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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of November 14

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Zero Hour, Xbox 360 sales, Microsoft's nonsavvy shareholders, Microsoft vs. Daum, Microsoft vs. Welton Way, Sony and Grokster, AMD vs. Intel, Firefox's 1st birthday, and so much more ...

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A friend of mine had an interesting observation about Microsoft's tunnel vision regarding Google: Why not Yahoo? He noted that Yahoo Mail is vastly superior to that of Google's GMail, so much so that he pays for the more full-featured Plus version (as I do). He recently switched from Napster to Yahoo! Music Unlimited because the price was cheaper and the quality was better, not to mention the fact that the player is about 100 times more refined. So rather than help Google generate billions of dollars a year in a bizarre Web advertising scheme, he's deciding to pay Yahoo himself for services he values. I have to wonder if Google would ever make money if it charged for its sub-standard, ever-in-beta products and services. Aside from the sheer ubiquity of its base search engine, much of what Google does feels exploratory, temporary and primitive. Maybe the future isn't so clear after all.

Microsoft will launch the Xbox 360 in less than two weeks and I've been busy compiling a massive series of reviews and tech showcases that will rollout on the SuperSite for Windows over a few weeks in late November. My Xbox 360 review might, in fact, end up being the longest review I've yet written, but we'll see how that pans out. One thing I probably won't be able to do, sadly, is attend the insane-sounding "Zero Hour" Xbox 360 launch event, which is being held at an undisclosed location in the Mohave Desert. I'll be in Paris, France when that event is starts (assuming Paris hasn't burned to the ground by then). On the other hand, Zero Hour is over two days long. I don't know, I'll see what I can do.

Short Takes

Microsoft Goal: 3 Million Xbox 360 Consoles Sold in 90 Days
Well, with Xbox 360 stepping up to the gate uncontested by rival next-generation systems, Microsoft is hoping to clean up during the upcoming holiday season. According to the software giant, it will sell about 3 million Xbox 360 consoles within 90 days of the November 22 launch, with consumers spending about $1.5 billion on Xbox 360 related merchandise. Additionally, Microsoft said it plans to ship between 4.5 million and 5.5 million consoles by June 2006. What hasn't changed, oddly, is that Microsoft will lose money on each console it sells, though it hopes to reverse that trend over the lifetime of the device. Hey, it worked the first time. Oh, wait.

Microsoft to Shareholders: Seriously, Everything is Fine
In its annual shareholders meeting this week, Microsoft executives tried to explain that the company was on course despite the fact that is stock price has remained stagnant for several years. What's most amazing about this discussion, of course, is that most of the shareholders who attended the meeting backed the company's direction, despite the utter lack of stock movement. Instead, the shareholders seemed content to discuss upcoming product releases like Xbox 360, Office 12, and Windows Vista. Nice to see the accountability thing is action, eh?

Microsoft Settles with South Korean Firm
If you look up the term "Microsoft settles" on Google, you'll get 1.3 million hits. Well, today, you can make it 1.3 million and one: Microsoft just settled a South Korean trade rules lawsuit for $30 million, pacifying a company named Daum and ending yet another legal dispute. How do they do it? Well, they have bucketloads of cash, of course, and they can spend it on whatever they want. Next up: A chain of islands in the South Pacific. Why? Because they can.

Microsoft Reveals Visual Studio 2005 Servicing Plans
Seeking to end the confusion that has frankly marked just about every developer product they've ever released, Microsoft this week announced its servicing plans for Visual Studio 2005, which launched earlier this week in San Francisco. The company is already working on its first Visual Studio 2005 service pack--and I'm sure that's unrelated to developer charges that the company shipped Visual Studio 2005 before all the bugs were fixed--and will deliver it to customers in the first quarter of 2006. The quickie release cycle stands in sharp contrast to Visual Studio .NET 2003, which has yet to see a service pack. But fear not, developers: Visual Stuido .NET 2003 SP1 will ship next year as well. In April. Or about three years after the product first appeared.

