusing legal defeat in Europe, Google has posted a rather innocuous and hard to find support page that will let users in that continent request that certain "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive" search results about them be removed from Google's search results. Google will apparently evaluate each request individually, determine if it meets the requirements, and then expunge the relevant search results (though only in the European Union) when it does. And boy does that sound efficient. "This form is an initial effort," Google notes. "We look forward to working closely with data protection authorities and others over the coming months as we refine our approach." Yeah, I'm sure you do. I bet this stupidity keeps a few hundred interns really busy this summer.

iPhone and iPad users are now receiving digital ransom notes

Worried you didn't pay enough for that sparkly Apple gadget at the Apple Store? Well, good news: You can keep paying. Users of iPhones and iPads from around the world are now reporting that hackers have logged into their iCloud accounts and used the "Find my iPhone" feature to lock the users out of their own iPhones (and iPads). And then they receive an electronic ransom note: Pay the hacker $50 or $100 or be locked out of your device for good. The hack only works when the user doesn't have a passcode set up on the device—which many people, stupidly, do not—so there's your obvious solution. Either that or use online services and devices from a company that actually understands security. Just a thought.

What if Amazon is right to fight with Hachette?

As the author of almost 30 books, you might think I'd care a bit more about Amazon's strange battle against the publisher Hachette. But I was pretty bored by this story—in which Amazon made it very difficult for its customers to buy Hachette books after recent pricing talks broke down—until I read Amazon's published explanation of its actions. "When we negotiate with suppliers, we are doing so on behalf of customers," the firm notes. "Negotiating for acceptable terms is an essential business practice that is critical to keeping service and value high for customers in the medium and long term."

Amazon goes on to explain that it deals with over 70,000 suppliers. And it's never had to do something like this until Hachette came along, making unreasonable demands. Could it be? Is ... Amazon actually right to do this? Probably not, as it turns out. Most obviously, Amazon has in fact done this before, holding books ransom in effect, until it gets the terms it wants, an act that does harm consumers. Some have argued that Amazon is a monopoly and should be put under more scrutiny. Certainly, Amazon specifically and the Internet in general have helped to kill off a lot of competition, most notably Borders, and of course Barnes & Noble is in many ways a walking corpse. But Amazon doesn't have a monopoly on anything, not even books. So as much as we may not like its hard-hitting competitive ways, its unclear how or what we can do other than take our business elsewhere. You know, if we could just find a damn book store.

But Wait, There's More

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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. Coming soon: Windows Phone 8.1 Field Guide and Surface Pro 3 Field Guide!

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