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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of September 26

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including an internal look at Microsoft's reorganization, an IE 7 beta refresh, Microsoft's iPod competitor,Google's blog search, a Sony shakeup, Sun's iPod moments, and much, much more  ...

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Back to normal. After a busier-than-usual work week at Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2005 in Los Angeles last week, I was able to take a few days off and tour the area with my wife and a few friends. I've been to Los Angeles several times, but my wife hadn't been there for almost 10 years, and we had a great time. This week ... not so much fun. It's hard to get going again after that kind of a week. 

Speaking of PDC, Microsoft needs to get its act together. At PDC 2005, the company gave developers a package called "The Goods" that overtly brags about the "30GB of geek goodness" contained on its seven DVDs. Yeah, great. But the company did almost nothing to explain the contents and how (and where) you could install the applications. I can't install Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2 or Release Candidate 1 (RC1) on Windows Vista, but the most glaring problem was the Vista build 5219 the company gave out. The DVD that contains Vista build 5219 wouldn't boot; instead, it includeed ISO images for both the 32-bit and 64-bit version of the build. That's nice. But how many people brought notebook computers with DVD burners to the show? Not many. Well, no problem: I thought I could use use Virtual PC 2004, which is included on one of the DVDs we received, to install the ISO image on a virtual machine. That didn't work either. Virtual PC works only with CD-ROM-based ISO files, and Vista uses a DVD-based ISO file. Seriously, Microsoft; for a company that talks up the "end-to-end scenario," you really didn't go the distance with this one.

Apple Computer's iPod nano is amazing. I wrote a review for Connected Home Express  because I'm so impressed with the device and want to get the word out, but mere words can't convey the good vibes that this device gives off. If you don't have an iPod and are in the market, check it out. If you have an iPod--or other MP3 player--check it out anyway. The iPod nano is going to convince a lot of people that Apple is just hitting its stride. 
Short Takes

Microsoft to Ship IE 7.0 Update Prior to Beta 2
   This news item is one of those good news/bad news scenarios: Before releasing Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0 Beta 2 on December 7, 2005, Microsoft will ship an interim build of the upcoming Web browser for Windows XP that will offer more features and fit-and-finish than the beta 1 release that shipped over the summer. And this build will even run on Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1) as well (beta 1 ran only on XP). The bad news? I'm hearing that this interim build will ship only to a limited audience of beta testers and developers. It looks like the public will probably have to wait for beta 2 to get hold of IE 7.0.

More About the Microsoft Reorganization
   The way Microsoft communicates information to its employees is interesting. As a member of the press, I receive key marketing messages from the company, and as a reviewer, I receive good in-depth information about numerous products. And thanks to the dissemination of internal documents from my sources, I have a third avenue into software giant's mind. This week, I got to see and hear how Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates presented the news about Microsoft's reorganization to the company's employees. As you might expect, much of the message was identical to the news that Microsoft presented to the outside world. "We've tried to group these business groups together \[to get\] more decisions that come together coming from further down in the organization. That's a way to enable us to move with greater agility, greater speed, greater action," Ballmer said. "The more decisions that can be pushed closer to the action, the faster we move, the faster we innovate, the faster we get \[to\] market." I've read some crazy ideas about this reorganization--for example, that the three new business groups are targeted at a future breakup. That isn't the case. "We believe our customers benefit when our products work together," Ballmer added. "We're going to figure out a way to work cross-group." Microsoft still has seven distinct profit and loss centers, which are now organized under just three business units (which, arguably, actually makes Microsoft's organization more complex than before.) The big news is, as Ballmer puts it, Microsoft's new emphasis on "the drive to software-based services." That the fast-moving and innovative MSN group was combined with the (frankly, slow-moving and monolithic) Windows group is no coincidence. Microsoft is hoping to meld some of MSN's excitement and quickness with Windows' dominance and market power. But the company is also trying to establish a way to respond more quickly to market forces such as Google and Apple's iTunes. "Every piece of software this company \[makes\] will have a service piece associated with it," Ballmer told employees. And that, people, is the real reason behind the reorganization.

Still More About the Microsoft Reorganization
   Another thought about this reorganization: Eric Rudder is being primed to replace Bill Gates as the company's technical head and, possibly, the future CEO. I don't know enough about Rudder to say whether this is a good idea, but I do know this: Rudder, like Gates, lacks the presentation skills and public persona to get people excited. What Microsoft really needs is someone like Steve Jobs, whose mesmerizing on-stage appearances for Apple have done as much to turn around the company in recent years as its products have. Microsoft doesn't really have a Steve Jobs, and although some people might point to Ballmer as a possible comparison, the company has been (wrongly, in my opinion) trying to rein him in over the past few years. But Ballmer is all sound and fury, and Jobs is more about eloquence and style. The only person I know at Microsoft who fits this bill is Hillel Cooperman. My advice is to put the truly innovative and creative people in front of audiences to communicate strategy and put the businessmen behind the scenes, where they belong. Droning corporate executives aren't inspirational or interesting.

One Last Reorganization Item: Microsoft Is Plotting iPod Competition
   I'll write a lot more about the reorganization in the near future, but I want to add this bit of information because it's Friday, and it's fun: During an internal Q&A session about Apple's competitive chances, Ballmer all but admitted that Microsoft is working on a Microsoft-branded iPod competitor. I'll report more thoroughly about those plans next week, probably through my blog and the Connected Home Web site . I'm still trying to figure out the best avenue for presenting this news, but basically, Microsoft doesn't feel that Apple's Apple-centric worldview will hold up in the long run to Microsoft's platform-centric worldview. Time will tell. Stay tuned.

