WinInfo Short Takes - 22 Dec 2006

WinInfo Short Takes - 22 Dec 2006

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including last week's power outage, Windows Live, Samba stupidity, Visual Studio 2005 SP1 stupidity, Xbox 360 warranty, Origami 2, Xbox 360 games, a nice Zune analysis, Christmas, and so much more...

You might recall that, in last week's painfully unexciting Short Takes, I mentioned I was almost killed by a falling tree on the Microsoft campus last Thursday. I was in town for several meetings, as well as an all-day reviewers’ workshop on Friday. That workshop never happened because the Microsoft campus, all of Redmond, and much of Washington state lost power sometime in the evening between Thursday and Friday. And you thought I was exaggerating about the wind and rain.

Power outages can be fun for a short time. After confirming that the Microsoft campus was closed for the day, I headed out to the supermarket with some friends to see what was up. In Redmond, the supermarkets are on the same backup electrical grid as the police and fire stations, so there was some power--and some food--to be had. Had this power outage happened in the Boston area, the scene would have been straight out of a survival movie, with cars ramming into each other at intersections and people fighting over the last can of spam. But in the Seattle area, people are a lot nicer than that, and everyone was following the rules of the road despite the lack of streetlights. Even the dimly lit supermarket was calm and orderly. Good for them, although I did joke that we'd see Seattle's true colors if a single Starbucks were to be opened and people were forced to line up for that.

Anyway, we enjoyed a couple of meals of spam, deviled ham, crackers, cheese, and chips, as well as beef stew and coffee cooked over the fire in the fireplace, although I did belatedly realize we could have hooked the coffee maker up to the SUV's power adapter. (Relax; it's a hybrid.) In an unintentionally comic moment, my friend and I spent Friday night huddled around an iPod, connected to a single unpowered speaker, wrapped in blankets, and listening to the audio portion of episodes of "Real Time with Bill Maher." Coincidentally, we had earlier discussed how weird it was to think that people used to gather around radios each week in the 1940s. Cue the laugh track.

We ended up being lucky: The power came on sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning, but as we had had plans to go to Victoria, British Columbia, anyway, it didn't matter much. Others weren't so lucky: Many of my friends at Microsoft were without power through much of this week, and although the people I was staying with could afford to joke about who we'd eat first, this type of thing isn't very fun when you've got kids. It's astonishing to me that the power could be out for so long, but there you go.

Speaking of weather, I'm told that my editors at Penton in Colorado just got nailed with about two feet of snow. Kind of puts the wind and rain of Seattle in perspective, but I bet no one lost power in Colorado, and if they did, it didn't last very long. Seattle is typically a temperate place, but any kind of serious weather shuts the whole area down for days. Places like Colorado, the Midwest, and New England are more prepared for this kind of thing, I guess.

Victoria, by the way, is absolutely beautiful. I had never been anywhere in British Columbia before, although I'm a huge fan of Quebec, on the other side of the continent. Neat place.

Finally, the Windows Weekly podcast is on hiatus this week and next because of the holidays. We'll be back January 5, 2007.

Live Search Losing Users

Despite billions in research and development and, frankly, a pretty darned good product, Microsoft's Windows Live Search continues to hemorrhage market share, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. The firm says that Windows Live Search and MSN Search fell 12 percent in November to 8.2 percent of the total search market. That's a far cry from Google and Yahoo!, which both grew in November. Google's share of the market rose 31 percent to 49.5 percent of the market, and Yahoo! grew 27 percent to 24.3 percent of the market. Curiously, Microsoft says the usage slide was expected since it was bringing Live Search out of beta, but I have to believe the company wanted to do much more than that. At this rate, Microsoft could fall into fourth place: AOL Search grew 11 percent in November to seize 6.2 percent of the market.

Samba Man Leaves Novell Because of Microsoft Deal

In a textbook example of biting one's nose to spite one's face, Jeremy Allison, the high-profile open-source programmer who developed the Samba networking solution, has quit Novell, citing the recent agreement between Novell and Microsoft as the reason. Allison has accepted a job at Google--which is unlikely to enter into any high-level Microsoft pacts anytime soon--where he'll continue working on Samba, which helps Linux-based PCs connect with Windows-based systems over a network. "I have decided to leave Novell ... due to the Microsoft/Novell patent agreement, which I believe is a mistake and will be damaging to Novell's success in the future," Allison wrote in his resignation letter. "The Microsoft patent agreement has put us outside the community, and there is no positive aspect to that fact, and no way to make it so. Until the patent provision is revoked, we are pariahs." It's too bad Novell didn't have a high-profile open-source programmer who could help try and make a difference. Ah well.

