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WinInfo Short Takes - 16 Jun 2006

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Bill Gates's excellent adventure, TechEd 2006, the impending end of XP SP1 support, Apple pulling a Kathy Lee, Vista torrents, DirectX 10, hackers and patches, WGA, and so much more...

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In the News

Bill Gates Announces Semi-Retirement from Microsoft

WinInfo Blog

Short Takes

- Microsoft Reminds of the End of XP SP1 Support
- Apple Investigates iPod Worker Conditions
- Microsoft Fights Slavery in Asia
- Microsoft Shuts Down Vista Torrent
- DirectX 10 Will Be Vista-Only
- Once Again, Hackers Target Microsoft Patches
- This Week in WGA: Yeah, It Still [email protected]#$%

In the News

by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

At a hastily scheduled news conference Thursday, Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, announced that in two years he will step down from his full-time jobs at the company to reorganize his personal priorities and focus more on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates will continue to work part-time at Microsoft after July 2008, however, as Chairman and Senior Technical Advisor.

"I want to spend more time on Foundation efforts in the future," Gates said. "I will shift my priorities and yet maintain strong ties with Microsoft. It's a two-year transition plan, during which I will shift my day-to-day responsibilities ... to a great team of people. We can make this transition without missing a beat."

Why announce this change more than two years before it happens? Gates said that announcing his departure now was the right thing to do so that Microsoft would have time to make the transition with full transparency to its customers and partners.

A few of Microsoft's senior executives are being repositioned in response to Gates's eventual departure. Ray Ozzie will immediately become Microsoft's chief software architect, and Craig Mundie will become the new chief research and strategy officer, also effective immediately.

WinInfo Blog

by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Many people have asked me about Bill Gates's semi-retirement, but this move doesn't address Microsoft's very real and long-standing problems. When I heard that Gates and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer were suddenly going to convene a press conference yesterday, I had high hopes that the company was realigning itself in meaningful ways. Tthis is just a shuffling of executives, which will have no real impact on how Microsoft does business. In other words, it's just business as usual. Shareholders, customers, and employees should be outraged Microsoft isn't doing more to fix the problems at the top.

But what I really want to discuss is TechEd 2006. I've gone to several TechEds, but somehow I missed last year's show and through sheer lack of mental acuity had forgotten how big it is. Twelve thousand people crammed into Boston's new convention center from Sunday night through the end of the day on Friday, which is a massive undertaking that you have to see to understand. Just the process of feeding all of these people is incredible.

I spent most of the week sequestered in the media lounge, but I did go to several sessions and had numerous meetings. It's always interesting to meet with people I haven't seen in a while, although the media audience at TechEd is decidedly different than other shows, such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), and Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference (PDC). I also got to see a bunch of readers, which is always neat. I'll be heading back today for the last day of the show and will be there until they kick us out around 4:00 p.m.

Speaking of which, the schedule this week was just brutal. I missed the Sunday night keynotes because of a weekly dinner commitment with friends, but for the most part I was up at 6:00a.m. and home after midnight for the rest of the week. However, I did get to sleep a bit later on Thursday night so I won't be going in until around noon today. I figured it was going to be easy having TechEd in my hometown, but the truth is, it was a bit hard. I think you get into a "trade show zone" when you're on the road, and being home made that difficult.

Happily for Boston, TechEd worked out pretty well. The bus trips from downtown hotels were long--and hampered by a weird and somewhat humorous bus driver strike--but the weather was wonderful, and it was nice to see that so many people were happy about the location, its attractions, and restaurants.

Short Takes

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

by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Microsoft Reminds of the End of XP SP1 Support

This week, Microsoft reminded its solution providers that it will be ending support for Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) on October 10, 2006, and that they should start migrating their customers to XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) as quickly as possible. After October 10, customers still running on SP1 will find themselves stranded without any further security updates. I guess I'm hip to the notion that some companies might be overworked enough to not have already installed XP SP2 ... actually, scratch that. There is no excuse: Windows is buggy enough as it is. Make sure you have the latest service pack. Which, incidentally, shipped almost two years ago.

