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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of September 12

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a week in LA for PDC 2005, Xbox Live changes for Xbox 360, Windows One Care Live public beta, Microsoft incompetence, TiVo rebates, iPod hearing loss, Google and Microsoft, and much more ...

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I love the smell of PDC in the morning. Which is convenient, as I'll be spending the next week in Los Angeles at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2005. Check out my new PDC 2005 page on the SuperSite for Windows for my itinerary, although it can (and will) change; I just received my meeting schedule, which will cut into a few of the sessions I plan to attend. If you're going to be at PDC, check out my schedule and drop me a line--or just show up wherever I'll be and say hi. I'd love to meet some WinInfo readers on this trip.

Speaking of PDC, it's going to be a jam-packed, busy week. I'm going to blog the conference each day, right here in WinInfo, and provide detailed reports, photo galleries, and, I hope, some video on the SuperSite, just like last year. I also expect to provide a full review of the PDC build of Windows Vista, with its newly integrated Sidebar, although that might have to wait until after the show because of time constraints. Regardless, a lot of good information will be coming out of the show next week (think Microsoft Office 12 UI), so stay tuned.

One nice thing about this particular trip is that it will be more of a social affair for a change. My wife is coming out on Thursday so we can spend a long weekend in Los Angeles with friends, who will be visiting from Phoenix. This is all part of an effort to make travel at least semitolerable. After several years of near-constant business travel, I made a decision last year to try to see my kids grow up. So far, so good.

Last week, I mentioned the end of summer here in New England. That actually happened as expected Monday evening, on Labor Day, when I was pretty much dragged out of the water at the beach at closing time, the last person to leave. In almost ritualistic fashion, we did up the last day right, with a full barbeque (yes, including smores), some fishing, and so on. I'll say this for autumn, though: I wish it were still July.

Short Takes

Microsoft Announces Xbox Live Changes for Xbox 360
   Microsoft revealed this week how the company will change its Xbox Live service for the upcoming Xbox 360 video game console, although, frankly, I wrote about most of this in my "Inside Xbox 360" showcase on the SuperSite for Windows a while ago. Microsoft will have two Xbox Live subscriptions: Xbox Live Silver, which will be free, and Xbox Live Gold, which will cost $50 a year. The Silver subscription will net you a free gamertag (similar to an online identity with a personalized profile), the ability to chat over Xbox Live with friends, and access to the Xbox Live Marketplace (where you can purchase game levels and other add-ons, plus other content). The Gold subscription adds the ability to play games online with gamers from around the world on the Xbox Live service, along with other exclusive privileges. What else is new? You no longer need a credit card to join Xbox Live, which removes a major stumbling block for some people.

Windows OneCare Live Now in Public Beta is reporting that interested testers can sign up now for the public beta of Windows OneCare Live, Microsoft's upcoming MSN-based service that provides comprehensive PC health coverage to subscribers. The service began private testing a few months ago and is now entering the beta 2 era, in which it will be available to a much wider range of customers. Microsoft expects to ship the final version of Windows OneCare Live in early 2006, I'm told. For details about joining the public beta, visit the Microsoft Web site.

Munich Linux Migration Going About as Well as Expected
   Every couple of months, we get ... ah ... news out of Munich, Germany, regarding its ever-delayed migration from Windows desktops to Linux-based PCs. This month, we heard more of the same: The city is now delaying the migration to 2006, a year later than the last plan and a full 3 years after it announced, with some fanfare, that it was switching 14,000 desktops to Linux. But this eventual migration is even slower than it sounds. The first desktops to be switched will number only 250, and that migration won't happen until mid-2006 at the earliest. And the migration will move slowly, if it ever starts at all, with users first moving to on Windows desktops. It isn't too late to give it a rest, Munich. and Mozilla Firefox run just fine on Windows, and you don't have to reinstall anything. Just a thought.

Lee: Microsoft Is Incompetent
   The Google v. Microsoft court case has raised some interesting questions, but my favorite part of this Greek drama is the rampant name calling that's been going on. The funniest bit, perhaps, if we skip over the Steve Ballmer threats against Google CEO Eric Schmidt, might just be when Kai-Fu Lee referred to Microsoft as "incompetent." Citing the reasons he left the software giant to move to Google, Lee said he was "deeply disappointed at our incompetence in China. We have wasted so many years in China with little to show for it." Lee also noted that when he raised this concern with Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, Gates told him that Microsoft had been "\[expletive deleted\]" by the Chinese government. You just can't buy exchanges like that.

