WinInfo Short Takes: Week of April 3

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Microsoft's EU and South Korean antitrust cases, a desktop version of Windows Live Mail, Vista delay and PC sales, a product activation nail-biter, the IE bug database, and so much more...

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I want to be very clear about this, though I can't give you a good reason for my opinion: I can't stand the word "mashup." I've put up with tech naming silliness for a long time and suffered through such ridiculous names as "Pentium," "Windows Vista," and "Thurrott". But I can't take it anymore. Mashup, used to describe Web-based content from two or more sources but presented in a single view, is a stupid, stupid name. They're not "mashed up," they're combined, or aggregated, in intelligent ways and I have to think the geniuses in this business can come up with something better than a name that calls to mind a baby's tray table after he's done making a mess of pureed carrots and peas. Hey, maybe it's just me.

Short Takes

US Intervenes in Microsoft-EU Antitrust Case ... Sort Of
I love the "unwilling allies" nature of this, but apparently an unnamed group of US government officials has sent a letter to European Union (EU) regulators, asking them to treat Microsoft fairly in its EU antitrust case. Microsoft has complained that the EU is not providing them with the time and information they need to fully comply with its antitrust issues there, and apparently there are those in the US government who agree. A letter sent to EU regulators expresses the "substantial concerns" the US has with the way the EU has handled Microsoft. Ah yes, poor Microsoft. I think we can all safely rally around the misunderstood computer giant that's been diligently working to accede to EU demands for the past two years. Oh wait.

Microsoft Happy with EU Hearings
In related news, Microsoft lawyers expressed their optimism at the start of a second day of hearings with EU regulators that the company's antitrust issues there could be resolved. Microsoft, of course, is trying to stave off EU attempts at fining the company up to $2 million a day for failing to comply with EU antitrust demands, so why wouldn't they be positive? "This type of constructive dialogue can in fact lead to a real solution," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said at the start of Friday's hearings in Brussels. "I only wish we could have had that kind of dialogue sooner." Indeed. There's some irony, perhaps, in Microsoft coming around to the notion of proper communication. After all, had the company properly communicated how its server products worked, as required by the EU by July 2004, the company wouldn't have been forced to enter into this round of silliness. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you just talk with people.

Microsoft Testing Desktop Version of Windows Live Mail
Microsoft this week alerted me that it had begun a very limited beta test of its upcoming Windows client version of the Windows Live Mail service. Awkwardly dubbed Windows Live Mail Desktop Beta, or WLMDB, the upcoming application will provide a way for Windows Live Mail users to compose and read email offline, using an Outlook Express-based client that mimics the look and feel of the Web client. According to a Microsoft representative, WLMDB will provide "a free, ad-funded client mail to WLM customers and offer additive features to Windows Live Mail, made possible by bringing together client software with services including features like offline mail, Windows Live Mail account aggregation, additional account aggregation for POP and IMAP mail accounts, RSS feed aggregation, more advanced photo-sharing capabilities, more advanced search via integration with Desktop Search, additional safety (AV scanning, anti-phishing, anti-spam protection across aggregated accounts for customers who do not have an AV product), and additional integration with Windows Live services including Spaces." I'm looking forward to checking out WLMDB soon.

Microsoft Appeals South Korean Antitrust Ruling
With all the excitement over Microsoft's EU antitrust battle, it's easy to forget that the company is facing what feels like about 1700 other legal challenges around the world. One, in South Korea, involves the same sort of product bundling concerns that got the company in trouble with governments in both the US and Europe. This week, Microsoft officially began the process of appealing its South Korean antitrust ruling. "Microsoft continues to believe that its actions are consistent with Korean law and have benefited Korean consumers and the Korean technology industry," a Microsoft statement reads. I wonder whether they just cut and paste out "US" and "American" and replaced them with "Korean" to construct its appeal. Anyway, I'm sure no one wants Microsoft to limit, ahem, its innovative tendencies. Here's to another big legal win for everyone's favorite 800 pound gorilla.

Vista Delay Unlikely to Hurt Microsoft, PC Sales Very Much
So Microsoft sucked it up last week and unleashed a one-two whammy of bad news, announcing yet another delay for Windows Vista and a major reorg of its Windows Division over the course of two subsequent days. Now that the dust has settled, so to speak, we can look on these events a bit more calmly. First, IDC analysts say that the Vista delay won't significantly harm Microsoft's bottom line for the fiscal year, which I'm sure the company seriously considered before announcing the delay. But more surprising, IDC says that the Vista delay won't impact PC sales for calendar year 2006 almost at all. The company reports that it expects PC sales to come in at just 2 percent lower than their previous estimates, and it now says that PC makers will sell about 68.2 million PCs in the US this year (down from 69.5 million in its previous estimate and up from 63.9 million in 2005). (Global PC sales are almost unchanged for 2006: 229.4 million vs. the previous estimate of 229.5 million, IDC says.) And yes, IDC expects PC sales to jump in 2007 after Microsoft releases Windows Vista. You know, in June.

Microsoft Wins Product Activation Suit
Microsoft has won an antipiracy lawsuit in which the software giant was charged with infringing on a software patent for detecting pirated software. Lawyers for an individual named Kenneth Nash said that Microsoft's Product Activation feature infringed on Nash's patent, which describes a method for detecting pirated software via unique identifiers called activation keys. Microsoft had argued that the system it used in Product Activation was "fundamentally different" from Nash's approach, presumably because Microsoft's version is so well liked that it turned into a marketing program called "Windows Genuine Advantage" that has been widely trumpeted as the most-beloved aspect of using Windows. Now that Windows Genuine Advantage has been cleared of all charges, we can look forward to using a hugely enhanced version in Windows Vista. And you thought Vista was going to be a disappointment.

