An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...
A Week in Lisbon
My wife and I spent this week in Lisbon, Portugal, to celebrate our 20th anniversary. It's unclear where the time went. But it was a great time, complete with good food, good drink, plenty of walking, and even a night of fado music. So, excuse me if this Short Takes is a bit shorter than usual: I'll be catching up on work stuff over the long weekend and should be back on my normal schedule next week.
Ballmer: Market Cap? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Market Cap
With Apple surpassing Microsoft's market cap any time now, you have to think that there's been some serious soul searching in Redmond. (In fact, I'm guessing the recent "retirement" of both Robbie Bach and J Allard are actually tied to this issue.) But the company is putting up a brave public face. "I will make more profits \\[than Apple\\] and certainly there is no technology company on the planet which is as profitable as we are," Ballmer said during a talk in New Delhi, India. "Stock markets will take care of the rest." He has a point, I guess: Microsoft's profits last year were indeed about three times as high as Apple's. However, you have to wonder what happened. While Apple's market cap has grown from $15.6 billion a decade ago to about $220 billion, Microsoft's has shrunk even more dramatically, from $556 billion to $220 billion in the same time period. Not coincidentally, this was also the time period in which the company launched Xbox, Xbox 360, Zune, and various versions of Windows Mobile—all of which lost big money and, more important perhaps, embarrassed the company during a time when Apple was launching hit after hit. So it's no wonder Ballmer bounced the two guys most directly responsible for that mess. But is it enough?
Repeat After Me: The Courier Was Never a Product
I sort of harped on this when Microsoft supposedly cancelled the product that never was: the dual-screen tablet computer called Courier. This week, outgoing Microsoft president Robbie Bach expanded on this fact in an interview with Tech Flash's Todd Bishop. "Courier, first of all, wasn't a device," he said. "The 'device' people saw in the video isn't going to ship, but that doesn't mean we didn't learn a bunch and innovate a bunch in the process. And I'm sure a bunch of that innovation will show up in Microsoft products. But sometimes the power is in the ideas you learn and the things you carry forward, not necessarily just in shipping something." In related news, J Allard (also on the way out) claimed that his departure from Microsoft had nothing to do with the Courier, which was apparently his baby. Hey, so was the Xbox 360.
Microsoft Opens Up Outlook's PST Format
Microsoft this week released two open-source tools for examining the contents of Outlook's PST file, which houses all the email, contacts, calendar entries, and other data associated with the company's proprietary email and personal information management (PIM) application. This is a big deal, because it will allow any developer to write code that can parse PST files, even when Outlook isn't installed on the PC. Perhaps not coincidentally, Google also released its own tool this week, which allows Gmail users to port content from PST files to that service. And Mozilla is apparently looking at using Microsoft's code to help Thunderbird users move from Outlook to that client. Why would Microsoft make this type of thing available—and for free? After all, it's of use only to those who want to move away from Outlook. "The industry as a whole benefits from tools and information that enhance interoperability with our most popular products," a Microsoft statement reads. "Customers are telling us they need greater interoperability, and we believe that welcoming competition and choice will create more opportunities for customers, partners, and developers." Sure. It's also going to obviate the need for Outlook in many businesses, from what I can see.
Intel Working on Tablet-Specific Chipsets
Thanks to the success of Apple's iPad, Intel is now working on tablet-specific CPU and supporting chipset designs that could turn up in Windows 7-based Tablet PCs by the end of the year. "We'll have a dedicated silicon for the tablet space," Intel executive Mooley Eden said recently. "\\[Ultra-low-voltage chips are\\] great for 0.75" or 0.8" notebooks, but might be too hot for a tablet, and you need even a lower-power solution. We decided to come up with a dedicated architecture and dedicated solution to address the tablet segment." It's unclear whether this new design will be Atom-based or something a little beefier, but my understanding is that in-progress Intel-based tablets perform well; the issue is the battery life. (The iPad gets about 10 hours of battery life, and this should be considered the time to beat.) Expect an official Intel announcement at Computex, a trade show happening in Tapei next week.
Facebook, Finally, Is Going to Make Privacy Easier
Bowing to pressure from, well, just about everyone, social networking giant Facebook this week revealed that it will finally do the right thing and turn its labyrinthine privacy controls—which you practically need a GPS to navigate—much simpler. How simple? This simple: All your information can be visible to only friends, friends of friends, or everyone on the Internet. And when you make the change, it's retroactive, and will include whatever information you've already posted to the service. This is huge news because Facebook is used by an astonishing 500 million people, and its current privacy controls include more than150 options, which change pretty regularly and aren't applied forward as new services come online. The changes should appear in everyone's Facebook accounts over the next few weeks, the company says. It can't happen quickly enough.
Listen To, or Watch, the Windows Weekly Podcast
I was away this week, but Leo recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast with Ed Bott and Mary Jo Foley on Thursday. It should be available on both iTunes and the Zune Marketplace, in both audio and video formats, by the end of the weekend as usual.