Apple Investigates iPod Worker Conditions

This week, Apple Computer--or the new Kathy Lee as I like to call it--said that it would investigate reports that the workers who make its iPods in China are effectively slave laborers who work in poor conditions. The British tabloid "The Mail" recently reported that the people who make iPods earn as little as $50 per month while working 15 hour shifts to meet the demand for Apple's stylish MP3 players, and they do so in squalid conditions. Apple says it will ensure that the workers "are treated with respect and dignity" but doesn't expect it will need employers to raise wages or decrease hours. (iPods are made by Apple's suppliers in China.)

Microsoft Fights Slavery in Asia

Maybe they can save all the slave laborers who are making iPods in China while they're at it. This week, Microsoft said it would donate $1 million to various Asian groups who are trying to halt the slave trade in that region. According to human rights groups, more than one million people are forced into various forms of slavery each year, and women, children, and the poor are the hardest hit. Microsoft says it will keep tabs on the groups to which it's donating to ensure that the funds are used to help those who need it most.

Microsoft Shuts Down Vista Torrent

When Microsoft revealed last week that it was limiting Windows Vista Beta 2 Customer Preview Program (CPP) downloads because of the massive bandwidth demands, tech enthusiast Chris Pirillo set up a BitTorrent version of the software so that eager users could download the software more quickly. There's just one problem: Microsoft, understandably, doesn't want people to use unauthorized distribution points for its software so it sent Pirillo a cease and desist order. "Microsoft cannot guarantee the authenticity or security of any code that is not supplied through an authorized Microsoft site," said a Microsoft representative. Obviously.

DirectX 10 Will Be Vista-Only

Microsoft confirmed this week that the upcoming version of Microsoft's gaming libraries--dubbed DirectX 10--will be made available only to Windows Vista users. DirectX 10 will eventually be supported by hardware--typically 3D video cards--that will work on Windows XP, although it won't have any DX10-specific features. All DirectX 10 games that are released in the future will be Vista-specific. My guess is that we won't be seeing very many of them for quite a while. And here's a fun fact: Although the upcoming Windows version of Halo 2 will be created with DirectX 9.0, it will be artificially limited to running on Vista. You know, so you have at least one reason to upgrade.

Once Again, Hackers Target Microsoft Patches

Just one day after Microsoft shipped its monthly security patches this week, hackers had already released code to exploit some of the flaws. That's the world we live in now, and if you're not automatically downloading and installing these patches, you need to wake up. Yeah, I get it: Every once in a while, Microsoft screws up and something horrible happens. Heck, I was burned by flaws in the security patches back in April. But you know what? Most of those mistakes don't end up with your system being remotely controlled by a teenager in Romania. And let's be honest for a second here: Microsoft's track record with security patches is pretty darn good. Let's stop being silly and just protect our systems and our data. Turn on Automatic Updates. Or start running Linux or Mac OS X. Those are pretty much your choices at this point.

This Week in WGA: Yeah, It Still [email protected]#$%

I can't let a week go by without discussing Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) because, let's face it, it's such an easy target. A week after security experts labeled this malicious and unnecessary software spyware because it regularly phones home to Microsoft, the software giant said it would alter WGA's behavior to be less annoying. But then another detail emerged: WGA gets downloaded automatically to users' PCs even though it isn't even finished software--it's a beta version. So not only is Microsoft silently installing WGA on millions of PCs around the world and then using the software to keep track of piracy, it's doing so with an unfinished and potentially buggy version of the software. Security researchers are now investigating whether WGA poses a threat: Some believe hackers will exploit the software to install malware on users' PCs. I can't stress this enough: If Microsoft continues to treat its customers like thieves, many of them will simply become thieves and stop buying legitimate copies of Windows. Heck, some might leave the platform en masse. You never know.

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