WinInfo Short Takes: June 15, 2012

An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including the first time Microsoft has generated any real excitement since 1995, some guesses about next week’s mystery event, Nokia is circling the drain and may require some divine (i.e. Microsoft-based) intervention, Microsoft is reportedly yammering to spend $1.2 billion, and a supposed $85 fee to OEMs for Windows RT.

Microsoft Finally Generates Some Excitement

Arriving home from TechEd on Thursday, I found a mysterious and urgent email waiting in my inbox: “You are invited to an exclusive Microsoft media event in Los Angeles, California on Monday, June 18th,” the note reads. “This is a … non-transferrable … invitation only event. Registration will be first come, first served.  This will be a major Microsoft announcement – you will not want to miss it.” According to the note, Microsoft won’t even tell attendees what the event is about, not even generally, until the day of the event. So on a Thursday I was expected to plan to fly across the country in three days for an event of indeterminable subject matter, an event that is occurring one day before my pre-scheduled flight to San Francisco for a Windows Phone summit. Odd, yes. But as the day progressed, two things became clear. First, this isn’t actually exclusive at all: Virtually anyone with a name on a web site anywhere had been invited, significantly dampening my expectations. And second, Microsoft had finally done something it hasn’t done in, oh, decades: It has engaged the entire tech world in an excited game of wondering what it’s all about. Everyone is writing about this, wondering about it, discussing it amongst themselves. Microsoft, finally, has figured out a way to get people excited about something their doing. Ironically, the way they did this was to not even explain what it is they’re doing. I’m not sure if that’s good news or bad.

So What’s It All About?

No one really knows what Microsoft is going to announce Monday, at least not yet. I can tell you that reports about this being a Windows RT event are wrong, based on multiple categorical denials I’ve seen. But there are some good theories. I like the idea of a Microsoft, Xbox-branded tablet. (Which, actually, would probably be Windows RT-based.) Or a Barnes & Noble eBook reader (which, yes, would also be Windows RT based). My own guess is that this is the Xbox Video announcement, and if you tie that into rumors that Microsoft is buying the TV and movie streaming service Hulu, you can see how the software giant might be creating an “Xbox Video Pass” service to go along with Xbox Video. But these are all, literally, just guesses. We’ll need to wait for Monday to find out more.

As Nokia Circles the Drain, Problems for Microsoft?

Nokia isn’t doing so well, and while its $5+ billion in cash reserves are likely enough to help it “weather the storm,” as CEO Stephen Elop put it this week, suffice to say that the company is on borrowed time and will need to turn things around in the next year or two. This week, Nokia announced that its Windows Phone-based turnaround is taking longer than expected, that it will post a bigger-than-expected loss this quarter, and that it will lay off 10,000 workers in 2012, in addition to 14,000 from last year. (Or as Nokia puts it, “Winning!”) This is problematic in a number of ways, but the thing I’m most concerned about is how this failure impacts Microsoft generally and Windows Phone specifically. With Nokia losing three quarters of its market value in just two years and its stock price hovering near the lowly $2 range, will Microsoft be forced to bail out its struggling partner and just buy the wretched company, pulling itself into a financial quagmire? And while Windows Phone hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, sales-wise, ongoing news about Nokia’s troubles are arguably the worst news the platform has ever had: After all, Nokia has bet the farm on Windows Phone. Interestingly, Microsoft has already dived into the deep end: Though neither company has provided any details yet, Elop admitted this week that part of its turnaround plan includes "specific support from Microsoft,” which I read as “they’re writing us checks to keep us afloat.” From what I can see, Nokia either emerges as a much smaller company or, worse still, the “smallest freaking province in the Microsoft empire,” to paraphrase “A Fish Called Wanda.”

Report: Microsoft to Buy Yammer for $1.2 Billion

(And yes, like you, I needed to look up what Yammer was to figure out what this even means.) According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft has agreed to purchase the Facebook-like, business-oriented social networking service Yammer for $1.2 billion, most likely to integrate its technology with SharePoint, Outlook, and other Office-based solutions. Neither Yammer nor Microsoft would comment on this rumor, so it must be real. (And if this is what Monday’s mystery event is about, I’m going to start blocking emails from Microsoft’s PR firms.) I just hope the software giant is able to integrate Yammer technology into its own products more quickly than it’s done with Skype. From what I can tell, they’ve done absolutely nothing there in the past year.

$85 Fee to Use Windows RT? Please, Just Shut Up

I love these kinds of reports, because they get quoted and requoted around the interwebs as if they’re facts even though when you actually do the legwork to find out where a specific report originated, you find out it was just made up. The latest such rumor: Microsoft is charging hardware makers $85 to use Windows RT (the ARM-based version of Windows 8) on tablets and other devices, a heady fee that may make such devices uncompetitive. Aside from the fact that this “report” ignores the fact that Apple charges a pretty penny for its far less capable iPad, which runs an astonishing $500 to $830, with an average selling price of $665, let’s just examine the facts. First, Microsoft doesn’t charge “a” fee for any version of Windows. It charges different fees based on volume and other considerations. So while “Bob’s PC Shop” may in fact pay $85 to use Windows RT on its device, HP or Dell may pay as little as $5. And second, this story was completely made up. Point being, don’t stress over what Microsoft may or may not be charging hardware makers. And just wait for the actual hardware to show up.

Listen to Paul. No, Really Listen. Or Watch. Or Both!

Leo Laporte, Mary Jo Foley, and I recorded the latest episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday, as usual, and then Andrew Zarian and I recorded the latest episode of the What The Tech podcast right after that; I had to delay the normal Tuesday start time because of this week’s TechEd-related travels. As always, these episodes should be available soon, generally in both audio in video formats, on the web, and via iTunes, the Zune Marketplace, and wherever else quality podcasts are found. You can also find all of my podcast activities on the SuperSite for Windows.

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