WinInfo Short Takes: Week of August 25, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the return of Windows Weekly, a Seinfeldian set of Windows Vista ads, an amazing Microsoft photo synth service, Poland and the EU vs. Microsoft, Google search dominance, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

We're in Washington D.C. for a long weekend, and I've got to say: God, I love this city. I had spent two summers here as a child (my dad worked for the FDIC) and have been trying to come back at least once a year since we've been back in Boston. That said, this is the first time my kids have been here and they're already really excited about it. There's just so much to do.

After a two week break, Leo and I recorded a rollicking new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this week. It should be up by the weekend as usual.

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

Short Takes

What's the Deal with Windows Vista?
According to reports, Microsoft is paying comedian Jerry Seinfeld $10 million to star in a series of ads promoting Windows Vista. The ads will utilize the theme "Windows, Not Walls," and will fight back against Apple's deceptive "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ads and general misconceptions that consumers have about Vista. Part of an overall $300 million ad campaign--one of the largest in Microsoft's history--the Seinfeld ads will allegedly debut in early September.

Master of His Domain?
The question, of course, is whether using Jerry Seinfeld is a good idea. Seinfeld, of course, gained fame and fortune over a decade ago when his self-titled TV show dominated the ratings, delivering comic and financial gold for NBC. But that was a decade ago. One of the problems Microsoft has had with celebrities in general is that they almost always go with lame or past-their-prime stars, and there's a fear that Seinfeld might fall into that category now. On the other hand, Microsoft also has a proud (if little-known) history of creating really funny short internal videos, starring executives like Bill Gates, which it has shown at trade shows and other events. I've always thought that these videos would have made great commercial/advertising fodder, so it's possible they're going in this direction with Seinfeld. (And Gates will allegedly appear in the ads, too, which I think is smart.) If so, good for them.

Microsoft Takes Photosynth Public
Microsoft this week shipped the first deliverable from its Live Labs group, an amazing digital photo exploration tool called Photosynth, which allows you to combine photos from an area into a "synth" that you can virtually walk through in a 3D space. Some of the results people have gotten with this tool are simply magical. So magical, in fact, that it's touched off an insane amount of online excitement, of the type that Microsoft does not usually receive these days. The site was actually offline for much of Thursday, but it's back up as of this writing. Check it out.

Poland Reports Microsoft to EU
Which, when you think about it, is the equivalent of one child tattling on another to their parents. Poland's Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (OCCP) says it has found evidence of Microsoft "colluding" with PC makers to make it difficult to install non-Windows OSes on their hardware. The practice dates back to at least 1997, Poland says, and extends to other countries. If true, this is actually pretty serious. You know, unlike all that other baloney the EU is currently investigating about Microsoft right now.

Google Continues to Slap Around Microsoft Like the Little B#$%@ It Is
At some point this just gets comical, doesn't it? I mean, how many months would Microsoft have to gain on Google in the search market before it was actually meaningful? (Just ask Apple. They're stuck at less than 4 percent worldwide with the Mac a decade after claiming, incorrectly, to commanding 5 percent.) Well, that's just a fanciful question because, to date, Microsoft has never gained on Google. In fact, Microsoft is managing to lose ground, month over month. In July, for example, Google increased its share of the search market in the US to about 62 percent. Microsoft, meanwhile fell to 8.9 percent (down from 9.2 percent.) But they're not even in second place: Yahoo!, with 20.5 percent of the market, retains that dubious honor. (And they're down too, slightly.) So what's the end game here? Do they just give up? Or do they just keep flushing good R&D money down the toilet?

Yahoo! Right Back Where They Started
And speaking of Yahoo!, and of toilets, Yahoo! is right back where they started the year, before Microsoft made the first of its many abortive attempts to purchase the company. On Thursday, Yahoo!'s stock price fell to $19.11, the first time the price fell below the $19.18 value it held on January 31, the day Microsoft made its first offer. This says a lot about Yahoo!, and none of it is positive. But mostly, it says I just wanted to make another toilet joke.

Intel Working on Wireless Charging
We are the connected generation, with our iPods, smart phones, laptops, GPS devices, XM satellite radios, portable DVD players, and so on. But this reliance on portable technology brings with it an ugly and necessary side effect: A jungle of charging cables that we often have to duplicate between work and home. Well, Intel is seeking to end our reliance. No, not on portable technology but rather on the cables. The company reports gains in its efforts to wirelessly charge portable electronics devices, gains that could lead to a world without wires. (Don't worry, I'm sure dentists will continue making metal braces.) But don't think this means our devices will be like perpetual charging machines, capable of keeping going due to sheer force of will alone. Well, at least not right away. First, Intel sees tables and other surfaces as potential charge stations, where devices would charge up simply by making contact. But researchers are also working on a technology called "resonant induction," which would let portable devices charge wirelessly when held a few feet away from a charging station. Warp speed, Mr. Sulu.

Apple Paid Actors to Wait in Line During iPhone Launch in Poland
In a bid to make its new iPhone 3G look more popular than it really is, Apple paid actors to wait in line in front of retail locations around the country. But here's the messed up part of this story, in case the central theme doesn't seem to messed up to you: The company is admitting to the practice. "We have these fake queues at front of 20 stores around the country to drum up interest in the iPhone," an Apple spokesperson admits. So there you go, it's OK now.

Rumors of an Apple Subscription Service Resurface
And no, I'm not talking about MobileMess, that disastrous waste of time and money. I'm speaking instead about iTunes Unlimited, the oft-rumored iTunes-based subscription service that Apple insists it would never consider but has in fact been working on for years. I've often said that music subscription services make more sense for many consumers than a la carte purchasing, but to date none of the existing services--Napster, Rhapsody, etc.--have really taken off in a meaningful way. But if there's one company that can make this work, it's Apple. In fact, my guess is that Apple wanted to roll this out a long time ago but was shackled by its poor relationships with the major music companies, who are fearful of Apple's market power. Anyway, Apple is holding a late September event at which the company is expected to roll out its 2008 iPod lineup. But maybe a subscription service will be part of the mix too. In my mind, it's overdue. After all, Apple already dominates the digital music market. This is one of the few growth areas left.

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