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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of September 30

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...

Windows XP Gets Bluetooth Support
Microsoft alerted me last night that it has released its Bluetooth device support for Windows XP to manufacturing. "Companies such as Ericsson and Hewlett Packard have built products on the Windows Bluetooth format that allows users to benefit from Bluetooth wireless functionalities such as establishing a connection between their Windows XP PC and other mobile computers, mobile phones, keyboards, printers and mice," the company noted. Industry research firm International Data Corporation (IDC) expects revenue from Bluetooth-enabled devices to grow from $76.6 million in 2001 to $2.6 billion by 2006, with widespread adoption expected next year. And with over 46 million Windows XP users, Bluetooth will finally have a popular, mainstream desktop OS with which to interact. Expect XP support from Bluetooth hardware makers in three to six months.

Windows XP SP1 Hits 1 Million Downloads in Less Than Two Weeks
In a barely noticed milestone last week, Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) hit the one million download mark after about ten days of availability. That's interesting for a number of reasons, but primarily because Microsoft now has a wide range of users with which to judge the success of the release, which is about as ho-hum as any service pack can and should be. That is, most users who install XP SP1 notice no change at all, and that's exactly what should happen. After weeks of using XP SP1 on all of my Windows machines here at home, I've got literally nothing to report. That's good news.

eWeek Jumps on the Post-XP Bandwagon
Heads up, guys: I've been writing about this for months. A breathless news article this week in eWeek contends that Microsoft will release a post-XP Windows version prior to Longhorn, due in 2005. What an amazing bit of news. On the other hand, I've been writing about the certainty of such a release since January, leading me to wonder whether the "developers close to Microsoft" that the author uses as sources were simply working off of information they read first here in WinInfo Daily Update. I've said it before, and I've said it again: Microsoft cannot and will not let two holiday seasons pass without a new Windows version. But then you guys knew that.

Microsoft to Support Internet Connection Sharing in MSN 8
Microsoft's upcoming MSN 8 online service will usher in many firsts, one of which is that MSN will become the first major ISP to document and support the creation of free home networks with a shared Internet connection. To facilitate this feature, the company is also offering customers up to 20 percent off the Microsoft Broadband Networking Wireless Base Station, which will, of course, facilitate the Internet connection sharing and home network creation Microsoft will support in MSN 8. It's a nice synergy, if you will, of Microsoft's various product lines. Or integration. Or something.

Microsoft Previews the Office of the Future
And I bet it runs all Microsoft software. The company unveiled its Center for Information Work, a Big Brotherish-sounding name for the work-oriented version of the Microsoft Home, which has been showing off future home technologies on-campus for several years. At the Center for Information Work, Microsoft is displaying such office productivity enhancements as Dolby Digital 5.1-channel surround sound for email and other information notifications, pervasively wireless hardware, spoken email messages with video clips, Tablet PCs linked to office whiteboard displays, and wrap-around 3D displays with 180 degree views. It's all high on the concept chart, not so high on the reality chart. But then, that's what the future is all about: First you plot it out, and then you deliver on it. If the Center for Information Work is anything like the Microsoft Home, which I visited a second time just last month, it's probably a must-see and a good indication of where we're headed.

Microsoft's Big Office Bet
And speaking of the office of the future, here's a more concrete story about office productivity. Microsoft group vice president Jeff Raikes said this week that the company was investing over $3 billion in its Microsoft Office product line over the next three years in an effort to boost Office sales to $20 billion a year by 2010. Microsoft Office is, of course, Microsoft's other monopoly, and it accounts for almost 50 percent of the company's annual revenues. But a string of disappointing releases and high price tags have dampened enthusiasm for the product line recently, so Raikes and company are going to try and do something about it. First up is Office 11, which will hit the streets in mid-2003, offering users new versions for small and medium businesses, as well as students and other individuals. This multi-market approach is intended to counter the perception that Office is too expensive, so we can expect some cheaper-than-usual Office versions next time around. Also due in Office 11 is a more pervasive toolset for communicating, collaborating, and connecting with coworkers using the same Office documents and data. It's all going to happen with XML, Raikes says, making Office 11 the most connected Office version yet. Time will tell: The Office 11 beta machine is getting ready to roll any day now.

Heads Up, Steve: MVPs Aren't Going to Help You Defeat Linux
The idea is so absurd it's almost laughable, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer actually told a crowd of Microsoft Most Valued Professionals (MVPs) in London this week that they would spearhead the company's efforts to create a community of users to rival the vocal group of Linux advocates who promote that OS and its open source mantra. What Ballmer doesn't get is that the MVPs are basically just free product support for the company, and they number only 1200 strong because the sole qualification is that MVPs must maintain a presence in Microsoft's USENET newsgroups. Like any other group, there are good MVPs, who are honestly there to help others, and those that are just in it for the perks--which include hundreds of dollars of free Microsoft software per year. In the end, true advocate communities appear naturally, not under the aegis of a company with a vested interest in keeping these people happy. If Microsoft is serious about creating a sense of community, it needs to look to the bigger group of Windows advocates, already out there on the Web, who are doing an amazing job of educating and helping a much wider range of users than is possible in the limited world of newsgroups and Microsoft's own Web sites. In other words, MVPs should be rated on what they do, and now they help people, not where they do it.

