WinInfo Short Takes: Week of August 20

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including our third week in France, Office 2007 SP1, Windows Vista security, Xbox 360 non-improvements, hot lobbyist on lobbyist action, Lotus Notes 8, Robbie Bach, Dell earnings, and so much more ...

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Somehow, we've almost completed the third of four weeks in France. It's been going well: After a fairly aggressive schedule hitting all the expected tourist spots in Paris for the first ten days or so, we settled into a more relaxing schedule that lets me spend half the day in town and then half the day working back at the home we're staying at. Unlike last week, I've finally started catching up on work as well, which is vaguely comforting.

Now that our friends from Boston are gone, the "shath"-related humor has also settled down, but I'm still thinking about making that t-shirt to commemorate the trip. Certainly, being able to actually stand up and take a shower will be a welcome luxury. The house we're staying in this year is, to put it charitably, somewhat bizarre. It's a multi-level affair that's wedged between the other houses on the street, and you wouldn't even know it was there unless you knew where to look. Once inside, however, you see that it's made up of strange, multiple levels, with nary a straight edge or right angle in sight. We could easily sleep 20 people in this place, though that would be painful because of the bathroom situation. I've bumped by head in here at least once every day. You'd think I'd get used to the weird ceilings, but it's like living in an M.C. Escher painting. Sometimes the stairs actually end in a half height door, giving a weird perspective effect that just doesn't come across in the photos we've taken. It's all very odd. But it is very nicely situated--we get into the center of Paris on the RER train in 15 minutes--and it's just a few doors down from some good friends.

Next week, we're taking our only side trip of the month, to Toulouse, France's third largest city. It's in the southwest part of the country, and we've never been, plus we're taking the TGV high-speed train there, which I'm looking forward to. Our friends are moving there early next year, so this might be the first of many trips to that area.

Leo and I tried to record the Windows Weekly podcast last night, the first attempt since I've been here, but it turns out Skype was (and still is) down for the count. We're going to try again tonight--there's nothing like a 9 hour time difference between San Francisco and Paris--and hopefully Skype will accommodate us.

Short Takes

Microsoft Begins Testing Office 2007 SP1

Microsoft this week began testing Office 2007 SP1 with a limited group of testers from its Technical Adoption Program (TAP), enterprise customers who are able to use pre-release software versions in production environments. No news yet on what's new, if anything, in the service pack, but then that's no surprise given Microsoft's new secrecy policy about upcoming product updates. At least the company confirmed the release; with Windows Vista SP1, the company likes to pretend it has yet to decide whether it's even going to release such a thing.

Microsoft: Vista Still Most Secure OS, By Far

Jeff Jones, a director in the Microsoft security group, this week published a comparison of system vulnerabilities in various OSs for the month of July and the results are interesting, if predictable. Vista, by far, is the most secure OS in the sense that it's required the fewest fixes. Windows XP also performed pretty well, but various UNIX OSs and Mac OS X did terribly; Sun Microsystems isn't included in this month's review because Sun has apparently begun hiding its results. On the server side, Windows Server 2003 predictably trumps the Linux competition as well. Jones also compiled year-to-date results and, yeah, they're pretty similar: Windows wins big on both the client and the server. For more information, check out Jones' interesting blog post.

Microsoft Does Nothing to Improve Xbox 360

In the world of video gaming, there are some eagerly anticipated events. Some are solid and well known, like the release of Halo 3, due next month. Others are more ephemeral, though equally anticipated, like Microsoft's move to quieter and lower-power microprocessors and other chips for the Xbox 360. The company has yet to announce how it will change the console to accommodate these new chips, or even when it's going to happen, exactly, but that's only fueled speculation and caused every minor Xbox 360 change to achieve a level of coverage that's obscenely inflated, given what's really happened. This week, we've seen the funniest example of this trend: A component supplier announced that Microsoft had chosen it to supply the memory chips in the Xbox 360, ousting a previous supplier. The news was broadcast around the world, as if this were somehow the start of Microsoft's long-awaited transition to cooler new chips. There's just one problem: The new supplier is using the same 90 nm process that was employed by the previous supplier, so Microsoft isn't actually changing the Xbox 360 design (at least not yet), they're just changing hardware suppliers. Put simply, this means absolutely nothing to customers, despite the many news reports this week suggesting otherwise. Geesh.

Microsoft Is Lobbying Against Google

In its bid to convince the US government to halt Google's planned purchase of DoubleClick, Microsoft is employing an old-fashioned if effective means of communicating its opinion: lobbyists. Microsoft has actually employed lobbyists in D.C. for several years now, after failing to understand their importance in the years leading up to its antitrust conviction, but this is the first time the company has directed some of them to combat Google. Naturally, Google has also hired lobbyists to push its own agenda, so I propose a "Battle Royale" to determine whether Google's $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick can proceed: Microsoft and Google's lobbyists can square off in a coliseum-style death match, complete with those cool blade/pike things from the original Star Trek series (actually, the music from that episode would work too), and whoever is left standing will be declared the winner. Because they're lobbyists, animal rights activists will no doubt try to step in to stop the proceedings. But we can divert these people by pointing at Chesapeake Bay and screaming something about Chinese mussels. As you can see, I've pretty much figured it all out.

