WinInfo Short Takes: Week of April 21, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including some Ballmer bluntness, Xbox 360 sales in March, Microsoft Albany, Farecast says now is the time for Microsoft to buy it, Windows Mobile 7, China, Microsoft and open source, and more ...

WinInfo Blog

While I considered doing another all-Yahoo! Short Takes as a joke, I was pretty sure no one would get it (much less appreciate it), so we're moving on. Sorry about that. This week, however, there's finally some interesting news for a change.

Also, Leo is back from Australia, so we recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday, and I'd guess that it will be online soon.

Short Takes

At MVP Summit, Ballmer Talks Tough
Is "bidder's remorse" a common phrase? It should be. Addressing 1700 "MVPs," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer this week offered up some sobering assessments of the company's various businesses. He admitted that the company was the number three player in the crucial Internet search market and described Windows Vista as "a work in progress." His comments about Vista were brutal and honest, but then that's typical Ballmer. "It's a very important piece of work, and I think we did a lot of things right and I think we have a lot of things we need to learn from," he said of Vista. "Certainly, you never want to let five years go between releases." He also opened the door for extending the life of Windows XP past its announced June 2008 expiration date. But will Ballmer be praised for these pragmatic and honest discussions? No, of course not. He's not Steve Jobs.

Xbox 360 Rebounds in March: We're Number Two! We're Number Two!
After trailing behind the lowly Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) for two months in a row, Microsoft's Xbox 360 video game console rebounded a bit in March, barely regaining the number two position in sales. According to sales data from NPD, video game sales rocketed 57 percent in March, with Nintendo once again taking the top spot in the console hardware market with 721,000 Wii consoles sold in the US that month. This compares with 262,000 Xbox 360s and 257,000 PS3s. While Microsoft is no doubt crowing about its return to "glory," I'd spend a bit more time wondering how it is that the Wii is outselling the 360 by almost 3 to 1. Meanwhile, PS3 sales more than doubled year over year, another disturbing trend for Microsoft.

Microsoft Sends Office to Albany
Microsoft this week confirmed that its previously mysterious "Albany" beta is nothing more than a combination of the Home and Student version of Office 2007, Office Live Workspace, and Windows Live OneCare, Mail, Messenger and Photo Gallery, delivered online via a single installer. It will ship by the end of this year and is very obviously aimed at the consumer market. Given that virtually everything in the list of products above is available now for free, we can look at the two commercial products--Office 2007 Home and Student and OneCare--for a hint at the final cost of this bundle, which I'd imagine will be $150 or less in the US. Except that that's not how Microsoft will sell this product. Instead, Albany will be offered to consumers as a subscription service instead. Pricing and availability to come. Eh.

Microsoft Buys Travel Search Site Farecast
I bet they never saw this on the itinerary. One of my favorite online travel services, Farecast, has been swallowed up by Microsoft this week for an undisclosed sum. Farecast provides airfare price predictions, so you can purchase airline tickets at the most advantageous time. No word yet on how the purchase will affect the Farecast or its employees.

Microsoft: Seriously, Windows Mobile Will Soon Suck Less
Windows Mobile has a perception problem. Actually, scratch that: Windows Mobile is the problem, and now Microsoft is finally trying to make it more interesting to both consumers and business users. The way they're going to do this, of course, is slowly. The company just shipped a 6.1 version of Windows Mobile to address some of the many issues with the 6.0 version, but the big stuff won't happen until Windows Mobile 7.0, which you'd imagine will be coming Real Soon Now. Well, you're wrong: It's coming in the second half of 2009 at the earliest, and of course Microsoft's hardware partners won't ship it anytime soon anyway so even that date is meaningless. My guess is that by that time, we'll be on iPhone 3.0, and of course it was Apple's entry into this market that kicked off this current effort to make Windows Mobile less boring anyway. Is there any non-core market left where Microsoft isn't playing catch-up?

Chinese Hackers Uncover Microsoft Works Vulnerability
Good thing no one actually uses that piece of junk, eh? Hackers in China--home of human rights suppression, overlords of Tibet, a recent spate of high-profile phishing attacks, and, oh yea, the 2008 Olympics--have published details of a Zero Day vulnerability in Microsoft's Works application suite. There's no patch, and PCs that are exploited can be controlled remotely. Well, there is one fix, of course. You can just pretend Works doesn't exist. Which it pretty much doesn't.

Microsoft Exec Talks Up Positive Effects of Open Source for Microsoft
For example, it's a good source of punch lines. Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie said this week that his company has changed "dramatically" in recent years thanks to the open source movement. Interoperability is up, for example, and Microsoft has even released a bunch of its own technologies, like the .NET Framework, as open source. While the Kumbaya stuff is cute, I think it's fairer to say that open source was a slap in the face and that Microsoft went through a classic cycle of responses, similar to the five stages of grief: Denial ("open source is a fad"), Anger ("how dare they give away software that we sell for an obscene profit!"), Bargaining ("we're willing to concede unmanaged businesses if they stay out of the enterprise"), depression ("Apache has *what* market share now?"), and Acceptance (Ray Ozzie talks up the positive effectives of open source on Microsoft). It's all really healthy when you think about it.

Story of the Year of the Week: Microsoft Pulls One Over on Clueless Tech Bloggers
This week, Microsoft pulled a fast one on tech bloggers who will post a link to anything without doing even ten seconds of research to discover whether it's true. (This description applies to virtually all tech bloggers, of course.) An unbelievably bad YouTube video called "Rocking Our Sales" made the rounds this week, purporting to be an internal marketing video that Microsoft created to show how Windows Vista sales were going to skyrocket thanks to the release of Service Pack 1 (SP1). The video, which is horrific, features a Bruce Springsteen impersonator, a terrible song, and even a couple of Microsoft executives. (The latter of which, "proved" it was real.) Well, the jokes on you, bloggers. The video is a joke, purposefully released to the Internet as a spoof, similar to the Microsoft-sponsored "If Microsoft had designed the iPod Packaging" video that made the rounds a few years back. Egg on their faces, tech bloggers returned to their regular and comfortable duties: Linking to a mindless series of non-stories about Vista's failures, Gartner reports, and the "Save XP" campaign.

What Recession? Google Profits Surge
After weeks of reports that online advertising had fallen dramatically in the first few months of 2008, Google shocked analysts yesterday in posting better than expected financial results for the first quarter. Google's net income rose 30 percent to $1.31 billion on revenues of $5.19 billion (up 42 percent). The news sent reporters scrambling for answers from comScore, which had been predicting doom and gloom for the online search and advertising giant. Mumbling something incoherent, comScore had no answers and it stock dropped almost 10 percent as a result. I've said it before and I'll say it again. You can't trust analysts.

Intel Offers Classmate 2 for Pre-Order ... For $500??
An Intel reseller this week began taking preorders for the chip maker's low-end Classmate 2 laptop, a new version of the mobile PC that the company had previously offered only to children in underdeveloped countries. While such an event would usually be seen a good news, Intel is charging a whopping $500 per Classmate 2. At those prices, we could buy a real laptop, so it's unclear what the point is when competing designs like the Asus Eee PC, sell for hundreds less. We're talking about a computer with an 8.9-inch screen, a 30 GB hard drive, and a lowly Celeron-M microprocessor, people. That's just not a good deal, sorry.

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