WinInfo Short Takes: Week of August 17, 2009

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news ...

WinInfo Blog

We arrived home on Monday after over three weeks in Europe, and I have to say I'm still a bit woozy. You'd think it would be possible to get used to the effects of multi-time-zone travel, but the truth is, I go through the same aftereffects every time: I get accustomed to the time change slowly, going to sleep and getting up a bit later each day. And then just when I think I've normalized—bam!—I'm so tired I'm almost narcoleptic. And although going to the gym should help, it just makes me even more tired. My guess is that this will all pass over in the next few days. But for right now, I'm just beat.

After taking off last week because of connectivity issues in Paris, Leo and I returned for a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this week, and it was a blockbuster show—almost two full hours long. Hopefully that will make up for last week. The new episode should be up by the end of the weekend.

But wait, there's more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed, and the SuperSite Blog.

Short Takes

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, Microsoft Is Going to Have to Stop Selling Word!
Oh wait, no it's not. I've gotten a surprising amount of email this week about the Texas court ruling in which Microsoft has been told to stop selling its Word application because it infringes on an i4i patent. There's just one thing: It's not true. First, the injunction doesn't apply to products that have already been sold, so there are no worries about the hundreds of millions of infringing copies of Word that have already been sold around the world. Secondly, all Microsoft has to do to comply with the ruling is remove Word's "custom XML" functionality by October 10. And that, lawyers involved with the case say, is a simple fix. But regardless of all that, Microsoft can simply drag this process out at least 18 months by simply appealing the ruling. Guess what the company's gonna do? That's right, appeal. And guess how Word will be affected in the market? That's right, not at all. Controversy solved. Moving on.

Microsoft, Inexplicably, Will Create a Mac Version of Outlook
While Microsoft has sold a decent if unexceptional version of its dominant Microsoft Office productivity suite since, well, forever, Mac users have been saddled with an email and PIM piece of junk called Entourage over the past several versions whereas Windows users enjoy the more capable (and business-friendly) Outlook. Well, that's all changing: Outlook is heading back to the Mac, and Entourage is going where it belongs—the trash. The new Outlook for Mac will debut in the next version of Office:Mac, which is due sometime in 2010. And although I sort of understand the need for such a thing—after all, a whopping 3.5 percent of computers are now on the Mac—I'm confused about the timing. Here's Microsoft, making the transition to cloud-based computing, and instead of simply making a first-class Outlook Web Access (OWA) client that works as well on the Mac as it does on the PC, it's actually engineering a new, old-fashioned Mac application. That seems like a waste of time and money to me.

Security Lab: IE 8 Is the Most Secure Browser. By Far.
According to testing by an independent security lab (NSS Labs), Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) 8 web browser is the most secure web browser on the market—by a wide margin. The lab tested IE 8 against the most recent versions of Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome, and Opera, and found that Microsoft's browser offered users far better protection against phishing and malware attacks. NSS Labs says that IE 8 caught 81 percent of "live threats" over a two-week period, compared with just 54-percent by second-place entry Firefox. Safari, meanwhile, performed the worst, with just 2 percent.

Microsoft: Sorry, IE 6 Ain't Going Anywhere
Speaking of IE, Microsoft this week reiterated the fact that it would support the aging IE 6 web browser (which first appeared in 2001) until 2014, along with the Windows XP OS in which it shipped. The clarification came amidst a call from web developers for Microsoft to simply stop supporting IE 6 because its old-fashioned approach to the web was hampering standards adoption and, potentially, exposing its users to security risks. It's not that simple, Microsoft says. IE 6 still commands about 20 percent of the web browser market—almost as much as industry darling Mozilla Firefox and far more than any other browser contender. And most of those still using IE 6 are in businesses, Microsoft's most important market. "Dropping support for IE6 is not an option because we committed to supporting the IE included with Windows \[XP\] for the lifespan of the product," IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch wrote in the IE Blog this week. "Many PCs don't belong to individual enthusiasts, but to organizations. The people in these organizations responsible for these machines decide what to do with them. These people are professionally responsible for keeping tens or hundreds or thousands of PCs working on budget." All that said, IE 6 is an online deathtrap. As far as I'm concerned, users should have upgraded years ago.

Dell: Linux Netbooks Aren't Returned More than Windows Netbooks
Refuting an infamous Microsoft claim that Linux-based netbooks were returned four times as often as Windows-based netbooks, PC giant Dell this week said the entire thing was a "non-issue." In fact, Dell Senior Product Marketing Manager Todd Fincher noted that at his company, at least, Linux and Windows netbooks have exactly the same return rate. The bigger concern here is that Microsoft is essentially trying to define what a netbook is, because it wants to limit the types of machines on which PC makers can install the low-end (and low-price) Windows 7 Starter edition. According to Microsoft, it will license Starter only for PCs with 10.2" (or smaller) screens, 1GB of RAM, and a 250GB hard drive (or smaller). But PC makers like Dell are starting to stretch the hardware boundaries of the netbook, offering (gasp!) bigger screens, more storage, and more RAM. And Dell, not coincidentally, just canceled its 12" netbook, which—go figure—doesn't fit within Microsoft's definition of such a machine. Did Microsoft force Dell to do so? And is Dell perhaps getting a little tired of another company telling it what it can and can't sell? Maybe.

RealNetworks Loses Key DVD-Copying Ruling
Well, so much for Fair Use: A judge has granted several Hollywood movie studios a preliminary injunction against RealNetworks, which last year briefly sold a DVD-copying solution called RealDVD. Noting that RealDVD violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Judge Marilyn Hall Patel agreed that RealNetworks would need to keep the software unavailable to consumers while awaiting trial. RealNetworks can appeal the ruling, but it seems like this case is pretty much over. What I find troubling is that the judge basically decided that the DMCA violation overruled RealDVD's Fair Use applications, meaning that an individual's rights to make backup copies of his or her own content was not as important as potential illegal uses of the software. This decision is a direct contradiction of the landmark Sony Betamax Fair Use ruling, which went the other way and is (or was) used as the benchmark for all such cases. I'm no fan of RealNetworks per se, but I think the DMCA is complete BS and needs to be repealed or at least revised immediately. I understand that technology is moving too quickly for the law to keep up, but the DMCA is far too general and should permit for Fair Use at the very least.

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