Microsoft Rolls Out Its 2005 Hardware Lineup
   Microsoft has revealed a sweeping set of new hardware devices, many of which appear to fix problems with previous-generation keyboards, mouse devices, and even game controllers. Although the new hardware devices are almost too numerous to mention (primarily because they're also available in a bewildering array of keyboard/mouse bundles), a few deserve to be called out (and I'll review some of them soon as well). First, Microsoft is shipping an Xbox 360 controller for Windows XP PCs that will use a standard USB connector. The company has completely overhauled its wireless and wired mouse and keyboard products and has apparently fixed the keyboard layout problems that dogged earlier versions (I still hold on to my old Natural Keyboard Pro for this reason). Many of the new optical mouse devices feature "high-definition" scanning capabilities for more precise on-screen movements. And Microsoft has released a mostly wonderful Remote Keyboard for XP Media Center 2005-based PCs that can perform triple duty as a Windows keyboard, mouse, and remote control. My exclusive review of the Remote Keyboard is available now on the SuperSite for Windows.

TiVo Lowballs Pricing to Attract Subscribers--Finally
   If you're in the market for a digital video recording (DVR) device, now's the time to run, not walk, to your local retailer (or to an e-tailer such as and pick up a TiVo. Why, you ask? Because TiVo is temporarily offering a $150 rebate on its standalone devices. That means the 40-hour unit--which retails for about $100--can be had for a net gain of $50. Or you can get the 80-hour unit for $100 after the rebate. But this isn't a simple purchase. You have to sign up for the TiVo service for 1 year to get the rebate, and that will set you back $12.95 a month, or $299 for a lifetime service agreement. But that cost is far less than, say, the cost of a new Media Center PC, so it's something to think about. The rebate runs through the end of November.

Listen Up: MP3 Players Cause Hearing Loss
   This news should surprise no one, but those beautiful Apple iPods everyone is zoning out to are going to cause hearing loss in a generation of users. According to a study by the Harvard Medical School, many MP3 player users will suffer permanent hearing loss because they use the in-ear headphones, with which most of the players ship. And that type of headphone is even more dangerous, the study concludes, because it isn't efficient at blocking out ambient noise, causing users to simply turn up the volume even more. Anyway, while you're busy looking tragically hip with your white iPod headphones, give your hearing a thought. If not, you might regret it later.

Firefox 1.5 Beta 1 Released
   As promised, the Mozilla Foundation shipped the first beta version of Firefox 1.5, its upcoming Web browser. Code-named Deer Park, this release adds some interesting improvements over Firefox 1.0.6, the current version, including an automated update utility for streamlining product upgrades, faster browser navigation with Web-page caching, drag-and-drop capabilities for browser tabs, improved pop-up blocking, a heavily revised Options dialog box, and much more. If you don't mind living on the edge, you can download Firefox 1.5 Beta 1 from the Mozilla Web site.

New Flaw Found in IE, Outlook, and Outlook Express
   Meanwhile, over in the Forbidden Zone, Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) users have another reason to be nervous: This week, eEye Digital Security announced a major new security flaw in the world's buggiest browser. The flaw affects Microsoft Office Outlook and Outlook Express, too, but that's probably because those applications use code that originated in IE. The flaw occurs in XP, XP with Service Pack 1 (SP1), and Windows 2000 systems and could let remote attackers gain control of your PC. As with so many IE vulnerabilities, this one involves that old classic--the buffer overflow. Microsoft says that it isn't aware of any attacks involving the flaw, but the company is working on a fix. Of course it is.

Google Hires Internet Pioneer
   Finally, let's present reason number 1027 that Google might, in fact, have what it takes to unseat Microsoft. This week, Google hired Vinton Cerf to help it develop new products and ideas--another major hiring coup for the company. Who is Vinton Cerf, you ask? Oh, no one important. He just helped invent TCP/IP networking and the Internet back in the 1970s. "He is one of the most important people alive today," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said. "Vint has put his heart and soul into making the Internet happen. I know he is going to jump right in here and start shoveling out new ideas for Google." Cerf will be Google's Chief Internet Evangelist--a title that's just as lame as Chief Software Architect--but he fully intends to be a hands-on shoveler, not just a visionary. "Google is my dream job," he said. I wonder how many people feel that way about Microsoft these days.

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