WinInfo Short Takes - 27 Oct 2006

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including my Vista upgrade advice, new RTM build information, Motion Desktop, Microsoft financials, Dell and Vista, a new IE 7.0 flaw, IE 7.0 milestones, DVD Jon vs. Apple, Firefox 3.0, and so much more...WinInfo Blog

Short Takes

- On the Road to RTM
- Motion Desktop a Go for Ultimate Extras
- Microsoft Meets Quarterly Financial Goals
- More Microsoft Financial Information
- Security Firm Bypasses Vista's PatchGuard, Gets Slapped Down by
- Dell CEO: Vista Will Be a Boon to PC Companies
- Microsoft Responds to "Second" IE 7.0 Flaw
- IE 7.0 Off to Torrid Start
- DVD Jon Claims He's Cracked iTunes
- Mozilla Starts Work on Firefox 3.0
- Major Linux Revisions Ship This Week

WinInfo Blog

by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

This week's announcement about the Windows Vista Express Upgrade program--whereby consumers purchasing new PCs can get coupons for free or reduced-cost versions of Vista early next year--raises a simple question: Should you buy a PC now or wait? I can't stress this strongly enough: You should wait. The experience of buying a PC preinstalled with Vista will be vastly superior to the experience of upgrading Windows XP to Vista yourself. I'd even take the "wait" advice to the next level: Not only should you wait for Vista; you should wait until PC makers ship Vista-specific hardware in the first half of 2007. If you buy a PC very early in 2007, you'll simply get the previous year's PC designs with Vista shoehorned inside. Obviously, some people can't wait, and if you're technical enough or simply must have Vista now for some reason, go for it. But the vast majority of Windows users will benefit greatly by having a little patience.

Episode 4 of my Windows Weekly podcast with Leo Laporte is now available. We're taking next week off because Leo is going on a Geek Cruise. Man, the wedgies must be non-stop on those things.

I'm turning 40 this weekend. I'm trying to keep my game face on about getting older, but the truth is, I'm not a fan.

Short Takes

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news
by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

On the Road to RTM

According to my Microsoft sources, the current internal Vista build is now 6.0.5920.16384. Whenever Microsoft finalizes Vista--and I'm told it will be on or before November 8--the company will artificially increment the build number to 6000, as in "6.0," which is Vista's version number (aka Windows 6.0). Come on, admit it: You knew Microsoft would pull something silly like that.

Motion Desktop a Go for Ultimate Extras

The good folks at AeroXperience got a nice scoop recently: They discovered one of the mysterious Ultimate Extras that Microsoft will provide to Vista Ultimate customers starting in early January 2007. It's called Motion Desktop, and it's basically a way to animate the Windows desktop background. There will be a handful of Motion Desktops, including one that looks like the Vista "aurora" pattern that will be the default static desktop for all Vista users. Seems like a nifty idea. And it raises an interesting concern: In the past, all Windows users could buy a Plus! pack to get interesting additional features. With Vista, it seems as if the Plus! packs are gone, replaced by Ultimate Extras, which are available only to users who fork out money for the most expensive Vista version. Does this development upset anyone else?

Microsoft Meets Quarterly Financial Goals

For the quarter ending September 30, 2006, Microsoft reported earnings of $3.48 billion on revenues of $10.81 billion, both of which are modest gains on same-quarter figures in 2005. The company credited its server and video game products for the positive results, but the reality is somewhat different: Once again, Windows and Microsoft Office combined for almost 90 percent of Microsoft's profits. And, again, the Entertainment and Devices Division responsible for the Xbox 360 lost money, this time to the tune of $68 million. Microsoft said it has sold 6 million Xbox 360 consoles so far, so it will need to sell 4 million more by the end of the year to meet its sales predictions. I'm sure the Zune will make up any slack.

More Microsoft Financial Information

Two other factoids stand out in Microsoft's quarterly earnings. First, its online services initiatives are in complete disarray. Microsoft's online division lost $136 million on revenues of $539 million, both figures worse than those of the same quarter in 2005. Given Google's recent surges, this loss is alarming. And to be fair, most of Microsoft's Windows Live products and services are actually quite competitive. Second, Microsoft said its plan to offer coupons for free and discounted versions of Vista and Office 2007 will result in the company deferring about $1.5 billion in revenues until the first calendar quarter of 2007. Microsoft said the shift should have no material impact on its annual financial picture, however.

Security Firm Bypasses Vista's PatchGuard, Gets Slapped Down by Microsoft

This week, security firm Authentium drew the attention of Microsoft when it released code to help bypass the PatchGuard kernel-protection software in x64 versions of Vista. The firm admitted that it resorted to exploiting a flaw in the Vista kernel to work its black magic, and its reasoning was spurious at best. (Authentium claims that Microsoft is unfairly locking security firms out of the Vista kernel when, in fact, even Microsoft's own security tools won't have access to the Vista kernel.) Microsoft sealed off the exploit in newer internal Vista builds and said it will continue to take similar action in the future via its critical security update mechanisms. Listen, I rip into Microsoft as often as it deserves, but this is clearly a case in which Microsoft has the moral high ground. PatchGuard isn't just common sense; it's what Microsoft should feel obligated to do to protect its users. Anyone who bypasses this technology doesn't care about Windows users at all. My advice is simple: Avoid products from companies that have tried to subvert Vista's security features to make headlines or push their own profits over the needs of their customers.

