WinInfo Short Takes: August 4, 2006

WinInfo Blog

And we're off. After weeks of preparation, house cleaning, and squabbling, we've been self-ejected from our home and, as I write this, are getting ready for the flight to Paris. The Parisian family that's staying at our home during our trip has arrived, and I think all is well.

Home swapping is an interesting option for those looking to spend a lot of time abroad. On one hand, it eliminates the huge expense of hotels and--if you're swapping cars as well--a vehicle rental. On the other hand, there's another family staying in your home while you're away and many of the people I've spoken with about this arrangement aren't too excited about that aspect of it. In our case, we now know the other family well, so that's not a concern. But the nice thing about home swapping is it forces you to really declutter your house. So we've gotten rid of a lot of stuff--some of it junk, but some of it stuff that we simply don't use any more. It's a nice thing to do.

The two PCs I'm bringing to Paris are both running Windows Vista. God help us all.

Short Takes

Hackers Impressed with Windows Vista

Attendees at the Black Hat USA 2006 security conference in Las Vegas this week got an unexpectedly candid look at Windows Vista, courtesy of Microsoft, and to their surprise, they've come away impressed by what they've seen. Aside from learning specifics about the security changes in Vista, the truly impressive aspect of this week's presentation to hackers is the transparency with which Microsoft is communicating with the people who, one day, might be trying to break Vista. I still fully expect Vista to suffer from a catastrophic security failure sometime between its Release to Manufacturing (RTM) and general release dates, but that's because I'm a pessimist, not because I can identify any obvious holes in Microsoft's work. Here's to hoping that I'm proven wrong in a big way.

Google, Mozilla, and Real: The Axis of Evil Takes on Microsoft

In a bizarre corporate combination that almost seems to have the makings of a new Bond villain, Google, Mozilla, and RealNetworks announced this week that they will work together to distribute each other's products. The multiyear agreement is aimed right at Microsoft, or more specifically, at Microsoft's death-like grip on the PC desktop. So we're going to see Google toolbars and Mozilla browsers offered with Real's free media player downloads (as if there weren't enough junk already offered for PCs) and vice versa. Will it work? I'm not sure I care per se, but it's always fun to see corporate giants partner in fun new ways to gang up on other companies.

Ballmer Details Single Mistake that Led to Vista Delays

Here's one of the more interesting factoids that came out of last week's Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting 2006: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that a single mistake led to Vista's multitude of delays. But I'm guessing that if he could go back and develop Vista in the same way all over again, he would. "We made an upfront decision that was, I'll say, incredibly strategic and brilliant and wise ... and was not implementable," Ballmer told financial analysts, explaining away the past four years in about nine seconds. "We tried to incubate too many new innovations and integrate them simultaneously, as opposed to letting them bake and then integrating them, which is essentially where we wound up." Bake and integrate--that's the ticket.

Microsoft Brings Back "Arrested Development"

It was my favorite TV show of the past few years and now, thanks to Microsoft, it might get a new lease on life. MSN will be running free episodes of the canceled TV show "Arrested Development" online via MSN Video, making the show available on the Internet for the first time (well, the second time if you count downloading the show using BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer application, as first). Fifty-three episodes were recorded over the show's brilliant three-year run, and if we're lucky, continued interest in the underrated comedy might result in Showtime or a similar channel picking it up and running with it. Please, help make this happen.

AMD Now Owns 26 Percent of Server Market

So, Intel has finally caught up with--some might say "surpassed"--AMD with its new line of Core 2 Duo microprocessors, but it looks like the damage has already been done--AMD has moved up in the processor market. In the quarter ending June 30, AMD snagged 25.9 percent of the market for server processors, up from 16.2 percent in the same quarter a year ago. So much for the theory that Intel is unassailable: That's a serious increase and certainly greater than anything AMD has been able to achieve in the desktop market. I wonder how much Dell had to do with it.

Vista Voice Recognition Pulls a Newton

As with so many public demonstrations of new technology, it was supposed to be a tour de force. Instead, it turned into a tour de farce. During a demonstration of Vista's vaunted voice-recognition software, Microsoft's never-going-to-ship OS coughed up a virtual hairball. When the presenter said, "Dear Mom," the software wrote out "Dear Aunt," which frankly isn't even close. "Fix aunt" inexplicably became "let's set." After several attempts at vocally deleting the mistake, it went unfixed. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one having problems with Vista.