Ballmer Can't Get No Broadband Satisfaction
Speaking of Bad Boy Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft CEO might be one of the richest men in the world, but even he can't get broadband Internet access at his palatial Seattle-area mansion. "I can't get cable or DSL to my house," he said in London this week. "I live in an affluent neighborhood, six minutes from downtown Seattle, and I can't get it." Interestingly, I've had cable Internet access since the first day it became available in Phoenix, Arizona in early 1997, if I recall the date correctly, when I was still living in an apartment, and I haven't looked back since. Of course, Ballmer could buy and sell me like a cheap plastic toy if he wanted to. I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

Is Broadband Dead in the Water?
And speaking of broadband, it seems that Steve Ballmer isn't the only person without high-speed Internet access. A recent US Commerce Department study reveals that almost all US families live in an area where broadband cable, DSL, or satellite Internet access is available, but few see the benefits to the additional cost. These people, naturally, scare me to death, since I couldn't see moving to an area that didn't have at least three broadband choices, and yet I'm obvious in the minority, as over 90 percent of the US is still getting by on dial-up modem access to the Internet. That figure puts countries such as Canada, South Korea, and Taiwan well ahead of the US in broadband adoption. What's even scarier, perhaps, is the way people do use broadband when they get online: The study notes that most broadband adoption these days occurs so people can take part in music swapping services like Kazaa and the now-dead Napster. This is a sad state of affairs, and I can only hope that similar studies about the telephone and television appeared in the nascent days of those industries as well.

It's Official: Microsoft Buys Rare
Ending weeks of speculation, Microsoft revealed this week that it has indeed purchased the remaining 49 percent it didn't previously own of British video game maker Rare for $375 million. What's interesting about this deal is that the other 49 percent formerly belonged to video game giant Nintendo, and Rare was responsible for some of Nintendo's biggest recent hits, including Donkey Kong Country and Goldeneye, a first-person shooter based on the James Bond movies. And though Rare's share of the Nintendo market has fallen a bit in recent years, the company has sold over 90 million cartridges since 1994, which isn't too shabby.

Palm Loses Money, Intros Confusing New Product Lines
You just posted a $259 million loss: What do you do? Well, if you're PDA maker Palm Inc., you launch a confusing new product line, comprised mostly of preexisting products with confusing new names. Yes, it's all part of a grand strategy to rejuvenate its stalled sales, but Palm OS maker Palm Inc. should seriously reconsider a few aspects of its plan. First up is its new product lines, which have the awful names Tungsten, for corporate products, and Zire (yes, Zire), for consumer-oriented products. The company will launch a sub-$100 PDA in the Zire line soon (think Palm m105 with a new name) and various wireless-enabled models next month under the Tungsten sub-brand. Here's some advice for Palm: If you don't bag the silly and confusing names, we're going to be seeing a Zire-sale of the company by this time next year. Why doesn't Palm just make innovative and exciting PDAs, like Sony, and skip the marketing baloney?

Microsoft Software Pioneer Dead at 53
Bob Wallace, one of Microsoft's original 11 employees, died unexpectedly this week of natural causes at the age of 53. Wallace is most interesting for his approach to computers and drugs, both of which he said could "expand the mind." But Wallace also invented the term "shareware," wrote an early word processor, and owned a cat named Microsoft that was reportedly the origin of the company's name (Not true, says Wallace's wife: The cat was simply small and soft, thus the name). A true pioneer, Wallace will be fondly remembered for his early contributions to the software industry.

AOL to Debut New Two Towers Trailer
But wait, I thought this was the only reason people visited AOL Time Warner announced this week that it will exclusively debut the trailer for "The Two Towers," the upcoming Lord of the Rings movie, on its AOL online service. The trailer will become available on AOL Monday, the company says.

Maybe He Should Have Called It "Down"
Peter Gabriel's new album "Up" was recently made available exclusively in Windows Media Audio (WMA) 9 format this week, or was it? Apparently, few people were able to actually download the digital album, thanks to a server glitch that kept customers from making the purchase. But one thing I should clear up about the Up download and other Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies Microsoft is now offering: DRM doesn't necessarily prevent users from copying songs to other devices or to CD-ROM. In the case of the Peter Gabriel album, customers can, in fact, transfer the music to portable digital audio players and make two CD copies. The thing to remember here is that DRM is feature designed to prevent intellectual property (IP) theft, not limit your fair use rights. I see so much misinformation about DRM out there that it's scary. But DRM isn't a bogeyman, and it isn't designed to harm end users.

Apple Hits a New Low as Jobs Hits a New High
The master of PR knew that his supposed $1 a year salary would generate good press for Apple Computer, but CEO Steve Jobs has a little trick up his sleeve to make things right financially. As reported previously here in WinInfo, Jobs actually makes tens of millions of dollars a year thanks to overtly generous bonuses, and in mid-2002 those bonuses made him the highest paid CEO in the world. Jobs took home over $43 million in the second quarter of 2002 alone, a time period when the average cash grab by CEOs at America's biggest companies declined 1.9 percent. Not bad for a guy making only $1 a year, and running a company whose market share has consistently sunk under his tutelage. And consider a recent report by Business Week magazine, which named Apple's Board of Directors one of the ten worst in America because of its hefty compensation for a "flailing" CEO, having too many company insiders as board members, and failing to notice or stop abuses that were happening under its nose. Jobs' best friend Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, abruptly left his position on Apple's board earlier this week. I wonder if that was coincidental.

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