WinInfo Short Takes: Week of August 19

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

Office 11 to Use XML as Native Data Format
The next version of Microsoft Office (code-named Office 11) will finally make a break with the proprietary Office data formats of the past and embrace XML as a native data format. The change isn't designed to appease open-source advocates, however, but to let the suite's applications (e.g., Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint) more easily interoperate with Microsoft .NET Web services. Opening up Office to XML also paves the way for Microsoft's future kitchen-sink data-storage scheme (code-named Yukon), a Microsoft SQL Server 2003-based data store that will power future versions of Active Directory (AD), Microsoft Exchange, and even the Windows file system. But exposing Office data natively as XML will also give competitors a chance to make their products more interoperable with Office, no doubt leading to future and Sun Microsystems' StarOffice products that will finally be 100 percent compatible with Microsoft's offerings. The company says the benefits outweigh the risks, however, and is pressing ahead with what it calls end-to-end experiences that blur the lines between the desktop and server-side services.

Here Comes Da Smartphone
This week, Samsung Electronics received federal approval to sell a new cell phone that runs the Microsoft Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 OS, which is based on the same software that powers Pocket PC systems. The Samsung SCH-i600 is a clamshell-style cell phone with a full-color screen, a Secure Digital (SD) card slot, and integration with Microsoft Pocket Outlook's calendar, contacts, and tasks functionalities. The phone, which will be available later this year, will synchronize with Windows PCs. Expect to see similar phones from AT&T and other companies. And service carriers such as Sprint, Verizon, and VoiceStream are expected to support Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 devices.

EULA Insanity Continues
The computer trade press continued to hound Microsoft this week for its poorly worded End User License Agreements (EULAs), which, among many other things, appear to require that you provide your personal information, your first-born child, and all your personal assets to the company, if you read the EULAs the right way. But you can sense a kind of desperation in certain pseudo-journalistic circles, as if some sort of anti-Microsoft conspiracy must be going on. As I explained last week, however, Microsoft is one of the most closely watched companies on the planet, and there's no way that the company would be stupid enough to start violating your privacy, if only because it would immediately be found out. Coincidentally (and you'll soon see why that word itself is hilarious), "The New York Times Magazine" recently published an excellent long-form expose about why human beings see conspiracies everywhere they look. Remember: Microsoft screws up enough that we don't need to make up reasons to distrust it.

Microsoft Preps New Keyboards and Mouse Devices
This week, Microsoft received federal approval for its Bluetooth-based keyboard and mouse products, which will use the wireless technology to connect the devices to a PC. The company will sell the products together in a kit that includes a USB-based Bluetooth transceiver for the PC (because most PCs today don't yet ship with Bluetooth hardware, although that situation should change by early 2003). In addition, this fall Microsoft will start selling two new wired keyboards, including the Multimedia Keyboard, which features one-touch button access to digital-media features and other oft-requested functionality such as navigating music and video clips, surfing the Web, and starting the programs you use most. A new Natural Multimedia Keyboard will offer the same functionality combined with an ergonomic split keyboard layout. Both the Multimedia Keyboard and the Natural Multimedia Keyboard have revised looks, with a deep-blue band across the top and integrated wrist rests.

Works Suite 2003 Due This Month
Also due this fall is Microsoft Works Suite 2003, which includes the most recent versions of Microsoft Word, Works, Money Standard Edition, Encarta Encyclopedia Standard Edition, Picture It! Photo, and Streets & Trips. Works Suite will retail for about $125 and go on sale in late September. A simpler Works 2003 package, which will include Works and Word, will retail for about $99 and will be available about the same time. Both packages also include a quick-start Task Launcher, a My Projects organizer, and hundreds of new templates.

California Linux Advocates Seek Windows Independence
This week, the Linux movement heated up when 30 protesters demonstrated at San Francisco's City Hall. Despite the low turnout-- Red Hat Linux said it expected hundreds of people to show up, and 15,000 people packed the nearby LinuxWorld Conference & Expo--the message was still delivered: Red Hat Linux and other Linux advocates want the state of California to adopt the Digital Software Security Act (DSSA). This proposal would require the state to use only open-source solutions, not proprietary solutions such as Windows and Microsoft Office. Something tells me that the low turnout at this event is an obvious indicator of this movement's true level of support.