Microsoft Joins Rival OpenDocument Group ... But Why?
This one is kind of fun. Microsoft, you may recall, has resisted worldwide calls for a move to an open source document format called OpenDocument, and has instead pursued its own XML-based formats, which it will debut with Office 2007 early next year. However, this week, Microsoft joined a group called the INCITS/V1 Technical Committee that is playing a key role in ratifying OpenDocument as an international standard. But wait, you say, this membership seems to be at odds with Microsoft's desire to squash OpenDocument like the unnecessary and annoying bug that it is, so one might logically wonder why the company would want to join. The conspiracy theories are, shall we say, oddly believable. The legal Web site Groklaw reports that Microsoft has probably joined the committee in order to sabotage the ratification of OpenDocument as a standard, giving the company more time to establish its own format as a de facto standard. Groklaw, amusingly, referring to Microsoft as "a waiting spider," which I sheepishly admit led to coffee spewing on monitor this morning. Microsoft, however, says that it joined the group only so that it could get involved in the standardization of its own format. Geesh. How boring is that?

Microsoft Goes Public With IE Bug Database
Internet Explorer (IE) is the buggiest, most insecure software application ever written. The sky is blue. Now that we're all in agreement, let's examine an intriguing development in the world of IE. And no, I'm not talking about tabbed browsing. This week, Microsoft revealed that it will be opening a public database of bugs in IE so that its customers can give feedback and make suggestions about the much maligned browser. In the fantasy world into which I slip all too often, I imagine Microsoft admitting that it didn't have an IE bug database until recently because it required the memory capacity of x64-based server systems in order to contain such a collection. But seriously, this is a positive development, I guess. And to be fair, open source projects like Mozilla Firefox have been publishing similar databases for years. I believe Mozilla's runs on dBASE III+.

MSN Cuts Dial-up Access Price
The six people still using MSN dial-up will be happy to hear that the cost of the service has been lowered from $21.95 a month to $17.95 a month. Assuming, of course, that such people are ever happy.

Apple vs. Apple: It's the Battle of the Decade of the Week
Looking for some hot Apple on Apple action? Who isn't? This week, Apple Computer--the computer company that produces iPods and iTunes--and Apple Corps.--the music company that publishes The Beatles' back catalog and apparently not much else--faced off in a London court to battle over a 1991 agreement in which Apple Computer apparently agreed not to enter the music market. You might think this is a cut and dried case, as Apple Computer has clearly entered the music market. However, the case isn't so simple. It turns out that Apple Corps. is actually only upset that Apple Computer uses an apple-shaped logo in iTunes. If Apple Computer would simply remove the logo, all would be well, Apple Corps. says. Apple Computer's response to this request is priceless. Noting that distributing music was well "within \[Apple Computer's\] field of use," a company lawyer said that "even a moron in a hurry could not be mistaken" about the distinction between Apple Computer and Apple Corps. They're probably right. For starters, Apple Corps. has the class to not refer to "a moron in a hurry" in a blockbuster legal trial.

Virtual Server Upgrade Slips to 2007
The next upgrade to Microsoft's Virtual Server product line--cunningly titled Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1--has slipped to early 2007, the company says. This update will include support for new virtualization features in Intel and AMD microprocessors, Microsoft says, and was originally expected sometime in 2006. Compared to the delays in Windows Vista and Office 2007, this delay isn't exactly what we'd called Big News, but given how the virtualization market is heating up these days, it is a crucial setback. Microsoft says its still on track to ship a beta version of the update by mid-2006.

Microsoft Will License Hardware Tech
For the first time, Microsoft will begin licensing its innovative hardware technologies to third parties, opening up such things as its U2 Internet detection and switching technologies, tilt wheel, and magnifier tool to other mouse and keyboard makers. That's a pretty neat development, actually, and these nifty little technologies are one of many areas in which Microsoft doesn't receive due credit. The U2 Internet detection and switching technologies allow peripherals connected to a computer to automatically determine whether they're using a USB or PS/2 connection, while the tilt wheel is a doodad Microsoft added to its mice to allow for multiple direction scrolling. The magnifier tool allows mice to zoom into and out of images onscreen. Several manufacturers have already signed up to add the features to their own products.

Apple Celebrates 30th Anniversary
And finally, on April 1, 2006, Apple Computer will celebrate its 30th anniversary, and no, that's not an April Fools joke. Famously started in a garage and less famously financed by a millionaire investor, Apple first opened up for business on April 1, 1976 as a business partnership between Steve Jobs, Steve Wosniak, and Ronald Wayne, the latter of which worked up Apple's first logo and then promptly disappeared into obscurity. Though Apple didn't start the home computer market or even sell the most popular home computer of its day, the company can rightly be credited with popularizing such things as the mouse and GUI (graphical user interface) and, in later days, the portable digital music player. Today's Apple's tiny share of the PC market is belied by its market influence, and its iPod and iTunes service are market leaders, dominating a consortium of products and services backed by Microsoft. I've made a point of always covering Apple in WinInfo, because I believe that the company is an important and iconic entity that is too often misjudged by Windows users. Here's to another 30 years.

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