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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of November 21

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a short trip, CableCARD-based Media Center PCs, the upcoming Xbox 360 launch, HD-DVD and Microsoft, Windows Server 2003 R2, XP Starter Edition, and so much more ...

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This week is an interesting exercise in news before it happens. Well, sort of. If everything went well, I should be in Paris, France by the time you read this. Or, if you read this on Monday, I should be home again. That's right, we're going for the weekend. My wife and I are sort of experimenting with the limits of short travel, and since flying nonstop to France (or England, Ireland, Belgium or the Netherlands) isn't any longer, or much longer, than flying cross-country, we thought we'd see what we could do. In any event, because we're leaving (sorry: "left" for you reading this now) on Thursday, I had to submit Friday's WinInfo Short Takes a day early, on Thursday. Hopefully nothing important happens while I'm gone. Like the Windows Vista November CTP.


Why Paris, you ask? No, it's not (only) because I want to burn a few cars, though my wife I and I were surprised by how many people asked us this week if we were still going because of the riots. Overall, France is pretty much our favorite country to visit (though that's a tough call, since most of Europe is worth dreaming about), and we're planning on going back early and often in the year ahead. In fact, if we could swing a home swap next summer with someone in France, we'd do it. We're looking into that now.


A few weeks ago, I discussed some computer nostalgia stuff and got a bunch of nice emails. A quick update: Several hundred dollars on eBay later, I've reacquainted myself with the Amiga and some other long-forgotten computers, and it's funny to see what's changed and what hasn't in the years since Commodore roamed the earth. One thing I found rather humorous: The Amiga's right mouse button was used specifically for bringing up application and system menus (which were otherwise hidden), but there's no concept of right-clicking individual items and getting a context sensitive menu, which is so common today. I'll keep playing around. Literally: One of the best things about the Amiga is the wealth of platform games. You just don't see those on the PC that often.


OK, if this is a little short, cut me some slack.

Short Takes

CableCARD MediaCenter PCs due in 2006

By late 2006, Microsoft says, PC makers will be shipping Media Center PCs with integrated CableCARD hardware, which will let these devices natively control digital cable systems, with no need for a separate set-top box. Finally, you say. That's for sure: Today's system of "IR blasting" a set top box is slow, prone to error, and, let's face it, lame. But right now it's your only option, because cable companies and other TV operators all have their own way of doing things. With a CableCARD-based system, a next generation Media Center PC will allegedly be all you need. I can't wait.


Microsoft Expects Solid Debut for Xbox 360

With anticipation building for next week's launch of the Xbox 360, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer this week noted that he expects the system to take off in a big way. "We have very strong momentum, particularly in the northern parts of Europe, \[the\] United States, \[and\] Australia," he said. "I know for sure, 100 percent, we will do much better in Japan than we did with Xbox 1." The original Xbox languished in Japan because it was humongous and because most Japanese game developers shunned the system in favor of the PlayStation 2 and GameCube. That won't be an issue this time around, and since most major Japanese game makers have jumped on board the more svelte-looking Xbox 360, it should do pretty well in Japan. That and the fact that it will have no competition for at least six months, I guess.


Microsoft Still Loves HD-DVD

And speaking of Microsoft and Japanese technology, Ballmer this week also reaffirmed the software giant's bizarre love affair with HD-DVD, the lesser of the two competing next-generation DVD standards. So why does Microsoft favor HD-DVD over Blu-Ray, despite the fact that Blu-Ray will allow for much larger amounts of storage? "We have chosen to support HD DVD for a number of reasons, including the way and the effectiveness with which we can see it integrating with the PC," Ballmer said. "We think it has some real advantages and that's why we have been working very actively with Toshiba and other members of the DVD forum in order to promote this concept." I'm sure that's it, and that it has nothing to do with the fact that Sony, which makes the PlayStation series of video game systems, is a co-creator of Blu-Ray and will support the format in its upcoming PlayStation 3. That would just be petty.


R2 on Track for this Year

IT Forum came and went this week in Barcelona, Spain, and many onlookers were expecting Microsoft to release Windows Server 2003 R2 at the show. But while that never happened, fear not: Microsoft says it is still on track to ship R2 by the end of the year as promised. Delays in R2, which is a relatively minor update to Windows Server 2003, would throw the company's entire server product release schedule out of whack, since it hinges on alternating major and minor releases every two years, and it's already been two and a half years since Windows Server 2003 first shipped. I can't imagine what they'd have to cut out of it to avoid further delays, but rather than dwell on the negative (Cough: Terminal Services. Cough: Network quarantine), I'll just note that the RC2 release of R2 that Microsoft shipped earlier this month is really solid and leave it at that.


XP Starter Edition Heads to Two New Markets

This week, Microsoft shipped two new versions of its entry-level Windows XP Starter Edition, which is aimed at emerging markets full of people yet to experience Microsoft's full court marketing press. The new versions are aimed at the disadvantaged in Egypt and Turkey, and both utilize the Arabic language. As of today, there are nine language versions of XP Starter Edition available in 32 countries. That's actually quite an accomplishment for what is basically a stripper OS designed to compete with free systems based on Linux.


Firefox 1.5 Will Ship Later this Month

As someone who's been burned occasionally by sources, I guess I can sympathize, but rumors this week about an impending release of Firefox 1.5 were indeed false. Instead, expect the next major version of Mozilla's Web browser to appear by the end of the month. My source for this information? The Mozilla Foundation. Sometimes you have to go right for the tap.


Sony Recalls Copy Protected Audio CDs

After weeks of criticism and a new spate of electronic attacks caused by its inaction, Sony is taking the rare of step of recalling the controversial audio CDs it shipped with a new kind of rootkit-based copy protection. The news comes as yet another blow to Sony's reputation, which has suffered in recent years as sales and revenues have plummeted. Sony hasn't yet revealed how many discs it will need to recall, but it will surely be in the millions. For a company that should be leading the digital media revolution, Sony is suddenly pulling a Commodore. Or, for Happy Days fans, they just jumped the shark. Either way, it's not a compliment.


US Keeps Control of the Internet

One day before the start of the UN Internet Summit in Tunisia this week, the United States reached a late hour agreement to retain control of the, well, the Internet. More specifically, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which answers to the US government, will continue managing the Internet's domain name and address systems, which controls how Web browsers and other Internet applications interact with Internet-based servers around the world. The reason this is notable is that numerous nations have expressed concerns about the US control of this technology, and had been lobbying for it to be moved to an international organization. It's almost like people don't trust us for some reason.


Apple Getting Ready to Cave to Record Industry on iTunes Pricing

According to EMI CEO Alain Levy, Apple Computer is getting ready to cave to record industry bigwigs over the single price issue for online music. Today, all music sold via the iTunes Music Store is 99 cents, regardless of its age or popularity. The record industry would like variable pricing, as its older and less popular products are typically sold for less, while its most popular products could be sold for more. Apple has resisted the complexity of variable pricing so far, but with Apple's record industry contracts running out early next year, the company will have to suck it up if it wants to keep selling music. We are having discussions which make us believe \[variable pricing on iTunes\] will happen in the next 12 months," Levy said this week. "There is a common understanding that we will have to come to a variable pricing structure. The issue is when. There is a case for superstars to have a higher price." Not to be a jerk about it, but given Apple's historically high prices for computing hardware, I'm sure that's one company that can appreciate paying more for a better product.

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