Think Tank Wants More Government Linux Use
But wait, there's more. In addition to the recent events in California, another group is calling on the US government to more broadly adopt Linux and open-source solutions. To facilitate this request, the group--a technology think tank called the Cyberspace Policy Institute--is offering to certify Linux under the Common Criteria, a standard grading requirement for products that are sold to sensitive government locations in the United States and other countries. If the plan works, the group would create a standardized Linux version that meets government requirements, giving the open-source solution equal footing in its fight against Microsoft. Will the plan succeed? Unfortunately for Linux advocates, the certification takes years and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. To give you an idea of the time involved, Windows 2000--which Microsoft finalized in December 1999--has yet to be certified.

Microsoft Wants Less Government Linux Use
On a related note, Microsoft is lobbying to reduce government use of open-source solutions, which I'm sure is entirely coincidental (see earlier reference to conspiracy theories). The company recently joined the Initiative for Software Choice, a lobbying group that was started to respond to movements in countries such as France, Germany, and Peru, which have passed (or soon will pass) legislation to make open-source software (OSS) a requirement for government use. With similar movements rising in California and the US government, the Initiative for Software Choice says that it's time to take a stand and that governments should choose the solutions that make the most sense, regardless of how they're developed. So will the plan succeed? Duh, if it's Microsoft's plan, of course it's going to succeed.

Dell to Enter Printer, PDA Markets
Dell revealed this week that it will enter the printer and PDA markets in 2003, ending speculation that the company was planning to expand the range of products it sells. Dell hasn't provided many details about its plans, but the company is expected to release Pocket PC devices and rebranded printers from a major supplier. I hope to have more information about this story soon.

Dell Comes On Strong in Quarter
Speaking of Dell, the world's second largest PC maker announced this week that it made $501 million on revenues of $8.5 billion in its most recent quarter. How well is Dell doing? Consider this: In a period when PC shipments fell 4 percent year over year, Dell saw its shipments rise 18 percent worldwide, while its server shipments rose 20 percent. The sales, of course, are coming at the expense of virtually every other company in the PC industry, none of which seem able to keep up with Dell. And looking ahead, the company expects PC shipments to rise another 5 percent in the third quarter, despite expected flat sales for the rest of the industry. Those results would give Dell a record 19 percent increase, year over year. "Clearly, we're winning and gaining market share," said Dell Chairman and CEO Michael Dell. Clearly.

AOL Time Warner Admits Accounting Flubs
Meeting a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requirement that chief executives of publicly held companies must sign off on financial statements, this week AOL Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons had to admit that the company probably inflated revenues by almost $50 million during the past 18 months. AOL Time Warner executives say that they're now aware of three suspicious transactions that might have resulted in earnings overstatements for AOL, the company's online division. They also admitted that further investigation into the company's books might reveal other problems. You know, I've watched this company fall apart, and it's hard to believe that the government ever allowed the merger between AOL and Time Warner to occur in the first place. Corporate executives have been cooking the books for decades, but where was the federal oversight when these two companies got the merger approval? Maybe it's time to turn the current round of corporate investigations toward the government entities that signed off on this bogus deal.

Apple Offers OS X Family License
Learning a lesson from Microsoft's licensing embarrassments, Apple Computer revealed this week that it will offer a Family License for Mac OS X 10.2 (code-named Jaguar). The Family License will cost $200 and let you install the product on up to five Macintosh PCs in one home. Compared with Jaguar's $130 street price, that's a pretty good deal, even if you only intended to use it on two Macs. And compared with Microsoft's unbelievable prices for Windows XP--a $99 upgrade for XP Home Edition, $299 for XP Professional Edition, with no family license in sight--Apple's Family License is an amazing bargain. Maybe this idea is another Apple innovation that Microsoft could steal (hint, hint).

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