WinInfo UPDATE - Short Takes - January 13, 2006

I guess I'll have to admit defeat on my prediction that Macworld would generate more excitement than the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show CES. Macworld generated a lot of buzz sure but the post keynote frenzy that always follows a Steve Jobs presentation was muted somewhat by overall disappointment about the new Intel based products, especially the MacBook Pro which lacks many of the features found in the previous generation PowerBook G4 such as a Firewire 800 port a built in modem and dual layer DVD writing support. Also disappointing is the lack of a new media center like Mac mini and any new iPods. All in all, Macworld was still an exciting event but in the end Apple is a single company and its Macintosh computers although excellent don’t have enough users to generate that much mainstream excitement.

I didn't actually go to Macworld. It was just bad timing. I've got a lot of other business related travel occurring in January and I didn’t want to be away from home that long. I did, however, order a 20 iMac so I could test Windows Vista and Mac OS X head to head on the same hardware. It should be interesting.

Meanwhile, after two of the most miserable winters in Boston history this year is turning out to be a peach! If this is what global warming is all about I'm all for it! We‘ve seen sunny 50 degrees Fahrenheit days all week and none of the bitter biting cold that typifies January around these parts. On the down side, our regular skiing schedule has been completely disrupted. I'll take the warm weather if given the choice, however.

I get the weirdest email messages. One guy has bugged me repeatedly all week about a particular font in Vista and Microsoft Office 12, but I'm more concerned about the bizarre spam messages with nonsense sentences that are clearly computer generated. Here's a typical exle of the text that appears in these messages. Having surmounted this perilous steep they sat down and took a ief rest with their backs against a sheltering rock and their heels dangling over a bottomless abyss; then, they climbed to the base of another ridge, a more difficult and dangerous one still. Weird, eh? Does anyone know what the point of this stuff is? There's no attachment so it’s not directly sending a virus.  

Microsoft will Ship All Vista Bits with Each Product Edition

Although Microsoft will market several Vista product editions, or SKUs, the company will distribute one version of the product's DVD providing the code for all product editions on each disc. That way users will be able to unlock functionality from higher end Vista editions at a later date after paying for the upgrade privilege. The change in plans which was first reported by CRN means that Microsoft will need to maintain only a single Vista master disk image rather than the multiple images that would otherwise be required. Each time a Vista edition is upgraded Microsoft will provide an updated product key as each product edition requires different product key sequences. At that point your old product key will be invalidated so it can’t be used on a different system. Say what you will but this new scheme makes a lot of sense given the sheer number of email messages I get about upgrading one edition of XP to another. And with Vista we'll see even more product editions each with its own specific set of features.

Windows XP Home Edition Support Extended to at Least Late 2008

For the past 2 weeks the Windows community has been buzzing with news that Microsoft was scheduled to halt support for XP Home at the end of this year. Apparently, Microsoft never expected that its next Windows release would take so long to ship. Well the crisis is over; Microsoft this week revealed that it has extended support for XP Home and a few other XP editions whose support was also scheduled to be terminated this year to 2 years after the next version of Windows Vista is released, according to the company. If Vista ships on schedule at the end of the year that means that Microsoft will continue supporting XP Home through late 2008. That’s not too shabby! Note that Microsoft’s business oriented Windows products have much lengthier support life cycles. Microsoft is supporting XP Professional for exle through 2011.

Microsoft Drops Windows Media Player WMP for Mac OS X, Adds a Keyboard

After the Apple-Microsoft love fest at Macworld two unexpected events revealed that maybe relations between the companies aren't as rosy as they'd like us to believe. First, Microsoft dropped its WMP for Mac software and is pushing customers to download a third party plug in that supports Windows Media Audio WMA and Windows Media Video WMV formats in Apple's QuickTime Player. Apparently, the problem has to do with Microsoft's audio and video files which are protected by Digital Rights Management DRM. Apple wouldn't provide the technical details Microsoft needed to support the formats on OS X, so Microsoft just gave up. Second, Microsoft announced that it would release a keyboard and mouse specifically aimed at the Mac market with Apple-like styling. There's just one problem: Apple won't let Microsoft use its Apple logo on the keyboard, so the Apple key, which appears on every Mac, will be replaced by a key with a clover graphic which also appears on Apple's keyboards. Maybe I'm seeing this through Microsoft glasses, but from where I sit Microsoft is at least trying. How about throwing a bone to your oldest partner, eh Apple?

