WinInfo Short Takes - 02 Mar 2007

It's been kind of a blah week, thanks to a lovely cold that I've caught, the kind that builds over time and finally hits after you think you've beaten it. This thing started catching back in my throat a few weeks ago if you can believe that, and then decided it was done toying with me. So I've spent the past couple of days on the couch watching horrible old TV shows and movies. Basic cable is considered torture in some countries, I'm told.

Because of this cold, I've held off on the Windows Weekly podcast, but I think we're going to record today. That should prove interesting, given the past few sleepless nights.

I was wondering how this cold could have possibly lingered for so long, but might have discovered why in a roundabout way. I've been testing alternative email clients and calendars since the beginning of the year, and with February winding down earlier this week, I began migrating my email and schedule to new applications. That was when I noticed that this is the first week in eight weeks that I haven't been on the road. Looking ahead, March is sort of a clean slate, and I think staying home for a bit might be just the ticket. We'll see.

My wife, who is also a writer, is looking for recent college graduates with degrees in computer science or political science who would like to appear in an article for "U.25", a publication for people under the age of 25. The article will discuss the job market for people who graduate with one of the top 10 college majors. Drop me an email message if you qualify (if you've graduated in the last three years and are working in a field related to your major) and are interested in speaking on record about your experiences. Thanks!

Finally, and on a far more serious note, Ron Hrehirchuk, an active member of the Windows and Group Policy community, was diagnosed last year with a rare condition called blastomycosis meningitis and has become severely disabled as a result. We're looking for donations to help pay for his medical expenses, and for vendors who can donate specialized equipment at cost or perhaps with a grant. You can find out more on Nick Whittome's blog, which includes a link to a PayPal account that's been set up to help Ron. Anything you can do is appreciated.

Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate Support Lasts Just Five Years

This week, many people were distressed by reports that Microsoft will support Windows Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate editions for only five years. Although this is in keeping with Microsoft's long-standing support policies--where business-oriented products receive 10 years of support and consumer-oriented products receive five--I feel that Vista Ultimate should get the full 10 years of support, given its price and enterprise features. The consumer market that Vista Home Basic and Vista Home Premium are aimed at justifies the support timeline for those products. But Vista Ultimate users pay more and should expect and get more. Microsoft said it will continue to evaluate the Vista support life cycle, however, so my expectation is that the company will come around on this one. Regardless, I guess we'll see two decent Windows revisions in that time frame anyway. And that might render this entire argument moot.

Microsoft Unimpressed with EU Slap Down

Although its official response to the recent European Union (EU) antitrust decision is still four weeks away, Microsoft did have some choice words for European regulators in the wake of a legal slap down that could result in hefty fines. Microsoft executives accused the EU of trying to "regulate the pricing of our intellectual property" after the European Commission (EC) noted that there was "no significant innovation" in the server documentation Microsoft was forced to provide as part of its antitrust reparations. Microsoft, saying that it owns numerous patents on the technologies in question, refuted that claim. Microsoft is also upset that the EC is painting a picture of a recalcitrant company that has spent almost three years not conforming to the EU's requirements. "We submitted a pricing proposal to the Commission last August and have been asking for feedback on it since that time," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said. "We're disappointed that this feedback is coming six months later and in its present form, but we're committed to working hard to address the Commission's statement of objections as soon as we receive it." Smith said that Microsoft has spent "many millions of dollars" trying to comply with the EU's decision.

Conspiracy Theory: Apple Fanatics Turn Vista Restriction into Snub

It's always about you, isn't it, Gustav? When Microsoft restricted the installation of Vista versions in virtual machines (VMs) to business-oriented versions of the OS, the company said it did so to limit support costs and to address the real-world customer scenarios that would require virtualized versions of Vista. In other words, consumer-oriented versions of Vista Home Basic and Home Premium aren't supported in VM installations (although they'll work just fine, of course). Macintosh fanatics who wish to run Vista in VMs inside of Mac OS X, however, cried foul, noting that the Vista versions Microsoft isn't supporting are also the lowest-cost versions of the OS. So Mac users will have to pay more to run Vista. I have two comments here. First, Mac users are a niche inside a niche inside a niche inside a niche. (That is, Intel-based Mac fans who want to run Vista under Mac OS X, and not in a dual-boot situation with Boot Camp, using Parallels. How big is this market? Is it one that Microsoft should seriously worry about? I think not.)  Second, it's not about Mac users (sorry), and it never will be. Most people who run Vista in a virtual environment will do so on Microsoft Virtual PC or Microsoft Virtual Server or various VMware products on a Windows platform, not on a Mac. Actually, I'll add a third point: There's nothing stopping anyone from installing Vista Home Basic on Parallels, if that's what you really want to do. More to the point, if you're that technical, you were never going to call Microsoft support anyway. So this is a red herring, and you're just complaining to make noise. Boo, I called you on it.

VMware Rails Against Microsoft Virtualization Strategy

This week, virtualization pioneer VMware shipped a white paper in which it accused Microsoft of using its monopoly position in the OS market to drive Windows users to Microsoft virtualization solutions. Unlike the claims of Apple fanatics (see above), VMware's complaints might have some merit: Microsoft is requiring customers to purchase more expensive Premier Support agreements before it will support Microsoft products running under competing virtualization solutions. Customers who use Microsoft virtualization solutions, such as Virtual Server, aren't required to purchase Premier Support agreements to get support. Microsoft responded to the charges, sort of, in the official Windows Server blog by noting that "licensing for virtualized environments will continue to evolve for us and the industry." Well, that clears up that argument, I guess.