Microsoft Sells First Copy of SUSE Linux

In related news, Microsoft this week ... sold a copy of Linux. Seriously. Under the terms of its agreement with Novell, Microsoft sold SUSE Linux Enterprise subscription certificates to Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group, and AIG Technology, all of which can now benefit from the "interoperability, patent cooperation agreement, and road map for bidirectional virtualization solutions" that the Novell and Microsoft agreement provides. Although many in the open-source community are obviously skeptical of this agreement, I do believe it marks a new era of interoperability that's important for business customers, who often need to mix Linux and Windows systems in their environments, but are leery of the costs and complexity. What's needed, of course, are high-profile open-source programmers who can help make this heterogeneous future a reality.

Visual Studio 2005 SP1 Update for Vista

This week, Microsoft released an update for Visual Studio 2005 (and all the various Visual Studio 2005 standalone products) that helps make Visual Studio 2005 Service Pack 1 (SP1) work better with Windows Vista. Visual Studio might very well be a wonderful development environment, but I'm curious as to why these guys can't make more elegant updates. To install this silly patch on Vista, you have to go through a mind-blowing series of steps in which you really, really have to know what you're doing. There are different patch versions for each Visual Studio product, and they're all available separately instead of simply being bundled. The whole thing is a mess.

Microsoft Bumps Xbox 360 Warranty Up to One Year

As my son kicked over our Xbox 360 the other night, the silent scream that was building inside my head threatened to turn an accident into an international incident. But the Xbox 360 miraculously survived the fall, although the "Call of Duty 3" disc inside did not. (Have you ever seen how scratched up those discs get if they're inside an Xbox 360 when it falls over? It's astonishing.) Anyway, for those of you who worry that your $400 investment is going to turn into an expensive (and loud) doorstop, Microsoft just provided a bit of breathing room: This week, the company announced that it was expanding the Xbox 360 warranty from 90 days to one year in the United States and Canada. That's a significant expansion, and should offset most fears about the durability of the device.

Origami 2: The Quickening

Will Microsoft ever learn? Last year's release of the Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC, code-named Origami) was an absolute disaster. The over-hyped device failed to sell well in any market, and users complained that it was too big to be used as a PDA and too small to be used as a true PC. Well, fear not, they're trying again: At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas next month, Microsoft will show off Origami Mach 2, which will support Vista and come in a wide range of form factors. Color me unimpressed. Again.

And the Best Selling Xbox 360 Game Is...

Although Microsoft made a big show of announcing that its "Gears of War" for Xbox 360 had sold two million copies, I'm guessing it won't be as ebullient about the following news: “Gears” isn't the best-selling Xbox 360 game of all time; heck, it's not even the best-selling Xbox 360 game of this holiday season. Nope, that designation goes instead to the three Burger King promotional games that are being sold through the fast food chain. The games have sold more than two million copies, thanks to their low $3.99 pricing and non-stop TV advertising. (And seriously, who isn't creeped-out by the bizarre bigheaded Burger King character in those ads?) If only we could deathmatch Burger King vs. Ronald McDonald online.

Analyzing the Zune

This week, CNET's Ina Fried has a great article analyzing Zune sales. And here's a shocker: Zune sales are very much on track with Microsoft's estimates. According to sales data from Current Analysis, Zune is currently holding more than 10 percent of the market share for MP3 players that sell for $200 to $299, despite news reports of dwindling sales and mostly horrific reviews. The Zune has averaged 13 percent of the revenue share in its first three weeks on the market, causing Apple's share to fall by a similar amount. But here's an interesting statistic: The Zune is selling poorly in college towns, suggesting that its hipper-than-thou marketing isn't reaching kids as Microsoft had hoped. And laughably, the Zune is selling best in, you guessed it, Microsoft's hometown of Seattle.

Happy Holidays

We won't be publishing WinInfo on Monday, December 25, 2006, because of the Christmas holiday. Merry Christmas, if you're celebrating. We'll see you again on Tuesday.

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