An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Is Longhorn Losing Features?
Leaked email messages from Microsoft suggest that the company is planning to cut back on a few crucial Longhorn features, a "BusinessWeek" report says, but I'm not quite sure I agree. According to the messages, Microsoft will still implement the WinFS storage engine in Longhorn, but WinFS will work only on local systems, not across networks. Furthermore, Microsoft Office 12, which originally was going to run only on Longhorn, will now also be compatible with earlier Windows versions. I don't see these changes as huge retreats from Microsoft's original plans for Longhorn. In fact, I think you could make the argument that we're going to see a lot of Longhorn technology early, rather than late. Just look at Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2): Microsoft lifted SP2's Windows Firewall, memory-protection, network-protection, and other security-oriented features directly from Longhorn. And later this year, when a major new Windows Media Player (WMP) release ships, I think you can expect to see a lot of other technologies that Microsoft originally slated for Longhorn. Yes, Longhorn is taking a long time to ship (its beta 1 release was recently delayed until mid-February 2005), but that delay doesn't mean Longhorn is the next Cairo--Microsoft's ambitious and ultimately aborted mid-1990s project to add object-oriented underpinnings to Windows NT.
Xbox Sales Skyrocket After Microsoft Cuts Price
Microsoft apparently did the right thing when the company cut the US price of its Xbox video game console by $30 to $150. Xbox sales have more than doubled since the price cut, suggesting that the new pricing is a more comfortable starting point for many consumers. The Xbox sales jump mirrors the leap that Nintendo experienced last year when it cut the GameCube's price from $150 to $100, a move that breathed new life into what had been a dying platform. However, video game mavens are still waiting to see whether Sony will institute a similar price cut for the market-leading PlayStation 2. The PlayStation 2 still outsells the Xbox and the GameCube by a wide margin.
Microsoft DABbles in DAB
This week, Microsoft joined the World DAB Forum, an international group that develops Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) technology. The company hopes to work on standards for devices and services that will use DAB to receive digital radio signals. Microsoft says that these signals can deliver data, pictures, text, and video in addition to high-quality, distortion-free audio. The company is currently working with Capitol Records in London to test 5.1-channel surround sound Windows Media Audio (WMA) 9 streams that use DAB technology.
Would You Like Some Java with That Sun Settlement?
I've received several queries about the status of Java in the epic Microsoft/Sun Microsystems settlement. To be honest, Java is the one major piece of Sun technology about which neither company appears to have given much thought. I had expected Sun to make Java open source, and when the settlement news arrived, I figured that an open-source version of Java would definitely be part of the agreement. But I was wrong; Java is barely mentioned in the agreement. Given Sun's layoffs and financial problems, now is clearly the time for the company to release Java to the Java community. Do the right thing, Sun.
Settlement Cost Could Be Higher Than Reported
And speaking of the unexpected settlement between Microsoft and Sun, one item that no one is mentioning is the fact that Microsoft could end up paying Sun more than the previously reported $1.9 billion settlement fee. The reason why is because Microsoft has also agreed to optionally pay Sun as much as $450 million over 10 years if Microsoft chooses to extend the settlement's patent-licensing provision. The provision specifies a 1-year limit, but Microsoft can optionally extend it 1 year at a time for as many as 10 years. If Microsoft opts for the full 10-year license, the two companies will automatically cross-license their patents. Yikes.
Microsoft Posts Tool as Open Source
I bet you didn't see this one coming: This week, Microsoft released as open source a small bit of code for Windows Installer XML (WiX), a software kit that lets developers use XML to build Windows 2000 and NT installation packages. Although Microsoft previously made a ton of code available through the company's controversial Shared Source Initiative, the WiX release is the first time Microsoft has released code as open source. But fear not, Redmond fans. Microsoft didn't use the GNU General Public License (GPL) for the WiX release; instead, the company opted to use IBM's Common Public License (CPL). You can download the code from the SourceForge.net Web site.
