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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of October 17

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including FIOS (seriously this time), XP MCE 2005 Update Rollup 2, Apple vs. Media Center, Vista Gadgets on XP, Xbox 360 supply issues, Google's office suite, Yahoo podcasts, and so much more ...

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Last week, I mentioned that I was getting FIOS and while that's still true, it's happening this week, not last week. It seems I misfiled the appointment. Anyway, they're here now, and it's a multi-hour exercise that reminds me, not so fondly, of the day I got cable modem in Phoenix about 10 years ago. First, someone showed up earlier in the week to work on the fiber optics outside of my house, because that's time consuming and they don't run fiber the last leg to a house until the customer asks for the service. Then, the fun begins. FIOS requires a battery backup to be installed so that the phone still works if the power goes out. The installers are still working on that phase. Then, they'll string wires to my home office and I'll be up and running. More as it happens...

While this will never approach the devastation that happened recently in the American south, the weather here in New England, for the past week, has been decidedly Biblical . We haven't seen the sun in over 7 days, and it's going to last for at least the next three days, we're told. Places are flooding. Tempers are flaring. Suddenly, I understand why the suicide rate in places like Seattle is so high: Gray just gets old. I do enjoy the rain, though, and the pragmatic part of me knows we need it. But we can't use the hot tub when it's like this, let alone go outside. Please stop. Please.

I was going to travel to New York yesterday for Digital Life , a digital media tradeshow, but I canceled my plans at the last moment because of a pending software release that is a bit more important. The timing is bad: I'm going to Montreal on Sunday, so I'll be more out of touch than usual for most of next week. But that means I need to get a bunch of updates done today and Saturday, which made the New York trip impossible. And unlike most recent tradeshows, Digital Life looked to be pretty good. Ah well.

Short Takes

Update Rollup 2 for XP Media Center 2005 Arrives
At the Digital Life show in New York City today, Microsoft will unveil its much-anticipated Update Rollup 2 (UR2) for Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) 2005, the company's last significant update to Media Center before it is completely subsumed into Windows Vista. Actually, I'm told that two-thirds of all former eHome employees (who were responsible for Media Center) have been working on the Vista Media Center software (codenamed Diamond), and not UR2 (codenamed Emerald), all year anyway so that change has been underway for quite some time. If you're interested in UR2, I've got a full review available now on the SuperSite for Windows. It's a minor update, but it's free and will be widely available on the Web later today.

Surprise ... Apple Copies Media Center
Speaking of Media Center, I'm surprised that there was less outrage over Apple's Front Row software, which is a complete Media Center rip-off (albeit one that offers only a subset of Media Center features). Joe Belfiore, the general manager of Microsoft's eHome division, is in New York this week for Digital Life for the soft-launch of XP MCE 2005 UR2,  and he's surprised about a completely different issue. "I was surprised that it took them as long as this to do a feature like Media Center," he said. Indeed. But this lengthy gestation--Media Center has been out for over three years now--suggests that Apple isn't all-powerful. Furthermore, Apple is only now dealing with issues Microsoft first solved four years ago--IR interfaces, for starters--and has yet to figure out all the issues involved with TV tuner cards, TV recording, and so forth. In short, they have a long way to go before they can ever catch up with Media Center. Most tellingly, perhaps: Why is Apple's interface so text-based? It looks sad next to Microsoft's highly-visual approach. Which, frankly, is what you want with digital media content. Just a thought.

Not News: XP to get Vista Gadgets
In what is quickly becoming a long-standing tradition, this week I must take exception with another bit of non-news that's been widely reported on the Web. In his blog this week, Microsoft group product manager Sean Alexander noted that Gadgets designed for Windows Vista's new (and lamer) Sidebar will also run on Windows XP. This was picked up by a variety of news sites as "confirmation" that Gadgets would run on XP. But this was always the plan, and Microsoft announced this plan publicly at PDC 2005 in September. More to the point, why are these gadgets even happening?  And where the heck did the real Sidebar go? That thing used to be cool.

Xbox 360 to be in Short Supply
I can't imagine that this is going to be a huge surprise to anyone, but Microsoft's eagerly-anticipated Xbox 360 video game console will be in extremely short supply through the holidays. Set for a November 22 global launch, Xbox 360 will likely be disappointing hopeful owners ... worldwide. "We're going to have some disappointment in terms of what we can provide to retail and ultimately to the consumers this year," said Microsoft corporate VP J Allard this week. "We're going to take a little bit of heat on allocations, frankly, in all the territories." It's only a matter of time before people start camping out in front of local CompUSA and Best Buy stores.