Portable Version of Now Available

This one is kind of interesting. An open source community Web site called has released a portable version of the office productivity suite including full versions of the desktop application's word processor spreadsheet presentation tool database and graphics packages that will fit on a USB key giving users a complete productivity solution on the go. The Portable suite takes up just 144MB, can run from USB memory keys and other storage devices, and can be used on shared PCs found in libraries, Internet cafes, coffee shops and the like. It's a nifty idea; even if you regularly use Microsoft Office on your home and work machines you might want something for those times when you're sans PC and yet need to churn out the next War and Peace. If you were to combine the suite with portable versions of Mozilla's Firefox Web browser and Thunderbird email client you'd have a complete office in your pocket. Without the blithering idiot in the next cubicle, of course.       

Robert Fripp Recording Sounds for Vista

Dinosaur rocker Robert Fripp, who cofounded the Irish progressive rock band King Crimson, recently spent time at Microsoft's Redmond CUS recording sounds that will be used in Vista. A guitarist by trade, Fripp reportedly recorded numerous futuristic sounds that will likely show up in various Vista sound schemes. However, one must question the Vista team's hip quotient. Couldn't Microsoft have gotten a musician more in touch with today's PC users? You know, someone like Frank Stallone? Of course, this isn’t the first time Microsoft turned to an aging rocker to provide sounds for Windows. In 1995, the company hired electronic rock pioneer Ian Eno to provide sounds for Windows 95. And we all know how cool he is!

Microsoft Wins File System Patent Challenge in United States

Microsoft this week revealed that its patents for the FAT file system were upheld after a lengthy legal battle. The software giant had apparently requested that various portable device makers pay for a license to the FAT file system they were using. Some of those companies challenged Microsoft’s patents, but more than 2 years later Microsoft's patents were ruled valid. From Microsoft's perspective the case is closed. But opponents say that the decision this week only confirms that the US patent system is flawed because no rebuttal is allowed after a patent challenge has been settled. Microsoft still faces similar patent challenges in Canada and Germany.

New Version of Apple iTunes Is Spyware

Though Apple released several high profile products this week a small update to its iTunes media player software didn't receive much attention. But iTunes, as the update is known, is causing a bit of a stir online now that Apple's millions of users are finally getting around to installing it. The new version adds an unwelcome and busy new panel called the Mini Store to the bottom of the application window. The Mini Store displays ads for music sold on Apple's iTunes Music Store. You can turn it off easily enough, though Apple fans are quick to point out that its very presence mars the Spartan iTunes interface in ways they'd never expect from Apple. The big problem, however, is that the new Mini Store feature installs spyware on your PC or Mac. In order to offer up targeted advertising the Mini Store examines the music you're currently playing and transmits that information to Apple which then provides relevant ads. ITunes never mentions that it's doing this nor that it's also secretly transmitting the user's unique iTunes account information along with the song data. The revelation about Apple's secret transmissions has even the staunchest Apple supporters questioning their allegiance as this isn’t exactly the kind of behavior they’d expect from Apple. RealNetworks yes, Microsoft maybe. But not Apple!

Finally! Dell Opens Door to AMD

That PC giant, Dell, will soon offer a gaming PC with an Intel chip over clocked and warranted to 4.26GHz is a milestone, but the fact that Dell even has to modify an Intel microprocessor to make it perform at a high level hints that Dell isn't too happy these days about its Intel only policy. Dell CEO Kevin Rollins said this week that the company is open to selling PCs that use AMD's microprocessors which are widely acknowledged as being technically superior to Intel chips while offering better performance. “We're always open to different microprocessors,” he said. “We want the very best technology for our customers.” Performance and technical superiority aside, there's another reason to switch to AMD, and one that would surely warm the cockles of Dell’s corporate heart: AMD chips are cheaper than Intel chips.

Mozilla Ships Thunderbird 1.5

This week Mozilla Foundation finally shipped a long awaited update to its email client, Thunderbird, bringing the version number of the product up to 1.5. Like its Firebird cousin, Thunderbird 1.5 is free and offers Really Simple Syndication (RSS) integration, antiphishing capabilities, various security updates and other new features. I've had a hard time switching to Thunderbird from Microsoft Outlook because Thunderbird lacks integrated calendaring and tasks, though Mozilla is working on that. But if you need just email newsgroups and contacts management Thunderbird is a great solution, vastly superior to and more secure than Outlook Express. Check it out on the Mozilla Web site.

No WinInfo on Monday

Because of the Martin Luther King Jr holiday on Monday we will not be publishing WinInfo on that day. See you again on Tuesday!

TAGS: Windows 8
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