WinInfo Short Takes: Week of May 27

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

The Lowdown on Windows XP SP1
This week, I spoke with Greg Sullivan, the lead product manager for Windows XP, about the upcoming Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) release. This upgrade to Microsoft's best-selling OS will provide bug fixes, new capabilities (USB 2.0 support and enabling technologies for Freestyle, Mira, and the Tablet PC), and what Microsoft calls consent compliance, a set of changes the company's proposed antitrust settlement with the US government dictated. SP1's consent-compliance component consists of a new Add or Remove Programs add-in called Configure Program Defaults that lets you hide--but not remove--Microsoft middleware, including Internet Explorer (IE), Windows Media Player (WMP), Windows Messenger, Outlook Express, and Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine (VM), and add third-party applications. For more information, I have the full story about SP1, including some information that might surprise you, on the SuperSite for Windows

Microsoft: Tablet PCs to Ship in October
Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates presided over the company's annual CEO Summit this week and promised that the Tablet PC will ship in October and will rejuvenate PC sales. After a start as a slab-like tablet, the Tablet PC has morphed into a convertible laptop, a far more viable form factor. The 100 visiting CEOs were loaned prototype Tablet PCs to check out for a few months, an attempt at driving excitement for the new platform. But I'm not so sure it needs any more hype: The Tablet PC is cool, and people will want one.

Too Many PCs ... Too Few Dollars
Speaking of the Tablet PC, the beauty of Intel-compatible PCs is versatility, thanks to the range of hardware and software choices that customers automatically receive when they use the platform. But the Tablet PC--and, surprisingly, Microsoft's upcoming Freestyle technology--have a dark underside that has me a bit worried. Both of these technologies require a special kind of PC, and I'm not so sure that this requirement is such a great idea. Although I expect all laptops to become Tablet PCs in time, for the short term, potential customers will need to decide between a standard (boring, old-style) laptop and a (new and cool) Tablet PC-style convertible laptop. And if you want full Freestyle capabilities, you'll need a special Freestyle PC; your current box won't do because it doesn't have the necessary hardware (i.e., remote control, infrared--IR--hardware interface, and TV interface adapter). This stratification of the market is a mistake, one that usurps the PC's historic pricing and choice advantages. Recap: Fewer specialized PCs, more standardization.

Cracking Audio CD copy protection ... With a 99-Cent Magic Marker
Consumer advocacy groups recently went into Defcon 5 mode when major recording labels admitted that they're shipping select new audio CDs in a new copy-protected format that prevents PC and Macintosh owners from playing or ripping songs. But it turns out that you can sidestep the copy-protection scheme using nothing more than a 99-cent felt-tipped magic marker: Simply color in the outer edge of the disk and you're good to go; the disk will copy and play just fine. Heads up to Sony, Universal Music, and any other companies that are experimenting with this bogus technological attempt at bypassing our legal rights: We're on to you, and we're not amused.

Music Lovers: You Might Want to Skip Out on the Mac
And speaking of copy-protected audio CDs, it seems that inserting such a disk into a Mac is a little more damaging than it is on the PC. Not only will copy-protected disks not play on a Mac, they render the CD/DVD drive inoperable on certain systems, requiring the user to return the system to Apple for repair. \{Unfortunately, most Mac users aren't willing to try the above magic-marker trick and risk ruining their CD/DVD drives, so whether it works on the Mac is unknown.) No doubt this ploy is yet another Apple innovation, perhaps one that Microsoft can copy for Longhorn (the next Windows XP release). But Apple's response to the problem is somewhat disingenuous. On its Web site, the company says, "The audio discs are technically and legally not Compact Discs (CD format), and the CD logo has been removed from the disc. Audio discs that incorporate copyright protection technologies do not adhere to published Compact Disc standards. Apple designs its optical disc drives to support media that conform to such standards." In other words, it's not Apple's problem. It's your problem.

