Short Takes: April 5, 2013

Short Takes: April 5, 2013

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

Paul Allen and Bill Gates Recreate Classic Photo

This one is just fun: Microsoft cofounders Paul Allen and Bill Gates attended a private event at Allen’s Living Computer Museum in Seattle this week and posed for a recreation of a classic 1981 photo of the two surrounded by then-current personal computers. Here's the original photo.

Facebook Phone Is Just Software That Runs on Other Phones

Facebook was widely expected to announce a Facebook-branded smartphone on Thursday. That didn’t happen. Instead, the social networking giant announced new Facebook software for Android, called Home, that can run on any compatible smartphone and replace the stock Google experience with one that is decidedly more Facebook-rific. That said, HTC will preinstall Home on a new phone called HTC First. You know, because it’s … the first one. Or something. Anyway, Facebook Home looks like a good idea to me and it neatly lifts a number of integration features from Windows Phone, which might explain why I like it. But I do wonder whether constantly looking at Facebook “moments,” as the firm described it, won’t lead to Facebook “fatigue,” as I just described it. I guess we’re about to find out.

Windows RT Device Prices Plummet, Leading to Questions

On the good news front, I did claim that the prices of Windows 8/Windows RT multi-touch devices were too expensive. But this week, hardware makers suddenly dropped prices on Windows RT-based machines across the board—Microsoft’s Surface being the only exception—triggering yet another round of questions about the already-beleaguered new OS. It’s pretty clear that the price drops are the result of poorer-than-expected sales. So the questions are about the viability of Windows RT: Does something that looks and works exactly like Windows 8 without offering that crucial software compatibility make any sense at all? (Hint: Probably not.) Related: "Surface with Windows RT Is No PC Replacement"

Android Rising: Gartner Revises PC Sales Predictions in a Downward Direction

The ever-inaccurate market researchers at Gartner have issued a new report that claims that sales of traditional PCs (excluding Ultrabooks) will decline 7.6 percent annually between now and 2017, as sales of mobile devices—smartphones and tablets—explode. Ultrabooks (and related “ultramobile” PCs will help offset this decline, but not enough for positive growth: Including these PCs, overall PC sales will still decline 3.5 percent in 2013. Tablets, meanwhile, are going gangbusters, and will finally overtake PC sales by 2017, with an estimated 468 million units, compared with 368 million PCs. Smartphones are even bigger: 1.7 billion devices this year and 2.1 billion by 2017. For Microsoft, the numbers are mixed: The firm in 2013 will control about 15.6 percent of combined phone/tablet/PC market share, compared with 9.6 percent for Apple (iOS + Mac) and 22.5 for Android. But the numbers change by 2017, with Android rising to 49.6 percent of the market, Windows at 19.3 percent, and Apple at 17 percent. Message? Android, not Windows, is the general-purpose computing platform of the future.

Office on iPad? Oh Yeah. It’s On.

Sources told me this week that Office on iPad would ship as soon as Microsoft could figure out what’s wrong with Outlook for Windows RT—something about a firmware issue leading to the software crashing frequently—but I don’t think this development means more delays. So mid-year or the fall at the latest. But I did hear some really good news about Office for iPad. As expected, it will only be made available as part of Office 365 subscriptions (Home Premium, too). But it will not cut into the 5 licenses each user gets for PC/Mac installs of Office 2013. Instead, there will be five additional licenses for mobile devices, including Windows Phone, Android, and iOS. Nice! Related: "Office 2013 and Office 365"

Microsoft Updates Visual Studio 2012 … Again

As the unexpected poster child for Microsoft’s new frequent-update strategy, Visual Studio 2012 has really delivered. This week, the software received its second major update, called Visual Studio 2012 Update 2 (OK, Microsoft isn't so innovative in the naming department), and right on schedule: Visual Studio 2012 shipped two quarters ago and Update 1 shipped one quarter ago. To find out what’s new, check out Description of Visual Studio 2012 Update 2. And then download the free update from the Microsoft website.

Samsung to Open 1400 Mini-Stores in Best Buy Locations by Next Year

So start queuing up those “Samsung just can’t stop copying Apple” jokes while I explain that, truth be old, this is a really good idea. Best of all, it’s going to happen quickly: 500 mini-stores are opening on Monday, April 8, with another 900 by early May. The mini-stores, or ‘store within a store’ locations, will obviously sell Samsung’s smartphones, but also its tablets, laptops, connected cameras, and accessories. (What, no refrigerators?) And yes, they’ll duplicate the similar mini-store experience that Best Buy currently provides to Apple. And that, folks, is exactly why this is a good idea: With Samsung devices already outselling Apple’s, this is an ideal way to put the two firms in equal placing in US consumers’ eyes, and put the devices in front of more customers. Are standalone stores next?

Charlie Kindel Heads to the Land of Kindle

Former Microsoft executive Charlie Kindel—full disclosure, I consider him a friend and he’s the man—has joined Amazon to work on an undisclosed project he describes as “something wonderful … a totally new area for Amazon.” Mysterious! If you’re not familiar, Kindel goes way back at Microsoft, working on—among other things—Windows Media Center, Windows Home Server, and Windows Phone. So I’m naturally excited to find out what he’s working on. Possibly the long-rumored Amazon phone?

And You Thought Apple’s Devices Were Too Expensive

Apple’s ludicrous “spaceship” campus of the future—a gigantic, donut-shaped colossus in whose ruins future races will wander about wondering what all the fuss was about—is apparently going to cost a lot more than originally expected. The campus, which had an original price tag of about $3 billion, is now expected to exceed $5 billion, leading to frantic price-cutting talks. This campus reminds me of what happens with professional sports teams that see huge success, build a new stadium, and then watch it be inhabited by an entirely lesser future version of the team that can’t duplicate the earlier successes. On the good news front, I suspect Apple knows exactly how it can foot this bill: Just keep charging its gullible customers top dollar.

But Wait, There's More

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