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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of August 5

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

Sideshow is Not Longhorn
When your only source of information is user feedback on a rumors site, you know you're in trouble, but that didn't stop an otherwise respectable tech publication (which shall remain nameless) from publishing a story this week erroneously tying some current Microsoft beta products to Longhorn, the next Windows version. These products include "Sideshow," a Microsoft internal test product that places Internet links in a locked toolbar on the side of your screen; and MSN 8, which uses a new Dashboard component (incorrectly called a "task shelf" for some reason in the report) to provide MSN services-based links either in the MSN browser, or directly on the desktop. So what's the connection to Longhorn, you ask? Well, Longhorn will reportedly include a Start Menu replacement that will, yes, change the menu into more of a shelf or docked toolbar that's always on-screen, providing links to local services and .NET-based Web services. The report cites "tester sources"--who are apparently people that downloaded these leaked products--who say that these products are all "based on the same technology." Well, that's quite a leap of faith, isn't it? Sure, they all basically perform the same function, but then that function is a solution to the fairly obvious problem of Active Desktop: Back in 1997, when IE 4.0 shipped, Active Desktop was supposed to be the product's big new feature, but all of the live Internet content it exposes is hidden by on-screen windows. So moving this content to a pane, shelf, dock, or whatever you want to call it--some interface element that's always on-screen--solves that problem nicely, in a very obvious way. This is the same reason Web services are exposed through Windows Messenger today in XP, and not via Active Desktop, incidentally. And it's the reason all these disparate solutions are in the works now. But they're not related in any concrete way or based on the same underlying code at all. You know, "tester sources" notwithstanding. Oh the shame.

Want an Early Peek at the Longhorn 3D Display? Check out Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar"
Speaking of similar but not the same, one of the more confusing features of the next Windows version is its 3D-based user interface, which some people have taken to mean that Longhorn will somehow incorporate a bizarre spatial UI, similar to that depicted in the Michael Crichton's novel Disclosure. That'd be nice, but it's not true. Instead, Longhorn will feature a desktop-based, task-driven UI based on that in XP, but substantially updated. Where the 3D comes into play is through Longhorn's incorporation of Direct3D, Microsoft's 3D display technology (used today primarily in games), which will be used to render desktop objects. Interestingly, this display approach is also being incorporated into the next Mac OS X version, code-named Jaguar, which will ship later this month. Of course, Jaguar uses Open GL instead of Direct3D for what Apple calls its Quartz Extreme display, but the net effect is the same: Under each OS, the desktop is essentially a 3D scene with objects rendered as textured polygons. And while users with low-end hardware will see desktop effects similar to today's OSes, Longhorn and Jaguar users with decent 3D video cards will see dramatic performance and display appearance improvements, similar to the effect such users would expect when playing 3D games. Good stuff, and yeah, Apple's delivering it first.

Ahem, Windows 2000 SP3 Was Delayed
Early in July, I wrote a story about Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3) being delayed because of an internal debate over whether to include Microsoft Installer (MSI) 2.0, a component that the company had been shipping separately for Windows users since last year. Several people questioned the validity of this story for some reason, but I've still got the internal Microsoft email thread about the problem, which spells out the problem pretty succinctly. "In the past week, we have experienced bugs caused by MSI 2.0 in some way or form," the internal email, dated July 5, reads. "Some of our bigger customers, like Gateway, and widely used applications, like Corel Draw, Corel WordPerfect, OmniPage and PC-Cillin etc. are affected. Even though MSI 2.0 has crossed the one million plus download mark, we are still facing MSI 2.0 related issues. As we speak, our devs and test are triaging bugs that might be affected by MSI 2.0 ... Before we move ahead with a \[MSI 2.0\] retraction plan, we want to make sure that we are doing the right thing for our customers ... This will have a bad hit to Windows 2000 SP3 schedule ... Either direction we take, we will miss our deadlines." From a timeline perspective, SP3 was supposed to ship in mid-July, but was just released this week, about two weeks later. And to answer the final obvious question about SP3, yes, MSI 2.0 was eventually included in the release.

Windows 2000 SP3 Downloads and Other Information
Speaking of Windows 2000 SP3, you can now download the massive bug-fix update from Microsoft, and here are a few other related links:
  - Windows 2000 SP3
  - Windows 2000 SP3 Bug list
  - Windows 2000 SP3 Deployment Tools
  - Windows 2000 SP3 Support Tools

Windows .NET Server RC1 CPP Available
Microsoft's freely downloadable version of Windows .NET Server Release Candidate 1 (RC1)--the Customer Preview Program (CPP)--is now available, the company says. Users who sign up for the CPP can download Win.NET Standard Server RC1 and Win.NET Enterprise Server RC1, as well as other support tools and documents. CPP members should have received an email by now describing the download instructions.

OS X Gets X But Not StarOffice
That's what I get for trusting C\NET. This week, Sun officials decried a report in C\NET, stating that the company has no plans to release a version of its StarOffice suite for Mac OS X. However, Sun is planning an official OS X port of its open source office suite, which forms the basis of the commercial StarOffice product. Sun says that even people inside the company are confused about the differences between and StarOffice, and that the executive quoted in the C\NET report was misinformed (and, presumably, summarily executed). The poor guy apparently was forced to clarify his remarks in a way that resembles the Air Force's explanation of the weather balloon found in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. "\[My comments were\] some wishful thinking, and these were misinterpreted and, taken out of context, and gave altogether the wrong impression of my offline discussion," Tony Siress, Sun's senior director of desktop marketing solutions, wrote. We do not have a version of StarOffice for Mac OS X." Maybe the port for OS X could be code-named Project Blue Book.

Joel Klein Gets New York Schools Job
After taking Microsoft to school in the original Microsoft antitrust trial, former DOJ trustbuster Joel Klein has accepted a job running New York's public school system. No word on what qualifications Klein has for this job, beyond of course his experience slapping down the school boy-like antics of America's favorite tech monopoly. But seriously, folks, I'm sure the New York public school system is in good hands. Good luck to Mr. Klein.

SP3 Licensing Controversy is No Controversy
An uninformed complaint about the End User License Agreement (EULA) for Windows 2000 SP3 is making the rounds this week, spreading some mistruths about information Microsoft is allegedly collecting after you install the patch. According to the complaint, the SP3 EULA gives Microsoft the right to collect your OS version number and Product Identification number, Internet Explorer version number, version numbers of other software, and the Plug and Play ID numbers of hardware devices. This, the complaint says, is sneaky, underhanded, and any number of other adjectives you'd care to add to the list. The truth, as ever, is far less fascinating. First, this information is passed to Windows Update so that the service can provide the correct product updates for your individual system. But the EULA clearly states that this information is not saved, or passed along to Microsoft. It's just collected for an obvious (and desirable) reason. "Windows Update does not collect your name, address, e-mail address, or any other form of personally identifiable information," the EULA reads. "The configuration information collected is used only for the period of time that you are visiting the site, and is not saved."

Does SP3 Have Problems?
What's not so easily explained is a small rash of blue screens experienced by some users updating to SP3. I've had a few complaints from people stating that specific Windows 2000 systems are having problems with SP3, but nothing concrete yet, and I've not had the problem here. I'll let you know when or if I find out more about this potential problem.

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