Russinovich: Sysinternals Tools will Remain Free

Windows kernel guru Mark Russinovich has spent his first week at Microsoft and one of the more interesting points he made this week in his blog ( ) is that the Sysinternals tools will remain free. This is good news, because many people assumed that these tools would be sucked into the Microsoft monolith, never to return. "I'm pleased to report that Microsoft's number-one priority is not only keeping the tools freely available, but preserving the Sysinternals community including the newsletter, the forums, and my blog," he wrote. "While we’re still brainstorming how to make this successful in the long term, I’m pleased to announce the first step in the transition, which is the introduction of a new Sysinternals EULA, that I believe is even more permissive than the EULA in place before the Microsoft acquisition, since it allows for wider use of Sysinternals utilities within a company." Go, Mark.

E3 Scales Back

I guess the lessons of COMDEX haven't been lost on everyone. Let's hope that the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) picks up on this, too: This week, the computer and video gaming industry's dominant trade group, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), voted to dramatically scale back the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show. This year's trade show attracted 60,000 visitors, for example, but it has degenerated into an event where game companies use increasingly loud and obnoxious methods to attract attention. So now E3 will be held in July, not May, and will target about 5000 people. These people will be journalists and industry types, not general consumers, and the hope is that the booth babes, flashing lights, and general noise level will be kept to a minimum. I think this is a fantastic idea, frankly. CES, listen up--you're next.

Reporter Fabricates Interview with Gates

A Norwegian tech reporter fabricated an interview with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, according to the software maker. The interview was printed in the Norwegian magazine "Mann" and reportedly took place during a commercial plane flight in Europe earlier this year. There's just one problem. "It's totally fake," a Microsoft spokesperson said. In the interview, Gates supposedly talks about the European Union (EU) antitrust case, his cluelessness about cash, and competitors such as Google. Microsoft says it wants an apology. Meanwhile, I'm crafting my first-ever interview with Gates, in which the software titan bequeaths me $1 billion so I can retire. You read it here first.

Norway Not Satisfied with Apple's Music Compatibility

Speaking of Norway--sorry, Europe is just on my mind this week--that country's consumer-protection agency said this week that Apple Computer's iTunes music service violates Scandinavian governments' contract and copyright laws. The problem is that iTunes imposes digital rights management (DRM) technologies on users, making it impossible to create perfect digital backups that aren't subject to future arbitrary changes in Apple's licensing terms. Apple's argument--and this, frankly, is hilarious--is that users can simply burn the songs they buy to CD and then re-rip them back to the PC in MP3 format. Anyone who has done this will tell you that the resulting quality is unacceptable. Norway says it will seek an injunction against the company.

Apple Fixes a Whopping 26 Security Flaws

Yikes. And here we are complaining about Microsoft's monthly care packages. This week, Apple fixed 26 security flaws, many of them serious, in Mac OS X. Yeah, yeah, no known exploits have compromised OS X yet. But imagine how horrible it would be if Apple were the number-one OS provider. I'd be interested in comparisons of the security fixes that both Apple and Microsoft have released for their client OSs over the past few years.

Napster Loses Subscribers

Will the last subscriber please turn out the lights? Napster, the online music-sharing sensation that became a legitimate music-service flop, announced another quarterly loss this week, but the big news is that the company is actually losing subscribers. The total paid subscriber base at Napster is about 500,000, of which 4000 are based on deals with educational institutions. Now, Napster CEO Chris Gorog says he'd consider selling the company. Maybe he could sell it to someone who knows how to write good software. Just a suggestion.

Firefox Tops 200 Million Downloads

Finally, Mozilla this week celebrated the 200 millionth download of its Firefox Web browser, which accounts for about 13 percent of all Web traffic worldwide. It took Mozilla over a year and a half to reach this milestone, and the company is now looking forward to the Firefox 2.0 release. So am I, as a matter of fact. Congratulations, guys and gals.



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