Taiwan Investigates Microsoft for Price Fixing
Taiwan's Fair Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating Microsoft for abusing its market dominance by fixing prices. A monopoly charge against Microsoft, you ask? Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but Taiwan apparently believes that this benevolent US corporation is raising prices in that country--artificially, mind you--because it has no competition. Taiwan FTC's Hsieh Chang-chieh complained that "Windows XP is priced at around NT$6965 in the US and around NT$5800 in Japan, but it costs NT$7790 in Taiwan."

Sun Feeling Magnanimous in China
In an attempt to fend off Microsoft's last great market opening, Sun Microsystems announced this week that it will provide China's Ministry of Education with an unlimited free license for StarOffice 6.0, which it sells as StarSuite 6.0 in Asia. This donation could see StarOffice's user base rise by as many as 300 million users, according to Sun Vice President Mike Rogers. And the agreement is a huge coup over Microsoft, whose expensive Office suite probably prices the company right out of the Asian market. Kudos to Sun for the maneuver.

Microsoft Tempts AOL Users
And speaking of attempting to steal someone else's market, Microsoft announced this week that it will soon launch a $10 million campaign to woo America Online (AOL) users to its MSN online service. As part of the strategy, Microsoft will offer AOL users $50 rebates and a month of free service when they sign a 12-month agreement. With 8 million users, MSN currently lags far behind market-leader AOL, which has 34 million users.

Microsoft Software Expelled from College
Newnham College, University of Cambridge, has banned Microsoft's email programs because of security concerns. Both Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express will be forbidden at the prestigious school, which the Klez virus outbreak recently overran. "We have banned all users connected to the college network from using Outlook or Outlook Express on their machines," says Paul McLaughlin, the college's computer officer. "I am tired of having to allocate time and resources to clean up virus infections."

Microsoft Makes Friends and Influences People in the School System
And speaking of Microsoft's trouble with educational institutions, the company found itself in the middle of another controversy earlier this month when an Oregon journalist revealed that Microsoft had planned to force schools in the Northwest to pony up millions of dollars in software licensing fees. The company infuriated educators across the country when it recently launched a surprise "random" audit to certify licensing compliance at 24 schools in Oregon and Washington. After much bad publicity, revelations that licensing compliance would have cost some schools millions of dollars, and reports that many institutions immediately began Linux migrations, Microsoft relented. But you know what? I think it might be too late: Unless Microsoft takes drastic steps now, the company will find more and more schools adopting Linux across the board and dropping Microsoft like a bad habit.

Microsoft Faces Resistance at Pentagon
But wait, there's more. Even the Pentagon is tired of Microsoft's high prices and security woes, according to a report in The Washington Post. The company began heavily lobbying the Pentagon to adopt several Microsoft products after it discovered that the Pentagon was switching to Linux and other open-source alternatives for some key systems. Despite Microsoft complaints that open-source software is insecure and threatens intellectual property, an early May Pentagon report says otherwise, describing these solutions as more secure and less expensive than anything Microsoft offers. The report recommends that the agency expand its use of open-source software. Ouch.

Mozilla 1.0 RC3 Released
The Mozilla Organization has released its final release candidate for Mozilla 1.0, dubbed Release Candidate 3 (RC3). RC3 fixes 139 bugs since the RC2 release but doesn't add any new features. I expect to see Mozilla 1.0, the first official release of the open-source Web browser, in a few weeks. Check out the free download on the Mozilla Web site; it's good stuff.

Toys "R" Us in Obvious Pact with Devil (TM)
Toys "R" Us CEO John Eyler, in Seattle this week for the Microsoft CEO Summit, said that sales of Microsoft's Xbox game console "quadrupled" last week after Microsoft cut the price of the console from $299 to $199. What's four times zero again? No news about how the GameCube or PlayStation 2 fared after similar price cuts, but I bet Eyler would happily provide a quote if Nintendo or Sony squirreled him away to a lakeside mansion and provided him with prototype hardware that people are just dying to get their hands on.

Three-Day Weekend
Because of the Memorial Day holiday in the United States, we won't publish any newsletters Monday; WinInfo Daily UPDATE will return Tuesday. Have a great weekend!

TAGS: Windows 8
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