WinInfo Short Takes: Week of August 24, 2009

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

WinInfo Blog

After a cool start to the summer, Boston finally experienced its first true heat wave of the season, with five days of 90+ degree days this week. I'm more alarmed by the rampant stupidity of weather talk: It seems like the heat is all that people want to talk about these days, as if this doesn't happen every single year. Hey, this is what happens in the summer. Deal.

Because of renovations to his admittedly impressive studio, Leo and I recorded this week's episode of the Windows Weekly podcast a day early this week. So it should be up by the end of the weekend as usual.

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

Short Takes

It's Official: DOJ Reviewing Microsoft/Yahoo! Deal
According to sources, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) is indeed reviewing Microsoft's search agreement with Yahoo!, a deal that would create a strong number-two player in the market to compete with Google. No surprise there, since the Obama administration has repeatedly said that it would more aggressively scrutinize anti-competitive practices in the tech industry than its Bush administration predecessors. (Which wouldn't be hard.) That said, I have a hard time believing that the DOJ would try to scuttle this deal since it doesn't create a market leader of any kind but instead puts competitive pressure on a company that increasingly dominates the others. But I do have some worries about the situation in Europe, where the litigation-happy, anti-Microsoft regulators in the European Union (EU) are likely to cause a stink. And you just know they will.

Microsoft, Yahoo!, Amazon Join Up to Fight Google Book Settlement
Microsoft, Yahoo!, and online retailer are joining a consortium to fight a proposed settlement that Google has made with book authors and publishers. Google, of course, began scanning books a few years back so that the content of those books could show up in their search results. But the company forgot to ask for permission to do this—yes, books are still copyrighted, Google—and Google was sued in 2005 by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers for copyright infringement. Google later proposed a settlement that would give it the right to continue scanning books and sell books online. The DOJ is investigating the book-scanning incident for antitrust violations, and the involvement of three industry heavyweights should help turn up the heat. I loathe Google's actions here, but I have to believe that what it's trying to do is simply inevitable. At the very least, the various groups opposed to Google have a responsibility to ensure that the company doesn't get away with doing this for free.

Ribbon UI Coming to Windows Vista
Microsoft this week confirmed that it would back-port Windows 7's "ribbon" UI—used by Paint, WordPad, and Windows Live Movie Maker—to Windows Vista as well. But don't think this means Vista users will get the ribbon UI in various applications all of a sudden. All Microsoft is doing is making the underlying APIs behind the ribbon available to developers who want to create their own applications that run on both Vista and Windows 7. So, the net effect to end users is actually zero.

Microsoft Not Going the "Crazy Eddie" Route with its Mobile Apps Store
Microsoft has been courting mobile developers of late, trying to get them excited about the Windows Mobile platform and—more specifically—about getting its mobile apps in the upcoming Windows Marketplace for Mobile. One thing Microsoft isn't interested in, however, is selling apps for as little as 99 cents, as Apple does through the iPhone Apps store (part of its iTunes Store). "Your app is worth more than that," Windows Mobile Senior Technical Product Manager Loke Uei told developers recently. "We want to promote that you make more money selling applications than selling your application in a dollar store." I have a theory about this, however, and it has nothing to do with undervaluing apps. If you compare how Microsoft and Apple already sell 99 cent products online—in this case, digital song downloads—you see some sharp differences. That is, Apple will sell you a single 99 cent song, but Microsoft won't. Instead, Microsoft makes you buy packages of "Microsoft Points," which start at about $10 and don't map directly to dollars or any other currency. Microsoft's excuse (or, in their words, explanation) for this silliness is that the company must pay a credit card fee on every transaction, and if those transactions were for just 99 cents each, they would lose money on every sale. So how does Apple do it? Sources I've spoken to tell me that Apple essentially bundles sales for the credit card companies so that individual 99 cent sales aren't charged individual fees. But regardless of the mechanics of it, Apple lets people buy what they want in the currency of their locale, and Microsoft doesn't. And it appears that Microsoft is getting ready to repeat the mistake with its mobile apps store. And you know what? Some apps are worth only 99 cents, Microsoft. Deal with it.

Much Gnashing of Teeth over Windows Mobile
Speaking of Windows Mobile, there's been a lot of public debate about Windows Mobile lately, especially about its lack of success and Microsoft's lack of aggressiveness in this market. I have my own thoughts on this topic, and they largely focus on the executives running this business and how completely out to lunch they must be. But I would also point out that, technologically speaking, Microsoft is standing on the cusp of a perfect storm in which it could—and should—simply bring its desktop version of Windows down to mobile devices and provide (as Apple does) a single underlying platform across its mobile, desktop PC, and server products. The time to move is now. Windows Mobile 6.5 will do nothing to stem the awesome advance of Apple's iPhone, and Windows Mobile 7 will arrive far too late to make a difference, and that's assuming it's any good at all, which no one can say for sure. So, I guess I do agree that Microsoft should get rid of Windows Mobile. But I would also argue that the company should then replace it with Windows.

And You Thought the Local News Team Looked Horrible in HD
Microsoft this week unveiled a new widescreen, HD web cam dubbed the LifeCam Cinema, which provides 1280 x 720 (or 720p) 16x9 output at 30 frames per second (fps). It works great in low light and can accurately focus on images that are only 4" away. So, if you have any skin blemishes or other imperfections that you'd rather not frighten your friends and family with, my advice is to stick with that piece-of-junk web cam you bought back in 2001. Because this thing is arguably too good for the general populace. No offense.

Popular Hotmail Feature Goes Missing in Action
Microsoft's wildly popular Hotmail service silently dropped a feature called Attach Photo several weeks ago, confusing and angering users. The feature allows users to send photos via email, not by attachment like old-fashioned email clients but inline in the message, with captions and other effects. The problem is that Microsoft never told anyone that it was removing the feature, and when users discovered it was gone, they weren't sure what was going on. As it turns out, the Attach Photo functionality in Hotmail relies on a bit of ActiveX-related functionality that has a security flaw, so Microsoft removed the feature until the flaw could be fixed. That fix will be made available by the end of September, according to the company, and at that time Attach Photo will return. In the meantime, feel free to attach photos to your messages the old-fashioned way.

News Alert: China Actually Jails People for Pirating Windows
In what might literally be a first, the Chinese government has jailed four individuals for selling a pirated version of Windows. The program, called "Tomato Garden" for some reason, is a version of Windows XP that doesn't include the anti-piracy product activation and Windows Genuine Advantage technologies. Two of the individuals received a sentence of three and a half years in jail, while the other two received two years each. Naturally, the world collectively celebrated China's attempts to halt the rampant software piracy in that country. "China's efforts to stop intellectual property theft \[are\] weak and ineffective," said US Congressman Howard Berman. OK, maybe not for everyone.

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