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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of February 7 - 11 Feb 2005

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

My Advice for HP: Drop the Overlapping Brands, Spin Off Printers, Demand iPod Compatibility
   HP finally dropped the bomb on Carly ("Worst. CEO. Ever.") Fiorina and is looking for a new leader. I have a few somewhat obvious pieces of advice for the suddenly struggling company. First, get rid of all the overlapping Compaq/HP product brands. An almost identical Compaq model seems to exist for every HP computing product, which confuses customers. Second, spin off the printer business or, better yet, spin off the rest of HP (maybe as Compaq), and make HP simply a printer and imaging business. Third, come through on last year's promise to make Apple Computer let you add Windows Media Audio (WMA) compatibility to the iPod for the sake of all your customers who use digital media receivers, HP Media Center PCs, PCs, Pocket PCs, and other devices that are completely incompatible with Apple's Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) format. If Apple continues to deny you that obvious need, bail from the iPod. You sold a piddling amount of the devices last year, anyway.

Intel Preps 64-Bit Pentium 4 Processor
   A year after promising to adopt the x64 platform across all its mainstream processors, Intel is finally getting ready to release x64-compatible Pentium 4 chips. The Pentium 4 6XX family, as the chips are cryptically known, will feature an 800MHz front-side bus, 2MB of L2 cache, and Intel's x64-compatible EM64T technology, according to the company. It will also feature advanced power-management features not found on other Pentium 4 chips. Due as early as this month, the Pentium 4 6XX won't offer many advantages over 32-bit systems for the short term. But Windows XP Professional x64 Edition's release to manufacturing (RTM) is due in late March, and the product will be widely available in April; then Intel's offering--like competing AMD Athlon 64-based systems--should suddenly become quite interesting.

Microsoft Erects New Defense Against Spammers
   Microsoft and the Pfizer pharmaceutical company have launched parallel lawsuits against Web site operators and spammers who advertise cheap and illegal Viagra rip-offs to Internet users. The companies say they spent more than 7 months investigating the advertising to discover who was behind it. Pfizer is suing two companies, CanadianPharmacy and E-Pharmacy Direct, and Microsoft is targeting three unnamed spam advertisers. Although this news is heartening, I'd still like to know why my spam filter is fooled by such obvious misspellings as V1agra.

CNET Touts Longhorn Beta 1 Schedule I Published in January
   A Microsoft executive told CNET this week that Longhorn Beta 1 will ship by the end of second quarter 2005 (i.e., June), publicly corroborating the schedule I published on the SuperSite for Windows in January. According to Microsoft, beta 1 will target developers, as previous alpha builds did. And unless something dramatic changes during the next few months--and it could--don't expect anything too dramatic from the beta. According to my sources at the company, current build 5xxx versions of Longhorn look almost exactly like XP and don't have many interesting new features. If Microsoft doesn't pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat soon, Longhorn is going to edge so far into joke territory that no one will be interested. 

Microsoft Considers Being More Transparent to Developers
   Microsoft is thinking about releasing the source code for its Windows Forms UI technology and other projects, although problems remain (key among them that Avalon will soon replace Windows Forms, I presume). Microsoft executives call this strategy being more "transparent" to developers by giving them a deeper understanding of how things work. However, given Microsoft's mixed success with pseudo open-source releases, I suspect that people in the open-source movement will see transparency in Microsoft's motives, not in its actions. Maybe I'm just cynical.

IBM Announces Cell Processor
   IBM revealed details this week about its upcoming Cell Processor, which the commpany codeveloped with Sony and Toshiba. Described by eager fans as the answer to every problem ever posed, the Cell Processor is, in reality, just an evolution of the PowerPC processor that offers some interesting advantages over other chips. The Cell Processor can simultaneously execute 10 processor instructions, compared with just two for most Intel chips. It should also scale up to enormous clock speeds, starting at 4GHz--faster than any Intel chip. The problem, I think, is the way IBM is marketing the chip. As it did with the original PowerPC, IBM is touting the Cell Processor as a hugely versatile chip that will run every OS known to man and will power (ahem) devices as unrelated as cell phones, game machines, and PCs. Will it fly? Sony is going to use the processor in the PlayStation 3, so maybe it has a future. But I doubt that we'll see any mainstream computing platform adopt the Cell Processor any time soon.

New Spyware Targets Mozilla Browsers
   Mozilla users who assumed they were safe from the spyware ills that bedevil Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) users got a rude shock this week when the dark side of their browser's success became clear. Security experts are now warning users of Mozilla and Mozilla Firefox about spyware that's specifically written to attack those products. This event confirms what I've always thought about security: Hackers go where the victims are. That's why IE is so unsafe (well, that and bad technology such as ActiveX) and why Mac OS X, with its tiny user base, is so infrequently attacked. But Mozilla is still a lot safer than IE. Thanks to the way the product works, to be compromised by the new spyware a user would have to agree to download and install the offending code. But hackers are industrious, and they'll fool many users by hiding nasty code inside something that doesn't look dangerous. I'll be interested to see how The Mozilla Foundation responds to what I feel is the first serious security attack on its products.

Microsoft Preps Fix for Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005
   XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 is a gotta-have upgrade for any Tablet PC user; it's full of useful new functionality and features. There's just one problem: One of the release's biggest improvements, the Tablet Input Panel (TIP), apparently has a glaring memory leak that eats up the system's resources over time, killing performance. The only solution now is for Tablet PC users to routinely reboot their machines. Microsoft is working on a fix, which the company hopes to release soon. In this meantime, Microsoft's advice is simple (if inelegant): Reboot that Tablet PC once a day.

Longhorn Laptop Secondary Displays at VSLive! Show
   I've seen a few reports this week touting a VSLive! presentation during which a Microsoft executive showed off secondary displays for upcoming Longhorn-based laptops that are based on the company's Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT). I don't understand why the reports I've seen present this information as if were new. Although these displays, which sit on the outside of a laptop shell, are a cool idea, they're not new. In fact, Microsoft first showed them publicly almost a year ago at Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2004. And as you might expect, I posted pictures on the SuperSite for Windows at that time.

Record Earnings for Dell--Again
   Dell roared to record revenues of $13.5 billion in the most recent quarter, up from $11.5 billion in the same quarter a year ago. Income, however, was lower than expected, thanks to a one-time tax charge. The company posted income of $667 million; before the charge, its income was $947 million--higher than analysts had expected (the income, not the charge). Flush with its most recent success--this was the 16th quarter in a row that the company met or exceeded expectations--Dell now says that it expects to post its first $80 billion year in fiscal 2005. For the quarter ending December 31, overall shipments grew 19 percent, with Dell's printer business growing 111 percent and its desktop PC sales jumping 16 percent. With 17 percent of the market (compared with HP's 16 percent), Dell is again the largest PC maker in the world.

Rank of Top PC Makers Changes a Bit
   And speaking of market share, while juggernauts Dell and HP continue their one-two lockstep atop the list of best-selling PC makers worldwide, the rest of the top five has changed quite a bit as companies such as Acer and Gateway made huge gains in the most recent quarter. Acer sales jumped 44 percent in the quarter, launching the company back into the top five and displacing Toshiba. And Gateway's acquisition of eMachines appears to have paid off. Strong sales of Gateway and eMachines PCs propelled Gateway into the number four spot. IBM, incidentally, was number three.

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