IBM Intros New Lotus Notes, Anxious World Wonders Why

IBM this morning introduced the latest version of its messaging server, Lotus Notes 8, causing me to momentarily snap out of a caffeine-deprived coma and wonder aloud whether the company is actually still updating the software. (My wife already thinks I'm crazy, so this request went unanswered.) But I checked online and, sure enough, it does. And get this, it even notes (ahem) that Lotus Notes "competes" with Microsoft's Exchange Server. Sounds nifty!

Robbie Bach's Stock Sale: Worse Than Originally Reported

When the news emerged last month that Microsoft Vice President Robbie Bach had sold $6.2 million in Microsoft stock in the weeks before the company announced an historic $1.1 billion warranty-related charge for the console, things looked grim. There were questions about insider trading and so forth, mostly because the sale was unprecedented, unscheduled, and, well, massive. Turns out we didn't know the half of it. According to a recent filing with the US Security and Exchanges Commission (SEC), Bach sold even more stock than originally reported--$9.2 million worth--and we're just learning about it now because of an SEC "administrative error." There's still no word on whether the SEC intends to investigate Bach because of this suspicious transaction. Maybe it already started, but forgot to tell anyone.

Dell to Restate Earnings for Previous Four Years

And speaking of suspicious, PC giant Dell announced this morning that it will have to restate the previous four years of financial results to account for executive fraud that was discovered during an internal investigation. Dell isn't naming names yet, but apparently several executives massaged the books over the past few years in order to hit performance targets, overstating sales and financial results. The good news is that the financial repercussions are relatively small: Dell will reduce its profit over this time period by just $50 million, which isn't too shabby for a company that posted a net income of $12 billion during that time. Dell has been working on this investigation for about two years now; in August 2005, the SEC began investigating the company's financial reporting practices. Dell's CEO, Kevin Rollins, stepped aside in February 2007 so that founder Michael Dell could assume control of the company.

Skype Experiences Massive Outage

PC-based VoIP service Skype experienced a massive outage Thursday--which apparently is continuing today, if I'm reading that little gray icon in my system tray correctly--preventing millions of users worldwide from making free phone calls over the Internet. This is particularly problematic for me, since I use Skype to record the Windows Weekly podcast, and we had to delay this week's recording as a result. According to Skype, the worldwide outage was caused by a software bug, and as of Friday, things were starting to improve, with some users in Europe and Asia (but not, apparently, here in France) able to once again log on to the service. Skype has nearly 220 million users, though only 5 to 10 million or so are generally online at any time, so this kind of outage is obviously a big deal. On the flip side, it doesn't happen all that often: The last time Skype had an outage was several years ago.

Ubuntu Servers Hijacked, Possibly by Chinese Hackers

And I thought the Chinese liked free software. Five of the eight Ubuntu Linux-based servers that were being sponsored by Ubuntu owner Canonical had to be pulled offline this week after the organization discovered that they had been hijacked by hackers. The hijacking was discovered after Ubuntu engineers noticed a Chinese IP address repeatedly attempting a brute-force logon to one of the servers, and they're only now trying to bring them online again. So what was the problem? It turns out it has nothing to do with Linux per se, but an awful lot to do with human failings: The servers were all horribly out of date and hadn't been updated with the latest security fixes and other patches. What's amazing about this is that Ubuntu Linux makes this sort of thing disarmingly easy, so someone was really not doing their job. Way to go, guys.

The Compact Disc Is 25 Years Old

This week, Sony and Philips are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Compact Disc, or CD. And well they should: The codevelopers of this format have reaped untold billions in royalties on the format over the past 25 years, a success story they and other companies have largely duplicated with the DVD format and will likely never duplicate with newer disc-based formats like Blu-Ray and HD DVD. The CD, of course, is the one that started it all, with a 5-inch form factor and 74 minutes of recording space in order to accommodate a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Over the years, more than 200 billion CDs have been sold. Today, of course, the kids are all downloading MP3 files and using iPods. When I purchased my first CD player in 1988, I thought I was pretty cool. Little did I know at the time that I was simply buying into the next 8-track tape. Getting old isn't a lot of fun.

Help Barb Help HP Design its Next Laptop

This one is fun: My good friend Barb Bowman has been asked by HP to help design its next laptop, and she's reaching out to others to collect feedback for the company. If you've ever wanted to help design a computer, this is a great chance to leave some feedback and see what happens. To do so, please visit Barb's blog.


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