Sony in Bizarre Spyware Scrape
Meet the new Sony, same as the old Sony. The company that let Apple waltz away with its personal electronics crown is still vainly trying to protect its music business and hurting the rest of the company as a result. But this time, they're hurting users too. What Sony has done is so epically stupid, so utterly anti-consumer, that I'm only surprised Microsoft didn't think of it first. Here's what's happening: In its never-ending effort to ensure that consumers aren't stealing music from the CDs they buy, Sony actually includes a root kit-based copy protection scheme on certain audio CDs. This malicious software silently installs itself on your PC and then is almost impossible to remove. Once there, it phones home and tells Sony your IP address and what you're doing with the CD. Aside from the ethical and perhaps legal problem with a major consumer electronics firm installing malware on users' system, the real kicker to this story happened yesterday when hackers released the first virus that takes advantage of the Sony malware to infect those systems that have played the infected CDs. Good stuff. And hey, thanks, Sony. Because you've made me realize that I never want to buy another audio CD ever again.

Grokster Shuts Down, Apologizes
And speaking of digital music and unwanted malware installs, one of the more infamous file sharing services in the post-Napster world, Grokster, shut down earlier this week with a lame court-required apology on its Web site. The Grokster shutdown came in the wake of a stunning series of lawsuits in which the recording industry charged that Grokster and other file sharing services were breaking the law and spreading pirated music around the globe. Under terms of a settlement with the recording industry, Grokster will pay $50 million in damages (money it does not have) and has agreed to cease distributing its software, selling ads on its Web site, or perform any sort of profit-generating activities. While I'm not a big fan of the recording industry per se, Grokster was every bit as guilty as Napster was before it. So I can't say I'm shedding a tear for those bozos.

AMD Sells More CPUs to Consumers Than Intel
If you value technical acumen over market power, you'll enjoy this story: In October, tiny AMD sold more microprocessors than Intel to the retail personal computer market for the first time. AMD sales just edged out those of Intel in October, but the company had been closing the gap for months. In June, AMD's share of the retail PC market was just 20 percent, but it jumped to 31.5 percent by October. Intel expects a small rebound in November, and of course points to the fact that retail PC sales exclude direct sales and sales to corporations, both of which make up a large part of the market. I just find it interesting that when people can walk into a store and choose, they choose AMD. I wonder if Microsoft would face a similar problem were its markets reasonably competitive as well.

Microsoft Charged with Predatory Pricing
And speaking of unfair market advantages, Microsoft this week was charged with predatory pricing practices in Sweden. At issue is Windows XP Media Center Edition, which, despite being a superset of Windows XP Professional for the most part, is actually selling for less money. Thus, companies that try to sell digital media add-ons for Xp are disadvantaged. "This practice is unfair and will drive small, innovative companies like ours out of business," said Claes Wellton, CEO of Wellton Way, the Swedish firm that is suing Microsoft. You know, if you Google the phrase "Microsoft predatory," you come up with over 500,000 hits.

Happy Birthday, Firefox
This week, the Mozilla Firefox Web browser turned one year old with over 100 million downloads and between 8.5 percent and 11.5 percent of the Web browser market under its belt (estimates vary). That's not a shabby first year, I guess, though obviously Firefox will need more than 10 percent of the market to be a viable competitor to market leader Internet Explorer (IE), which is slowly angling toward a 7.0 release that should dramatically improve its security and capabilities. Until then, Firefox is a clear contender to the crown, and you certainly can't find fault with the media attention this little browser has caused. Since the Firefox 1.0 release in November 2004, the Mozilla Foundation has shipped a 1.1 version of the product and is getting ready to deliver version 1.5 in the coming days (a second release candidate of Firefox 1.5 is now available). But my favorite Firefox tidbit will generate a smile from "Dodgeball" fans: Firefox 2.0 is codenamed "The Ocho." Good stuff.

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