Microsoft Hardware Team Follows Apple Down Dalmatian Lane
Remember when Apple Computer declared the end of beige and made cute colored computers like the Apple iMac Blue Dalmatian? That era ended as quickly as it began (apparently, aluminum is the new beige), but not at Microsoft. This week, Microsoft released a strange set of new wireless mouse devices with colorful shells. Although the company apparently had numerous designs to choose from, it opted to ship the 1970s-like Groovy mouse, the blue-and-purple Immersion mouse, and the obviously "The Matrix"-inspired Night Vision mouse, which features green patterns on a black background. Why Microsoft chose these three designs (and why they're all wireless instead of wired) we'll never know.
Pirated Software Raises Curious Security Concerns
Here's a hypothetical situation for you: If someone pirates your software, and you know that person pirated your software, do you let the pirate download security patches and other updates? At first blush, that question might seem to have an obvious answer, but hold on. What happens if those pirated software versions number in the millions, and attackers are using them as zombies to transmit viruses and worms around the Internet? Then things get a bit murky. Well, Microsoft is facing that problem, and the situation came to the forefront this week when someone leaked to the Internet a key generator for Windows Server 2003 (both volume-licensed versions and standard retail packaging). Microsoft says it can tell whether a customer's system used a key-generator-created Product ID, raising the question about whether the company allows updates in such cases. Right now, the company is mum about its plans, stating only that Microsoft Product Activation will be more diligent in the Longhorn time frame.
Google Is Doomed...Just Ask Google
This week, Google executives downplayed the threat of Microsoft's search-engine strategy, but let's be serious for a moment: Google is essentially the last dot-com company that's still standing--a strange little corporation that touts its handmade white-box PC servers and on-campus Segways, two facts that should give potential shareholders shudders. But Google's biggest problem, as I've said before, is that it isn't the first company to offer decent Internet search capabilities, and it won't be the last. More importantly, customer dedication to such a low-level function doesn't exist. Furthermore, the backlash over bogus search results is starting to drive people's perceptions of Google into the negative, giving Microsoft--and any other potential search-engine rivals--an opening. Google is poised to fail, from what I can tell.
And Then There's Yahoo!
I thought Yahoo! would be dead by now, but this week the company posted quarterly earnings that beat its annual earnings from the height of the dot-com boom, suggesting that I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. In the quarter that ended March 31, Yahoo! made $101 million on revenues of $758 million. The company raised its yearly revenues projection from $2.4 billion to $2.5 billion, citing strong ad sales. Indeed, the company's ad sales doubled when compared with the same period last year.
AOL Opens the Gates
The last thing we need on the Internet is more cruft. ISP giant AOL announced this week that--for the first time--the company will open up some of its subscriber-only content to outsiders. I don't know about you, but I can't wait!
Mainframe Has Midlife Crisis
Mainframes have been obsolete since, well, the 1980s, but this week the ancient IBM 360 turned 40, suggesting that maybe the old mainframe still has some life in it. IBM launched the 360 in April 1964, meaning that the computer is one of the few functional devices that's older than me. And the 360 is in even better shape than I am, which is disconcerting. How old is 40? The Beatles' "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" was a number-one song in 1964. Ouch.
MSDN Goes After the Kiddie Scripters
This summer, Microsoft will open up its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) program to youngsters with a new MSDN Universal subscription for high school students and teachers. The $300 kit includes Visual Studio .NET Academic Edition, Visual Studio 6.0, and a host of e-learning tools, documentation, support, and training. Although the $300 entry fee is a lot less expensive than the $2800 Microsoft usually charges for MSDN Universal, the academic version doesn't include most of the features MSDN Universal subscribers enjoy, including the Windows and Office versions and many other servers and applications. The academic version is also a lot more expensive than a copy of Linux and the GNU compilers but, hey, I haven't been a kid for a long time. Maybe this offer is a good deal after all.
RealPlayer 10: We Support More Formats Than You Do
RealNetworks finally launched the official shipping version of RealPlayer 10 this week (the beta debuted in January), offering customers a much less annoying installer application and compatibility with more audio and video formats than any other media player. RealNetworks says that RealPlayer 10 will work with the company's formats, Microsoft's formats, and even Apple's formats, although you'll have to install Apple QuickTime first for the latter to work. RealPlayer 10 also integrates with RealNetworks' new online music store, which is among the most attractive on the market, although the company foolishly opted for yet another incompatible Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) version instead of going with the more widely compatible WMA format. You can download the player from the RealNetworks Web site.