WinInfo Short Takes - 15 Jun 2007

If all goes well, I'll be in Las Vegas by the time you read this article, for what I'm lovingly referring to as my "stupidity weekend" celebrating a friend's 40th birthday. I've been to Las Vegas, oh, probably 20 times, but this marks my first trip there since 1993 that's been for pleasure rather than work, which is sort of odd when you consider what Las Vegas is all about. I'm not a gambler, but Las Vegas is full of great restaurants, great shows, and several, um, other diversions, so I'm sure we'll find something to do.

Leo and I didn't record a new episode of Windows Weekly this week because Leo's away and it would have been difficult to schedule given my own trip. We'll be back next week.

I want to thank everyone that's written in about my iTunes/ Windows Vista problems. I can't say that I've figured out why this problem is happening, but apparently I'm not alone. The good news, I guess, is that I know how to prevent it from happening, by checking all downloaded files before exiting iTunes. That's silly, of course, but it's better than losing purchased content.

Also in the good news department, we've had a sudden and very positive reversal in the bizarre insurance mess-up that prevented my son Mark from getting his second cochlear implant surgery earlier this month. The short version is that my wife, who is typically not as type-A as I am, called up the insurance company and laid out the following three factoids: She'd read all of the material the company gave her and nowhere does it say that bilateral implants aren't covered; she read a story in the "Boston Globe" just that week about a girl who had gotten a bilateral implant and was insured by that very company, and would like to know why the company covered her and not our son; and that we'd retained legal representation from a company that specializes in suing insurance companies that try not to pay for covered procedures. With amusement and amazement, I can report that my wife was told, literally at that moment, that the insurance company had just changed its policy and Mark is now covered. The surgery can occur as early as June 25. My wife, needless to say, is a superstar.

Leopard Doesn't Measure Up

So in the wake of Steve Jobs' Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote address on Monday, OS enthusiasts are roundly disappointed by the lack of "secret" new features, which Jobs had previously promised. Leopard, it seems, will be yet another evolutionary release instead of the revolutionary Vista-killer than many expected. That's too bad, in some ways, but I think it highlights just how mature the desktop OS market has become. It's only natural that Apple's latest release would suffer from some of the same deflated-balloon effect that seems to be affecting Vista as well. Leopard, like Vista, will no doubt be a great release, but it's unclear if that's enough to get people excited anymore, especially with each OS release coming out slower than its predecessors.

Microsoft is Number 49

Fortune Magazine released its annual list of America's largest corporations and Microsoft came in at number 49, down one position from 2006 despite revenues that are 11.3 percent higher. Other technology-related companies on the list include HP (14), IBM (15), Dell (34), Intel (62), Apple (121), and Oracle (167). Honestly, I'm surprised there aren't more computer companies higher on the list. The top five on the list were Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil, General Motors, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. It's somewhat depressing that four of the five top corporations are oil and auto-industry related.

When Did Microsoft Know About Google's Complaint?

Revelations this week about a new Google antitrust complaint against Microsoft are notable for several reasons, not the least of which is the news that the Department of Justice (DOJ) secretly tried to convince several states to ignore the complaint. But the big news here, from an industry perspective, is that although Microsoft didn't just find out about this complaint, it also didn't hear about the complaint when it was originally made. Google first complained about Vista's desktop search feature back in 2004, but Microsoft didn't hear about it until December 2006, more than a month after the company finalized the OS. Would Microsoft have made changes to Vista if it were apprised of this complaint a year or more before? We can only speculate, but Microsoft has said repeatedly that desktop search isn't covered by the antitrust consent decree anyway. And I've said repeatedly--and will say again--that Google's complaint is completely baseless: Google didn't launch a desktop search product until after Microsoft announced its plans for Vista.

