WinInfo Short Takes: Week of August 1

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Windows Vista Beta 1, Premium versions of Vista and Office 12, Longhorn Server branding, Hotmail Next, Vista trademark issues, WGA, Konfabulator, Xbox 360, and so much more...

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It's been a busy, crazy week, as I'm sure you can imagine if you're staying up with the Windows Vista news. For me, at least, it won't get easier any time soon. I'm working up a lot of new content for the SuperSite for Windows--including several videos that visually demonstrate key Vista Beta 1 features--and will post some of that information today and much more next week (including a comparison of Vista Beta 1 and Mac OS X Tiger features). In the meantime, be sure to check out my exhaustive Vista Beta 1 review.

Meanwhile, Vermont was great, despite Microsoft's attempt to mess up my vacation. I'll be sure to alert Microsoft about my next vacation (next month in Quebec) so the company can schedule another major announcement then.

OK, I need to rant about Vista Beta 1 and the shabby way the company decided to let people know it was coming on July 27, as I had originally reported, not on August 3, as Microsoft had previously--and dubiously--announced. When I had my first Vista Beta 1 briefing 2 weeks ago, the July 27 date I had reported came up, and I was sort of congratulated for finding out about the company's internal milestone (which let me know it was still correct) but was told that the actual public release would be "days or weeks" later (this was before Microsoft publicly announced the August 3 date). That comment led me to believe that I'd have at least a few days after July 27 to post a review.

A near-beta 1 build was delivered to me in Vermont, so I was able to install the system on two notebook computers, test it, and begin fleshing out a review. By the beginning of this past week, back in Boston, I began writing the final review based on several more installations, positive I'd have until the end of the week to finish it. Then, late Tuesday, several people contacted me to tell me that Microsoft wasn't just finalizing beta 1 on the next day, as planned, but would also release it to testers that day. That meant I could post my review Wednesday, days earlier than scheduled. But it wasn't ready.

So Wednesday was Hell Day (tm), during which I engaged in several frenzied phone calls and email messages with various Microsofties and PR people, all while finishing the lengthy review (and hoping it was coherent). At noon, my time, Vista Beta 1 was "declared," a ceremonial process more than anything, and Microsoft began prepping servers for the massive downloads.

Meanwhile, it's July, which means my family is on our summer schedule, which involves wrapping up things by midafternoon and heading to the beach until it closes at 8:00. Wednesday, coincidentally, was the final day of a heat wave in which temperatures soared into the upper 90s, and my family sat in the den, in their bathing suits, waiting for me to finish. I finally did so, hours later than expected--at 5:30, and we raced over to the beach (fortunately just 7 minutes away), flew out of the minivan, and ... were greeted by the rumble of thunder. We go to a private beach with lifeguards, and they pull everyone out of the water at the slightest hint of thunder or lightning. Another rumble: Boston's heat wave was coming to a violent end. No swimming. No beach. Thanks again, Microsoft.

The lesson here is that although kids can be placated by ice cream, I can't. I don't even like ice cream. And I might be described by some as un-American, I'd suggest that it's really just one of the weird things that makes me ... me. Anyway, I did go swimming yesterday, despite temperatures in the 70s. And I'm going again today. Try and stop me, Microsoft. I dare you. :)

Short Takes

Microsoft Discusses Windows Vista Premium Editions
   As I first reported in "The Road to Windows Longhorn 2005" showcase on the SuperSite for Windows a few months ago, Microsoft plans to ship one or more premium editions of Windows Vista--one for home users (think Media Center) and one for businesses (think Tablet PC). These editions would be in addition to those that replace Windows XP Home Edition and XP Professional Edition. This week, Microsoft confirmed that it's working on premium Vista editions and revealed that it will likely ship an Office 12 Premium Edition product as well. The goal, apparently, is to cash in on those people who are willing to pay more to get more, a slight detour from the company's stated policy of providing more value for less. I guess when you own the market you can pretty much do what you want. My advice, to anyone who's listening, is to can the product editions and ship one PC client version in which users can enable or disable features as they see fit. I think of this mythical product as Windows Choice. Just a thought.

Longhorn Server Won't Be Called Windows Vista Server
   Although Microsoft is stopping short of admitting that the next major Windows Server release will be called Windows Server 2007, that's exactly what's going to happen. The company went with the Vista branding for the Longhorn client, but Longhorn Server will continue to use the standard Windows Server naming conventions. So if you were worried that the server guys had lost their minds, relax: They still get it.

Microsoft Shows Off Future Hotmail Release: Looks Like OWA, Quacks Like OWA
   A future version of MSN Hotmail, currently known simply as Mail Beta, looks suspiciously like a product that's been around for quite some time. But fear not, this time Microsoft is copying itself. The future Hotmail release, which Microsoft Senior Vice President Yusuf Mehdi publicly revealed this week, looks a lot like Outlook Web Access (OWA) in that it provides much of the look and feel of the Microsoft Office Outlook client, albeit from a Web browser. However, the next Hotmail release uses MSN's stark new blue-and-white UI, which you can see today most prominently on MSN Music. When will Mail Beta become the next Hotmail release? Right now, no one is saying.