Zune Patch on the Way, But No New Features

Microsoft said it will ship its second Zune firmware patch in mid-March. This patch, like the previous one, won't add any major new features but will instead address some performance problems and bugs, including a weird skipping problem that some of the 17 people who actually bought songs from Zune Marketplace have experienced. No biggie, but I'm still curious about future Zune revisions. When are we going to get podcast support and other new features? One of the benefits of Microsoft doing its own thing with Zune, supposedly, was that it could make changes more quickly than was possible with PlaysForSure. I've seen no evidence of that at all. In fact, it seems like the Zune guys blew all their energy in shipping the device in time for the holidays. How about some real updates?

Dell Earnings Smack Down

Dell used to be so predictable and, if I can be honest, I do sort of miss those days. Now, the struggling PC maker is in the midst of a corporate turnaround, and although the jury is still out on those efforts, its most recent quarterly earnings aren't exactly inspiring. Dell reported earnings of $673 million on sales of $14.4 billion in the most recent quarter, a sharp drop from $1 billion in earnings and $15.2 billion in sales it posted a year early. But it's not the financial numbers that have me worried. Dell's PC sales are off dramatically, especially in the crucial notebook market, where virtually every other PC maker has seen huge gains. Although portable computer sales rose 20 percent in the fourth quarter in the United States, Dell's notebook sales actually fell 2 percent. Meanwhile, overall PC sales were up 8.7 percent in the fourth quarter, but Dell's overall PC sales fell 8.4 percent (whereas HP sales grew 23.8 percent in the fourth quarter). Dell said it was withholding employee bonuses because of the poor results, but clearly there are some endemic problems that need to be addressed at the company. And let's not forget the ongoing Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation, which still casts a shadow over every financial announcement Dell makes.

Corel Treads Where Microsoft Dares Not

Microsoft has zealously resisted migrating its popular office productivity suite to the Web in recent years, but its competitors are showing a lot less resistance. Case in point: This week, WordPerfect owner Corel announced the public beta of WordPerfect Lightning, a free, downloadable office productivity suite that tightly integrates with online collaboration and storage services. WordPerfect Lightning is a hybrid suite with components that exist on both PCs and the Internet. (Microsoft Office, by comparison, is purely a traditional desktop PC suite.) WordPerfect Lightning isn't a full office productivity suite per se, but it's an interesting start. It's also something Microsoft should have done, oh, four years ago.

Adobe Treads Where Microsoft Dares Not

And speaking of companies that "get" the move to the Internet, Adobe announced this week that it will soon offer a free, ad-supported Web-based version of its Adobe Photoshop image-editing application. (The company is also working on a similar video-editing package, dubbed Adobe Remix.) Adobe said it wanted to move Photoshop to the Web before Google launched a Web-based photo editor of its own and locked up the market. The fact that Adobe understands where the next wave of competition is coming from bodes well for its future. Microsoft, meanwhile, insists that the packaged software route--which it's been using for 30 years--is still working just fine.

Symantec Ships 360 Security Product with Unexpectedly High Price

So it's cute that Symantec stole the idea for Windows Live OneCare and created a me-too product called Norton 360. But someone needs to tell Symantec that to completely emulate Microsoft, it needs to duplicate Microsoft's pricing model as well. Symantec's next-generation security suite is even more expensive than the bloated product--Norton Security Suite--that it's replacing. So although you can get Windows Live OneCare for about $11 these days with various rebates, Norton 360 will set you back a hefty $80.

Surprise, Surprise: Apple Delays Apple TV

If there's one thing you can count on with Apple, it's that its promised ship dates are always bogus. The latest offender is Apple TV, the still-vaporware set-top box the company announced last fall to stymie sales of competing products. Apple promised in early January that it would ship Apple TV in February, which, in Apple parlance, meant "will ship from our Chinese factories on February 28 and arrive in the United States a week later." But even that loose definition of February proved to be optimistic: With February having come to a close earlier this week, Apple admitted that its first-generation set-top box won't ship until at least mid-March. Maybe the company should begin pushing a "Jobsian" calendar to compete with the current Julian version. Apple could call it iCal. Oh, wait.

Lenovo Recalls More Than 200,000 Notebook Batteries

This week, Lenovo recalled more than 200,000 ThinkPad extended-life 9-cell batteries, and will replace the defective units free of charge. The recall affects various R-, T-, and Z-series ThinkPad models. Lenovo said that the problematic batteries could overheat, posing a potential safety hazard (read: fire). For more information, check out Lenovo's Web site.

Analysts: Wii to Outsell PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Barely

This week, IDC said that the current generation of video game consoles--which consists of the Microsoft Xbox 360, the Sony PlayStation 3, and the Nintendo Wii--won't be dominated by a single console, as was the case with the previous generation of consoles. Instead, all three consoles will sell well, with the Wii ultimately outshipping and outselling the other consoles. That said, each of the three consoles is expected to control about one-third of the market, meaning that Nintendo will grow market share considerably, while Sony will lose considerable market share. Frankly, this is great news for Nintendo and bad news for Sony and Microsoft. Sony had hoped that its PlayStation 3 would be as successful as its PlayStation 2, and Microsoft had expected to pick up some market share with its Xbox 360, which entered the market more than a year ahead of the competition.

Get Yer Vista Tips

I've posted a couple of interesting Vista tips articles on the SuperSite for Windows in the past week, and I'll post a third one today. Check them out, and if you've got any unique Vista tips you'd like to share, drop me a note: The best part of this exercise has been interacting with readers, and I'm surprised to admit I've actually learned a few things about an OS I've been covering for several years. Thanks, and have a great weekend.

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