Dell CEO: Vista Will Be a Boon to PC Companies

Citing its headier hardware requirements, Dell CEO Kevin Rollins said this week that Vista is going to be the best thing to happen to PC makers in a long, long time. "Everyone is going to want Vista when it's ready," he said. But Rollins also offered a cautionary tale for anyone seeking to run Vista with the typical amount of RAM in today's PCs. "I think they tell you maybe 1GB of memory is OK," Rollins said. "No--2GB of memory would be great." It's interesting that he brought up this point now. Most of the machines I run Vista on have at least 1GB of RAM, and I've found some of them to be performance challenged at times, but I've wondered whether it was the processor or the RAM. This week, I've been testing Vista on a 512MB machine and it's been painful at best.

Microsoft Responds to "Second" IE 7.0 Flaw

It's got to be rough to be Microsoft sometimes. In the week since the company shipped its vastly improved Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0 Web browser, there have been reports of two vulnerabilities in the product. No surprise there, you say: This is IE, after all. Well, wait just a second. The first "vulnerability" was a previously known problem that has nothing to do with IE 7.0, so we can scratch that one off the list. And this week's "second" flaw is, well, still under investigation, but it doesn't look all that serious. "This is an issue with how URLs are displayed in the address bar," Christopher Budd wrote this week in the Microsoft Security Response Center blog. "We're not aware of any attacks that are attempting to use this, but as always we will continue to monitor the situation throughout our investigation." Budd notes that the Phishing Filter in IE 7.0 should protect against any malicious sites trying to exploit the flaw. The problem, of course, is that some users don't turn the Phishing Filter on.

IE 7.0 Off to Torrid Start

Speaking of IE 7.0, Microsoft's latest browser is off to a fast start. More than three million people downloaded the browser the first four days it was available, which is astonishing because IE 7.0 won't be added to the Automatic Updates system for a few more weeks. At that time, we can expect IE 7.0 usage to really skyrocket. IE 7.0 is a good product, although I've gotten a few reports of problems--some serious. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time last night on the phone with a friend who basically hosed his system while trying to uninstall IE 7.0 because of the problems it caused. Overall, my personal experience with IE 7.0 has been overwhelmingly positive. I guess we'll see how this goes over time.

DVD Jon Claims He's Cracked iTunes

"DVD Jon" Johansen claims he's reverse-engineered the FairPlay copyright protection system that Apple uses in its iTunes Store and iPod portable devices. I say "claims" because this time DVD Jon hasn't simply released his latest hack into the wild. Instead, he's going to license the hack to third parties that want to create protected content that can be loaded onto iPods. "We believe we're on good legal ground, and our attorneys have given us the green light on this," said Monique Farantzos, managing director at DoubleTwist, Johansen's new company. Apple has yet to comment, but its previous reaction to reverse engineering--when RealNetworks performed a similar (if temporary) feat a few years ago--could hardly be called pleasant. At the time, Apple issued a statement accusing RealNetworks of having the "ethics of a hacker." The company then fixed FairPlay repeatedly until RealNetworks gave up its efforts. My guess is that DVD Jon isn't going to get much further.

Mozilla Starts Work on Firefox 3.0

With the lackluster Firefox 2.0 completed this week, Mozilla Corporation is beginning work on Firefox 3.0, which it plans to ship in 2007. One of Firefox 3.0's biggest features is Places, a feature that was originally scheduled for Firefox 2.0 and then dropped. Places is essentially a relational database-based storage system for bookmarks and browser history, and would have been the only major new feature in Firefox 2.0 had it come out on time. (As it is, Firefox 2.0 is just a minor upgrade from previous versions.) Firefox 3.0 will also include a major new rendering engine and a lower user rights model similar to that utilized by IE 7.0 on Vista. That all sounds wonderful, but for now, Firefox 2.0 leaves me feeling slightly let down. Firefox is still a wonderful browser, but I was hoping for more from a supposedly major release.

Major Linux Revisions Ship This Week

Both Ubuntu and Red Hat shipped major new versions of their desktop Linux products this week. If you're still in a sticker-shock-induced coma from Vista, Ubuntu and Red Hat's products might be worth a look. Ubuntu shipped Ubuntu 6.10, a major upgrade of my favorite Linux distribution. I'm still installing it as I write Short Takes, but the new version includes dramatically faster boot times; UI improvements; a new photo-manager application; the latest Evolution,, and Firefox versions; and a bunch of other new features. Meanwhile, Red Hat shipped Fedora Core 6.0, which features a new version of the Xen virtualization software, letting users run multiple OS versions simultaneously. Fedora Core 6.0 also includes some Vista-like graphics, with a new theme and window manager. Both of these releases look solid.

Editor's Note:
The editors of this newsletter and those of Windows IT Pro and SQL Server Magazine would like to wish Paul a happy 40th birthday. It had to happen sooner or later. (Knowing Paul and deadlines, it's happening later, believe us!) Let's hope the 4.0 version isn't so cranky, has fewer bugs, and is finally feature-complete. We love ya, Paul!

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