Windows Vista Trademark Worries Are Groundless
   You might have seen some reports this week claiming that Microsoft will face a trademark fight over its use of the word vista in its product name Windows Vista. Such a battle, however, is unlikely. Although some companies use the word vista in their company and product names (including a company called Vista), Microsoft is trying to copyright the name Windows Vista, not Vista. And unless one of those existing products is a PC OS, it's unlikely that Microsoft has anything to fear. Even the company named Vista, which is considering a lawsuit, agrees that the term Windows Vista is "not a problem." So much for that supposed controversy.

Windows Genuine Advantage Is Hacked
   Let me wax poetic about the wonders of Windows Genuine Advantage. OK, I'm done. Just days after Microsoft made its antipiracy technology mandatory for Web-based downloads of software updates, hackers broke Windows Genuine Advantage with a single line of JavaScript code. The code lets people bypass the Windows Genuine Advantage security check, freeing them to download Microsoft software updates. Although this sort of thing warms my heart like a hot buttered rum, Microsoft will likely thwart it rather quickly. And so the game begins. Your move, Mr. Bond.

Yahoo! Buys Konfabulator, Provides Widget Application for Free
   Yahoo! purchased Pixoria, the tiny company that created the widget environment Konfabulator for Mac OS X, only to watch Apple Computer rip it off with an almost identical feature called Dashboard in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. Konfabulator has a few advantages over Dashboard, however. One, it's available for Windows. Two, the widgets it uses don't have to exist in some weird pseudo environment that's separate from the desktop. And now, thanks to Yahoo!, Konfabulator has a third advantage: It's free. Previously available for $20, Yahoo! Widgets, as it's now called, is bargain priced at $0. It's definitely worth checking out.

Microsoft to Launch Xbox 360 Concurrently in Europe, Japan, North America
   In November, Microsoft will do what no other video game machine maker has done before: Release a new console, the Xbox 360, in Europe, Japan, and North America simultaneously. Previously, video game console releases were spread out over different geographic regions to maintain steady sales over time, but as with movie releases, Microsoft wants a big bang up front. The reason for this change is obvious: Microsoft needs to capitalize on the fact that it will have the only next-generation console on the market during the holiday 2005 selling season, as Nintendo and Sony won't deliver their new machines until 2006.

Microsoft Wipes Apple Off the Map
   Microsoft insists that this situation is just a weird coincidence, and I'm inclined to agree, but it's so funny I can't help but tell you about it. This week, Microsoft unveiled its new MSN Virtual Earth service, which provides satellite imagery of cities and towns all over the earth. It's similar to Google Maps in that regard. But MSN Virtual Earth and Google Maps use different satellite imagery, so the results can be somewhat different. When you view Apple's corporate headquarters at One Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California, for example, Google Map shows you what you'd expect--a college-like campus. However, MSN Virtual Earth shows you an empty lot, as if Apple never existed. Microsoft claims the imagery is just out of date and that the view is from the past. But I have a different theory. I think Microsoft's technology is more powerful. I think what we're really looking at with MSN Virtual Earth is ... the future.

Microsoft Patents Custom Emoticons
   They're fun and wacky, but Microsoft has patented them, so we'd better not see you using them without proper authorization. This week, Microsoft received a patent for custom emoticons, the little icon-like graphics that translate characters such as :) into a smiley face. I have only one thing to say about this: :P

Hackers Turn Attention to Popular Applications
   With Windows now resembling a punching bag that long ago left its best days behind it, hackers are increasingly turning to other avenues for amusement. What do you hack if you're no longer challenged by hacking the world's most often-used OS? You hack the world's most often-used applications, of course. The SANS Institute reports that hackers are turning to applications such as Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), Apple iTunes, and Mozilla Firefox, and they're finding exactly what they want to find: multitudes of vulnerabilities. I like to think of these applications as "target-rich environments" because most of them have never undergone any type of intense security review and will suffer as a result. It's nice to know that hackers are keeping busy now that Windows is finally starting to shore up its defenses. I was worried they'd have to get jobs or something.

Judge Bans Microsoft Researcher from Google Job
   Enjoy this story, Microsoft watchers, because it might just be the last time Microsoft beats Google at anything. This week, a superior court judge in Washington state barred ex-Microsoft researcher Kai-Fu Lee from joining Google to start up Google's China-based research center. It turns out that Lee signed an agreement barring him from working for a direct competitor for a year, and the judge wants time to look over the agreement to ensure that Lee doesn't betray Microsoft's plans to Google. Lee has to stay away from Google until at least September, when the judge will convene a hearing. Google referred to Microsoft's legal foray as an "intimidation campaign." Hey, you're the guys who decided to compete with Microsoft. What did you think the company would do, send you flowers and chocolates?

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