EC Examines Microsoft's Security Moves
In a "jump the shark" moment that threatens to forever raise questions about the sanity of European Union (EU) antitrust regulators, the EU this week started raising questions about Microsoft's recent entry into the security market. Heads-up, people. We can make an argument about media players and Web browsers not needing to be integrated with Microsoft's operating systems. There is no such argument--at all--about security. Microsoft's first priority should be to protect its users from harm, and if that means a few companies who have frankly been milking the security market for all its worth will suffer as a result, so be it. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Users come first.

No Office Suite from Us, Says Google
Google this week very quietly denied rumors that it was going to compete with Microsoft directly in the office productivity market, squashing hopes that Google would offer customers a Web-based version of "We don't have any plans \[for that\]," Google co-founder Sergey Brin said at the Web 2.0 conference last weekend. "I don't really think that the thing is to take a previous generation of technology and port them directly." Instead, Brin noted that newly created Web services could offer "new and better things" than traditional Office applications. You know, things like weather updates and blogs.

Ex-Microsoftie Gets 2.5 Years for Theft
A former Microsoft employee who stole software from the company and then sold it on the street this week was sentenced to 2.5 years in jail. Frank Philips used Microsoft's internal software ordering system to snag expensive software systems, which he then sold for a profit of $100,000, pre conviction. Actually, he's going to post a loss on those transactions, because he was also ordered to pay $666,000 in restitution, an interesting sum.

Yahoo Embraces Podcasts
This week, Yahoo launched a pretty extensive podcast service, logically dubbed Yahoo Podcasts, that lets users find, download, subscribe to, and rate podcasts, which are basically the audio version of blogs. Akin to recorded radio shows, podcasts vary as much in quality as they do in content selection, with everything from professionally produced shows to static-laden disasters that sound like they were recorded in someone's closet (because, of course, they were). In my recent exploration of podcasts, I've found that podcast versions of traditional radio shows tend to be the most interesting, but there's something for everyone, so take a peek. They're particularly good for commuters, who use iPods or other MP3 players to listen to the shows on the way to and from work.

Now Google Looks at Purchasing AOL
Last week, the tech news world was abuzz with rumors that Microsoft was looking into combining MSN with Time Warner's AOL service. This week comes news that Google is now looking into purchasing or investing in AOL as well (likely in a bid to simply aggravate Microsoft or at least drive up the price). What's amazing about AOL's sudden wellspring of suitors, of course, is that subscribers can't leave AOL fast enough, and the service is quickly becoming in danger of sinking under its own weight. Furthermore, this week, AOL opened up all of its previously-exclusive services to the Web, for free. Why the heck is anyone even interested in this?

Palm Markets Palm in New Products
This week, Palm updated its consumer-oriented Zire and business-oriented Tungsten product lines, but dropped the Zire and Tungsten brands in the process. The goal is to promote the Palm name above any particular product brands, so the new devices, dubbed Palm Z22 and Palm TX, reflect that change. "Now that we own the Palm brand again, we are more focused on promoting it," said Palm product line manager Raj Doshi. "People know us more for Palm than they do for Tungsten or Zire." Good point. But people know you even more for conceding the PDA market to Microsoft. When are you going to address that issue?

We Got 9, Count 'Em, 9 Security Bulletins This Week
This is kind of odd, but when Microsoft released a whopping 9 security bulletins earlier this week, I, uh, forgot to write about it. Part of the problem of course, is that this kind of thing is tiring. Every month, we get an amazing collection of mind-numbing security fixes, and it's always the same thing: Windows blah blah blah, Internet Explorer blah blah blah. Also, it was sort of a busy week, and as with terror alerts these days, security bulletins just don't get the attention they used to get. Maybe we're getting numb to it. Anyway, chances are you've got updates waiting on Windows Update, unless of course you wisely enabled Automatic Updates. Be safe. 2.0 Now Due Next Week
Eagled-eyed readers know that Sun released its StarOffice 8.0 office productivity suite in late September, but the release on which it is 2.0--has yet to ship. Well, that will finally be rectified next week, when the open source office productivity suite hits the streets. Like StarOffice 8.0, 2.0 supports the suddenly-important Open Document format natively, offers a Microsoft Office 2003-like user interface, and can export PDF files. But unlike Star Office 8.0, 2.0 will be completely free, which certainly has its benefits.

Ubuntu Linux 5.1 Released
And speaking of important new free software, Ubuntu Linux, my favorite Linux distribution, was just updated to version 5.1. The new Ubuntu includes GNOME 2.12.1, 2.0 Beta 2, audio CD writing support, editable system menus, and more. The big deal with Ubuntu, of course, is its people-oriented vibe, dedication to simplicity, and commitment to regular releases. It's the best Linux out there, and a great place to start if you're interested in seeing what all the fuss is about.

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