Google Opens Up Search Tool to Blogs
   In a curious move, Google has developed a new search tool, called Google Blog Search, that's designed solely to search information in Web logs  (blogs). The move is curious because Google's main search engine already searches blogs and, arguably, weighs information found in blogs a bit more heavily than it should. In any event, Google Blog Search tracks blog postings more frequently than the traditional search engine and uses a completely different technology because of the way that blogs are often updated so frequently. Is this fact important? I'm not sure. I think people put more stock in blogs than they should, and it's not clear to me why random opinions are so important. I'd rather see Google's traditional search engine deemphasize blogs. There's too much junk out there.

Sony Shakes Up Company Strategy
   Sony CEO Howard Stringer said that he would provide a turnaround strategy for the struggling consumer electronics maker within a few months of taking control of the company, and yesterday he delivered. Sony will post its first yearly loss in more than a decade, he said, but will take drastic steps to move the company back to profitability. All the expected changes will occur: Sony will slash 10,000 jobs worldwide and close 11 factories, letting the company save almost $2 billion over the next year and a half. But the big news is how the company will attempt to change its corporate culture to affect long-term change. Sony will eliminate the "corporate silos" that exist in its electronics unit, forcing business groups to work together for the first time. The autonomy of these groups hobbled Sony's ability to compete in the digital music space (the company owns one of the largest music companies in the world, so its electronic devices are designed to severely limit music piracy, which also limits their appeal to consumers), and now the company will try to reverse course. Stringer wants the new Sony to be friendlier internally and have a simpler organization.

McNealy Seeks "iPod Moments" for Sun
   Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy has watched his company nose-dive in the wake of the dot-com bust. (You might recall that Sun was the company that put the dot in dot com.) And he now has a plan for a Sun resurgence that's modeled after Apple's resurgence, thanks to that company's iPod devices. Put succinctly, he'd like to see Sun have some "iPod moments." During an address at Oracle OpenWorld 2005 this week, McNealy outlined six major initiatives that he says could offer the company such moments: x86-based servers (code-named Galaxy), Solaris 10, the UltraSparc IV+ microprocessor, the StorageTek acquisition, Java Enterprise System, and thin clients. The last item is particularly interesting because thin clients have never really hit mainstream markets despite several high-profile attempts by Sun, Oracle, and even Microsoft. McNealy says that Sun has the answer, however, and that answer involves third-generation cell phone network-based wireless capabilities and the ability to remotely run Windows applications off a centralized Windows server. I'm not sure that qualifies as an iPod moment, but it's certainly interesting and in keeping with the types of products you might expect from Sun. I'd like to see the company bounce back.

Intel Dramatically Improves Cell Phone Chips
Intel announced a new manufacturing process for cell phone chipsets that will consume far less power than anything on the market today. The new chipsets can be used in cell phones and other portable devices, the company says, and will extend battery life dramatically in those devices. The new manufacturing process won't be viable until 2007, unfortunately, so it looks like we'll have to live with the pathetic battery life of current cell phone models until then. 

Jobs: Record Companies Are "Greedy"
   Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that music industry executives who want to charge consumers more than 99 cents for legal song downloads are "greedy." That comment is a bit hypocritical coming from a guy who charges customers as much as he does for iPods and Macintoshes. The ever-quotable Jobs said that record companies already make the vast majority of their profits on song downloads and that raising the price would simply give them more money and provide none to artists or to Apple. Jobs also questioned the value of over-the-air song purchases, allegedly because they'd be expensive but probably because Apple doesn't yet have an over-the-air solution. He also noted that portable video players are an unnecessary market because no one has made serious money on those types of devices yet. That's true, Steve, but no one made serious money on portable digital audio players until Apple released the iPod. Innovators invent markets.

Firefox Security Questioned as Firefox 1.0.7 Is Released
   The Mozilla Foundation released Firefox 1.0.7, a minor update that adds major security fixes and is therefore an important upgrade for all Firefox users. The update fixes several problems, the most infamous of which is a vulnerability in Firefox's handling of International Domain Names. The Mozilla Foundation says that no one has successfully exploited the flaw, but that hasn't stopped hackers from trying. On a more general note, these and other Firefox vulnerabilities have led to the inevitable questioning of Firefox's security claims. The Mozilla Foundation has claimed that Firefox is more secure than Microsoft's bug-ridden IE. But Symantec said this week that Firefox suffered from more bugs (25) than IE (13) in the first 6 months of 2005. However, even Symantec admitted that "no widespread exploitation of any browser except Microsoft Internet Explorer occurred" during that time period. And the Mozilla Foundation argues that counting vulnerabilities is a flawed system because it measures them differently than Microsoft, which combines multiple vulnerabilities into single disclosures. The foundation says that it's more transparent and open about its flaws and fixes them more quickly. It turns out that the Mozilla Foundation is correct: Looking back over the past several months, it's apparent that Microsoft does indeed bundle flaws and thus releases fewer patches. I guess that's all part of the company's integration strategy.

Opera: 2 Million Downloads in 2 Days
   Opera Software opened up its Web browser software this week, letting consumers download the product for free, and it turns out to have been a good move. The company reported that users downloaded Opera 8.5 more than 2 million times in its first 2 days of availability--double the previous download record. And the majority of those downloads, go figure, came from IE users. "I'm most excited about the hundreds of thousands of new users who have discovered the speed, security, and usability of our browser for the first time," said Opera Software CEO Jon S. von Tetzchner. I'm most excited about the people who are now free of the insecurities of IE, but I guess that's roughly the same thing.

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