An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news, including Microsoft's renewed commitment to Silverlight, Windows Phone sales, Microsoft's not-so-secret plan to capitalize on smartphone patents, Xbox LIVE Rewards, Kinect sales, Mozilla whining, Microsoft's belated cloud certification, a possible Halo remake, and a Blackberry UI makeover.
Microsoft Reconfirms Support for Silverlight, Provides Roadmap
Remember when Microsoft committed to HTML 5 a little over a month ago, and said that Silverlight would be used primarily as the development platform for Windows Phone? Well, that never happened. This week, Microsoft took its latest step in backtracking from that assertion, stating once again that it was committed to Silverlight on the web and PC, and providing a roadmap for the next version, called Silverlight 5. (How do they come up with these names?) Silverlight 5 will include over 40 new features, many aimed at media support and applications. This will please the millions of dedicated Silverlight developers out there, I guess. But it leaves many questions about how dedicated Microsoft is toward HTML 5, and there weren't any mentions of future Windows Phone developments, which is interesting given that the current Windows Phone version still uses Silverlight 3. So from where I'm sitting, this announcement comes with more questions than answers, whereas in October I felt like I understood what Microsoft was doing. But I enjoy the lack of clarity in a way. Otherwise, what the heck would I write about?
Microsoft Was Never Going to Release Windows Phone Sales Numbers
One of the things I asked Microsoft a few months back was when we could expect any Windows Phone 7 sales numbers. I was told that January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the earliest possible time, since it falls right after the holidays, but that the company was in for the long haul regardless of sales. So I've watched with some amusement—and some frustration—as the number of stories out there about the supposed disaster that is Windows Phone sales grows. "Microsoft Remains Silent on Windows Phone 7 Sales," one hit-bait headline blares, as if the company had promised figures but reneged. Let's not get silly, folks. Windows Phone is entering a crowded market with popular and high quality competitors, so let's not pretend there was some chance it was going to instantly turn the industry in a new direction. This is a long war, not a battle, but then that's always been the case.
Making Lemonade: If Windows Phone Tanks, We'll Always Have the Patents
In the same vein, the increasingly partisan "All Things D" reported this week that Microsoft has a secret plan to make money off of Windows Phone even if the platform tanks in the market. It will simply monetize its many smartphone-related patents licensing the technology or, worst case, by going after those companies that are infringing on said patents and forcing them to settle or lose in court. "We would be hard-pressed to get more for patents than we get for \\[actually selling the\\] software," Microsoft Attorney Brad Smith said this week. "\\[But\\] either way, it gives us an opportunity to recoup \\[our\\] costs." Sounds fair. But there's one thing All Things D conveniently left out: This is exactly what Apple, Google, HTC, and every other smartphone company is doing right now as well. That is, there is literally nothing unique about Microsoft's approach to its patents, nothing at all.
Microsoft Rewards Xbox LIVE Subscribers
And this time, it really is a decent reward. Microsoft this week launched a new program called Xbox LIVE Rewards in which Xbox LIVE subscribers can sign up and then win Microsoft Points—which can be spent online like cash—for performing certain actions. So it's like getting cash back, though the cash can only be used on Xbox LIVE. Which, if you're an Xbox LIVE subscriber, is just fine. Here's how it works. Renew your Xbox LIVE Gold membership, get 200 Microsoft Points (a credit worth about $2.50). Activate and use your Netflix on-demand account and get 100 Microsoft Points. And so on. Basically, they're rewarding you for stuff you're going to do anyway. To find out more, head on over to the Xbox LIVE Rewards site and sign up.
Kinect Racks Up 2.5 Million in Sales
Microsoft this week said that its Kinect motion sensor add-on for the Xbox 360 has sold over 2.5 million units in its first month on the market. And the software giant reiterated its belief that it can sell 5 million units by the end of the year. The interesting part of this story, sort of, is that this sales pace is over two and a half times as fast as Apple's hypertastic iPad during its first month in the market, and market watchers at the time called that "the fastest selling electronics device in history" for some reason. Of course, the iPad is significantly more expensive—with an average price of about $650—and doesn't compete directly with Kinect. In fact, I'm pretty sure the iPad doesn't actually compete with anything, though the world seems very interested in lining it up against something.
Plunging Into the Abyss, Mozilla Decries "Evil" Apple, Google, and Microsoft
Mozilla is the Windows Mobile of the browser world. That is, it did fine against its original competition (IE for Mozilla Firefox, Palm for Windows Mobile) but then stumbled badly in the face of new, more impressive competition (Chrome for Firefox, iPhone for Windows Mobile). So while its Firefox usage share is leveling off nicely and going nowhere fast, all Mozilla can do is sit by, update its browser so slowly you'd think they're in molasses, and watch as more nimble competitors update their own products again and again. Oh, and they can whine too. Mozilla's Asa Dotzler is accusing Apple, Google, Microsoft and other browser makers of being "evil" because they "sneak software onto" Mozilla's Firefox browser in the form of add-ons. OK, I'll bite. Why is Firefox so insecure that anyone can "sneak" add-ons into it? Here's a thought: Stop whining and fix your own product. Sadly, based on your past history, you'll fix this issue in Firefox 5, which you'll promise by the end of 2011 but ship sometime in mid-2012 after 13 betas. By which point, of course, you'll have less than 10 percent usage share anyway. Come on, Mozilla. You used to be cool.
Microsoft Gets Cloud Security Certification
But since it came 6 months after Google got it, it's like Microsoft went back and got its GED. Microsoft this week received Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification for its cloud infrastructure data centers, a key step in gaining acceptance in corporate rollouts. But that certification doesn't apply to hosted versions of Exchange or SharePoint, and it came in a week in which Google won a key government deployment: The US General Services Administration announced this week it was moving to Google Apps. Doy! Microsoft says that hosted Exchange and SharePoint are on the way to FISMA certification, but hopefully that will come before the rest of the government makes the switch.
Microsoft Rumored to be Looking at a Halo Remake
While Microsoft says it has nothing to announce right now because it's busy promoting "Halo: Reach," the software giant is allegedly examining a remake of the original "Halo" franchise that would include vastly improved graphics and sound—the first Halo, "Halo: Combat Evolved," was a pre-HD, first-gen Xbox title—and, of course, pre-Xbox LIVE achievements. According to the rumors, the new Halo CD (which I'd call "Halo HD," by the way) would ship in late 2011, and ahead of the next full-blown Halo sequel, which many are calling "Halo 4." (Halo: Reach is a prequel.) This sounds like a terrific plan to me, and a great way to keep the franchise in people's minds while a true sequel is prepped. Make it so, number one.
Blackberry Tackles Its Biggest Problem
Smartphone maker RIM has acquired a highly respected interface and design company called The Astonishing Tribe (TAT) and will utilize it to create next generation Blackberry user interfaces. TAT is well-known in the industry for its work with Google, Motorola, Samsung, and other smartphone giants, and seems to have a nice design aesthetic. Which, when you think about it, is the one big thing Blackberry lacks these days. Well, that and apps. But we do live in a world that values form over function—I'm looking at you, Apple—and this is probably a smart buy. Whether it will make a difference, of course, remains to be seen. Google's similarly high profile UI acquisitions haven't exactly impacted Android yet, though that, too, could still happen down the road.
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on schedule this week. The new episode should become available by the weekend on the Zune Marketplace, in iTunes, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.
But Wait, There's More
My next book, Windows Phone Secrets is now available in bookstores everywhere.