Short Takes: July 12, 2013

Short Takes: July 12, 2013

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

Microsoft Preps Surface RT Price Cut

In case all the crazy Surface sales at Microsoft events this summer—where, depending on the show, you could pick up a Surface RT for $99 and a Surface Pro for $399—weren’t obvious enough, Microsoft will apparently clear out remaining Surface RT inventory by dropping retail prices to $350-$500, depending on the model (down from a range of $500-$750) in order to clear out remaining inventory. Look, no one wants these things: They’re underpowered and completely incompatible with the Windows software that everyone actually uses. But once you get to the $350 price range, even Surface RT starts to make some sense, so I’m hoping that this change will open up Microsoft to a possibility for Surface RT 2 (which, yes, is coming later this year): Keep the prices at that low level. Surface RT simply isn’t worth $500 and up. But $350 and up? Hmmm. Maybe. Related: "Staples Dropping Surface RT 32GB by $150 on July 14"

To Apple-Centric Press, Even Microsoft’s Reorg Is a Copy of What Apple Did First

The mainstream press really blows me away sometimes, and not in a positive way. Take the headline “Microsoft Overhauls, the Apple Way,” the latest anti-Microsoft hit-job by the New York Times. The Apple-loving author argues that Microsoft’s reorganization, changing from a structure based on products to one based on function, is simply “yet another sign of how deeply Apple’s way of doing things has seeped into every pore of the technology industry.” Put another more accurate way, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and many other companies (including those not in the tech industry) are organizing themselves this way because it makes sense. But Microsoft is not “following” Apple down this road; it’s been plotting this move since last year. And Apple’s own apparent restructuring (I don’t recall anything all that sweeping in Cupertino, by the way, just one guy moving over into a new position) is most certainly not an example of a new corporate structure type “most famously used by Apple,” as the New York Times claims. Instead, Apple just fell into it, sort of, when recalcitrant Steve Jobs sycophant Scott Forestall refused to apologize for the horrible Apple Maps apps and was fired. Claiming that that was in any way the inspiration for Microsoft isn’t just clueless, it’s clinically stupid. Microsoft is a huge company with a far bigger and more diverse product lineup than Apple. Claiming that the new Microsoft corporate structure is based on that of Apple would be like trying to base the organizational structure of the US military on that of the Boy Scouts. Related: "Microsoft Announces Sweeping Reorg"

Microsoft Does Its Patriotic Duty, Works Side-by-Side with United States to Help Battle Terrorism

And yes, that was my attempt at a Fox News-style headline, in which what I’m really trying to communicate is that Microsoft allegedly provided the National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI with “encryption workarounds” so that they could spy on users using Skype,, and SkyDrive. According to The Guardian, Microsoft “collaborated closely” with these government agencies—the company was apparently very eager to please, according to the story—in what the NSA described as a “team sport.” Put another, less dramatic way, Microsoft simply complied with government requests as required by law. Moving on.

The Real Reason Windows Phone Development Has Slowed Down

It’s a paradox that in an era in which most of Microsoft’s major businesses are revving up to deliver continuous improvements via an online services-like schedule for product updates, the one business at Microsoft that pioneered this approach—Windows Phone—is actually slowing down. That is, while Office is moving to quarterly updates and Windows is moving to annual updates, the Windows Phone team—which had previously shipped a new product version once a year for three straight years—is now completely silent. Its next major release, Windows Phone 8.1, won’t ship until the first half of 2014, about 18-20 months after Windows Phone 8. And its interim “GDR” (general distribution release) updates have all been beset by delays too. Why is this? Many have speculated incorrectly about the cause of this curious change, but without embarrassing anyone, let’s just say they’re all wrong. Windows Phone, sadly, is on a slower schedule for one reason and one reason only, and you’re going to pinch yourself when you hear why: It’s the wireless carriers. They’re horrible about consistently delivering fixes and updates to customers, so it’s hard for Windows Phone to deliver updates that make sense since they can’t ever be sure that all customers will receive them. So what they have to do instead is focus on major updates—like the pending Windows Phone 8.1—and deliver the important stuff in a big monolithic way that will both arrive on new phones and eventually be rolled out to existing customers. The issue with the latter bit is that testing and delivering updates is super-expensive for wireless carriers, and they just don’t see a huge benefit in doing so; they want users to buy a new phone instead. And one thing the carriers will never, ever do is deliver a bunch of updates in a given year. Instead, they want to do it all at once. So here we are, years later, with the same damn problem: Microsoft has created updates for Windows Phone and it cannot get them out to users. And that, folks, is the real reason Windows Phone 8.1 isn’t shipping in 2013: Microsoft couldn’t even get three GDR releases out in a timely schedule this year, and those carrier-induced delays pushed the next release back to early 2014.

Irony Alert: Fans Petition to Make Microsoft Change Xbox One Back to Original Design

When Microsoft abruptly reversed course and changed several of the policies for the upcoming Xbox One that had angered some gamers, it was of course setting itself up for this little bit of stupidity: Now, other gamers are demanding that Microsoft reverse course yet again and release the Xbox One exactly as originally promised. “Microsoft, give us back the Xbox One we were promised at E3,” the online petition reads. “This was to be the future of entertainment. A new wave of gaming where you could buy games digitally, then trade, share, or sell those digital licenses … Consumers were uninformed, and railed against it, and it was taken away because Sony took advantage of consumers [sic] uncertainty.” About 17,500 people have signed the petition. And while I actually do prefer the Xbox One as originally announced, I just think it’s time to move on.

Microsoft: Xbox One Design Influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright

At its Worldwide Partner Conference this past week, Microsoft showed off hardware designs it considered for the Xbox One video game console and noted that the final design was inspired by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, where “form shouldn't follow function, they should be joined as one in spiritual union.” Odd, I could have sworn that the Xbox One was inspired by M.C. Escher. Or that monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Microsoft: Xbox One Is “An Entirely Justifiable” Business Expense for Small Companies

No, it is not.

But Wait, There's More

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and the Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows. And check out my free ebooks, Paul Thurrott’s Guide to Windows Phone 8 (currently in progress) and Paul Thurrott’s Guide to Xbox Music, which was recently updated with coverage of Xbox Music for Web!

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