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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of October 3

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the MVP Globale Summit, HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray, Eolas Patent II: The Quickening, Microsoft security highs and lows, one new Office 2003 SP2 feature, IE 7.0 Beta 2, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

I've spent the past few days in Redmond for Microsoft's annual MVP Global Summit, a gathering of 1500 technology enthusiasts from around the globe who have been honored, if you will, by Microsoft for their commitment to support products the company makes. Yeah, I'm an MVP (Most Valued Professional, for Windows Server). And I have to say it's a bit of an issue for me. On the one hand, I respect and protect the close relationship I have with the software giant. On the other hand, I'm a bit put off by the imperial and entitled attitude many MVPs have: Some of these people honestly believe they're "better" than others, and I have a problem with that. I can't write anything about the Summit per se, as we're under an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). But I can say this: I've never--not once--used information I gained as an MVP to publish exclusive information about Microsoft or its products, and this is a fact that is easy to check against the MVP participation logs Microsoft no doubt keeps. Despite this, some MVPs are unhappy with the work I do, disclosing internal information about the software giant. It's a bit of a struggle for me. Ah well.

Here's what Microsoft is saying publicly about the MVP Summit: 1500 MVPs are attending from around the globe, representing over 70 countries and 30 languages. Over 1000 Microsoft employees, representing over 90 technologies, are participating in the Summit. Keynote speakers at the event included Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, co-presidents of the Microsoft Platform Products & Services Division Jim Allchin and Kevin Johnson, and corporate vice president of Customer Service and Support Lori Moore. Microsoft is presenting over 350 sessions at the Summit.

So is the MVP program even a good idea? As a long-time critic of the MVP program and an ostensible hypocrite now that I'm part of it again (I was an IE MVP in the mid- to late-1990's, if you believe that), I'm honestly not sure. I'm happy about some of the changes that Microsoft has made to the program, including the fact that the award is based on more than just newsgroup participation: There's no doubt that the SuperSite for Windows is, alone, one of the biggest and most visited Windows enthusiasts sites on the Internet, and I answer dozens of emails a day directly related to Microsoft product support. But, as I noted above, I'm a bit freaked out by the sense of entitlement I get from many MVPs. Many of these people are fantastic and are true experts in their respective categories. But as in any large group, there is a minority that kind of ruins it for anyone.

One side benefit of the MVP Summit is that I get to hang with Mark Minasi again. Mark and I, you may recall, did a number of cross-country road shows a few years ago for the magazine, and it was fun to get silly with him again. We constantly get shushed like school children, which is a good sign, from what I can tell.

I'm also somewhat tortured by my inability to see everyone I'd like to see while I'm in Seattle. I'm only here for a few days, and have a pretty full schedule, but I've got a lot of people whom I consider friends at Microsoft, and it's impossible to fit them all in during such a short trip. I end up visiting the Redmond campus 5-6 times a year on average, so chances are, I'll be back again before the end of the year.

Ah yes, the news...

Short Takes

Microsoft Involved in Spat Over HD-DVD/Blu-Ray Debate
No sooner had Microsoft announced its support of HD-DVD as a next-generation DVD standard when the competing Blu-ray camp struck back. Members of the Blu-ray Disc Association group this week described Microsoft's rationale for backing HD-DVD as "inaccurate" and published a treatise that explains the, ahem, superiority of Blu-ray over HD-DVD. "Blu-ray is a superior format," says Hewlett-Packard's Maureen Weber. "It offers 67 to 150 percent more storage capacity, higher transfer rates, slim-line notebook compatibility, \[and\] broadband connectivity." The Blu-ray camp also noted that Blu-ray does offer a hybrid disc format that provides both high-definition (HD) and standard definition (SD) versions, contrary to Microsoft's assertions. Curious. I've always found Microsoft to be so... accurate.

Microsoft Suffers Setback in Eolas Court Case
I have to say, I thought we left this one behind us. But alas, the Eolas Web browser case got an unwelcome and voodoo-like revival this week when the US Patent & Trademark Office ruled that Eolas' patent for embedding content in a Web site was valid. That means that Microsoft will need to present its incredibly valid arguments against Eolas' bogus patent, once again, when the case against it heads to trial. "We are confident we will achieve a successful resolution," the company said in a statement. And well they should: Eolas' Web browser patent is completely bogus.