Microsoft in Discussions with EU Over Xbox 360 Disc Scratching

This week, Microsoft released a statement acknowledging that it's working in an open dialogue with European Union (EU) Commissioner Meglena Kuneva to clarify the efforts that Microsoft is taking globally to address consumer concerns about the Xbox 360's amazing ability to scratch Xbox 360 game discs so bad that they become unplayable. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the software giant has publicly admitted to the problem, which I've seen happen to several discs. However, Microsoft continues to blame the problem mostly on "improper use" by consumers, which I can state emphatically is just plain, old-fashioned baloney: I have three Xbox 360 game discs that are marred beyond playability, and the games and my systems have been lovingly cared-for. Make no mistake: There's something very wrong with the Xbox 360, and it's scratching discs. I'll be watching this story closely and waiting for my chance to get free game disc replacements. This problem is absolutely Microsoft's fault.

Windows Home Server Hits Release Candidate Stage

This week, Microsoft shipped a near-final release candidate version of Windows Home Server to beta testers, a milestone that suggests the company will have no problem shipping this eagerly-awaited product in time for the holidays. Microsoft says that more than 100,000 enthusiasts are currently beta testing Windows Home Server, and if the current release candidate is any indication, the product is shaping up nicely. Windows Home Server will be sold with special home server hardware and also as a standalone software package that white-box PC makers can use to build their own custom home servers. Pricing and availability haven't yet been announced.

Will Anyone Use Safari on Windows?

Apple's surprise release of the Safari Web browser for Windows this week was accompanied by the usual hyperbole: It's "the world's best browser," Apple boasts, and "the fastest Web browser on any platform." Um, right. Actually, the initial beta of Safari on Windows was pretty weak: It's buggy, slow, and feature-starved, crashes frequently, is decidedly slower than both Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer, and has serious compatibility problems with major Web sites. So the real question now is, who exactly will use this browser and why? Apple says that Safari for Windows is aimed at Windows users who love the simplicity and power of Apple products such as iTunes and the iPod, and Apple's even touting its "worry-free" security features. So isn't it ironic that the browser suffered from an unprecedented three zero-day flaws at almost the moment it was released? Apple subsequently shipped out a security update, but this should serve as a heads-up to anyone who thinks Apple products are automatically more secure. Again, I have to wonder: Who would ever use this browser?

Competition Good. Bluster Bad.

Symantec's CEO John Thompson was at it again this week, ripping into Microsoft as if it were part of his job description. Thompson told ZDNet that Microsoft's security products simply imitate what others are already doing and that innovation at the company has slowed. So riddle me this, Symantec: If Microsoft can't innovate with security, why did you completely rip-off the feature set of Microsoft's Windows Live OneCare when you created Norton 360? Granted, Thompson was referring to Microsoft's corporate-oriented security products when he went on his latest antiRedmond rant, and not the consumer stuff such as OneCare, but I'm not sure that makes his comments OK. Yeah, we get it: Symantec has been around awhile. But I'd be hard pressed to find anyone that actually likes using the company's products. Maybe we should just start being honest here.

Yahoo! Shareholders Rip Into Company

Microsoft's shareholders should be this diligent. Yahoo!'s senior executive staff had the dubious honor of appearing before a raucous crowd at the company's annual shareholder meeting. No, this wasn't the sort of love-fest you see at Apple's similar meeting, mostly because Yahoo! is tanking in the marketplace thanks to ever-stronger gains by Internet search giant Google. Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel has pledged to improve the company's ad business, search results, and move into non-online markets. What's odd about this mess is that Yahoo!'s products and services are actually quite good. It's amazing that the company isn't putting up more of a fight.

Microsoft Quietly Kills Digital Image Suite

And finally, I must report, somewhat sadly, that Microsoft has quietly killed its Digital Image Suite product line, which I should have seen coming when the company repackaged the 2006 edition during the last holiday season without adding any new features. Now, a note on the product's Web site simply tells users that Digital Image Suite has been discontinued. "Many of the digital imaging features and tools that have been enjoyed for years now can be found in new Microsoft titles and services including Windows Vista," the note adds. That's only sort of true; Vista's Windows Photo Gallery application offers a subset of the features in Digital Image Suite 2006 Library and Editor. I actually use Digital Image Suite 2006 almost every day and can't imagine how I'll replace it in the short term. Ah well.

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