Microsoft Security Alert: Just Kidding
Is there such a thing as a Microsoft security alert you don't need to worry about? Sort of: This week, everyone's favorite software giant sent out a security alert about a new security bulletin that had been posted to its Web site. There was just one problem: There was no actual security bulletin to accompany the alert. "An alert was erroneously sent last night due to a minor publishing issue," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "We are investigating the issue to help us avoid this situation in the future." Maybe they should run the alerts server on a UNIX box.

Actually... There Is One New Feature in Office 2003 SP2
I reported earlier this week that Microsoft had quietly shipped Office 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2) and noted that the update included no new features. Turns out that's not quite true: Steven Bink of reports that there is actually a pretty important feature change in Office 2003 SP2: Outlook 2003 has been upgraded to protect against phishing attacks, where malicious Web sites are presented in emails as legitimate e-commerce sites. Kudos to Bink for the find.

Microsoft Ships DPM
Microsoft this week shipped its awkwardly named System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2006 product, a disk-based data protection solution that provides a week's worth of data backups to Windows Server-based enterprises. DPM 2006 answers the most commonly-needed data protection need--file servers--but doesn't (yet) protect data stored in Exchange or SQL Server. That, I'm told, will come in the next version.

Hackers Get Early Look at Internet Explorer 7.0 Beta 2
In a bid to ensure that Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0 is as secure as it can be, Microsoft this week began showing off a pre-Beta 2 version of the product to hackers at the Box Security Conference in Malaysia. The hackers--who Microsoft says prefer to be called "security research community" members--were allegedly happy to be involved with the product at such an early stage, and apparently provided Microsoft with a lot of good information. As a result, Microsoft intends to engage hackers--er, ah, security research community members--more often in the future. To be fair, IE 7.0 is shaping up as a pretty cool release. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft is able to get anyone to switch from Firefox to the new IE version when its released next year.

Mr. Ballmer Heads to Europe
Everyone's favorite chair-throwing CEO is heading to Europe next week to meet with European Union (EU) competition commissioner Neelie Kroes. Microsoft's Steve Ballmer is making the trip to rack up some late-year frequent flier miles and discuss "general competition rules," according to an EU spokesperson. One can only imagine the conversations that will take place. "Let's say for argument's sake that we'd like to bundle a ham sandwich in Windows. Would you have a problem with that?"
Dell Aims for the Lexus Market
Often described as the Wal-Mart of PC makers, Dell is an unlikely PC maker to launch a luxury line of high-end PCs. And yet, that's exactly what they're doing. Dell this week launched a new line of PCs, called the XPS line, that feature unique chassis designs, dual core processors, huge amounts of memory, and other top shelf features. The question, of course, is whether Dell will find a market for these expensive boxes. My guess is that they will.

Behold the $100 Laptop
Whatever you paid for your last laptop, it was too much. This week, the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) unveiled its design for a $100 laptop computer that combines a self-powered hand crank charging tool with a surprisingly capable portable computer. MIT describes the device as perfect for disadvantaged children in the world's poorest countries and plans to work with the governments of Brazil, China, Thailand, Egypt and South Africa to distribute up to 15 million test systems to children this year. The laptop packs 1 GB of RAM, a 500 MHz processor, and a newly-developed, cheaply-produced color screen into a portable package that runs Linux and includes Wi-Fi capabilities. It sounds--and looks--great. When can we get one too?

Microsoft Probes YAIEF
This kind of thing hardly qualifies as news anymore, but Microsoft is probing reports of Yet Another Internet Explorer Flaw (YAIEF), which could be exploited by hackers to create spoof-based attacks. I don't think I need to write much more about this, other than to add, Firefox. Seriously. Install Firefox. Use Firefox. Love Firefox.

Apple Takes iPod Nano Defect Claims on the Chin
And finally, Apple took the rare step this week of acknowledging what customers have been saying for the past few weeks: The company's hugely popular iPod nano MP3 players have a serious flaw that allows their color screens to crack and scratch far too easily. Even more amazingly, Apple has agreed to fix the problems. "It is a real, but minor issue involving vendor quality problems," an Apple spokesperson said this week. "Any user with a defective screen should contact Apple ... and we will replace it for free." Since Apple is counting on sales of the iPod nano to drive this quarter's sales, there's little wonder why the company jumped to tackle this issue so quickly. But give Apple some credit: The company took years to acknowledge a serious problem with its iPod batteries. Surely, this is an improvement.

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