WinInfo Short Takes: Week of December 11

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

Microsoft turns on Passport requirements
I've received a number of concerned emails from MSN users who've noted that Microsoft now requires users to supply Passport information on the site if they want to take advantage of the personalization features. To be honest, I'm surprised it took them so long to do this, but I'm even more surprised at the reactions I've gotten to this decision. Many people seem to view this move as a violation of their privacy, but the Passport privacy policy is pretty clear on the issue, and I see this simply as a more elegant way to provide personalization services while simplifying the Web experience so that you don't need to keep logging on at each step of the way. Sounds like a marketing statement, I know, but I swear that just appeared on the screen in front of me. I'm not logged onto Passport right now, am I?

King rakes in over $500,000 for The Plant
For some reason, a number of people have viewed Stephen King's eBook experiment, The Plant, as some sort of failure. But the best-selling author has raked in over $500,000 from sales of the first five installments of the work, or about $375,000 after expenses. Not too bad, especially when you consider that it's all profit, as King completely bypassed the traditional book publisher to make it happen. "There is no down side," King said, reflecting on his experiences publishing online. "The next logical step is to publish a whole novel on the Internet, all at once." But for now, King is returning to more traditional book publishing, incuding a long-awaited sequel to The Talisman, which he is again co-authoring with Peter Straub.

Microsoft chooses DDR SDRAM for Xbox
Fueling the RAM wars, Microsoft has chosen Micron to supply DDR SDRAM for its upcoming Xbox game console, in sharp contrast to the RAMBUS memory used by archrival Sony in its PlayStation 2 console. Originally seen as the future of PC memory, RAMBUS has fallen on hard times, and is still incredibly expensive. But DDR SDRAM runs as fast, and even faster than RAMBUS, and it's a lot less expensive. Score one for the Xbox.

Famous last words: AOL's Case predicts merger success
America Online (AOL) CEO Steve Case says he's not worried about his company's mega-merger with Time Warner, despite meddling from Microsoft, which complained that the combined companies would shut out competition (oh, the irony). Case says he expects the FTC to approve the merger by the end of December or early January. Case noted that AOL/Time Warner would be "stupid" to not carry others' content, contrary to complaints by competitors. We'll see.

Red Hat closes offices, lays off 20
Linux maker Red Hat closed three offices this week, laying off 20 workers. The company said that the employees performed redundant job functions, some due to a recent purchase of Atomic Vision, a Web site for Linux news. But the Atomic Vision purchase was a bust, and the site hasn't drawn much traffic. Sites in San Francisco, Newbury, England, and Cagnes sur Mer, France were closed. Red Hat currently employs about 550 people and has a dozen offices worldwide. The company's stock is trading in the $6 range after soaring to ridiculous heights during the overvalued Internet boom; Red Hat's IPO stock price was $7.

Opera 5 now free in bid to remain competitive
The other browser maker (no, not Netscape) released its latest contender, Opera 5, this week. Despite some cross-platform creds, Opera has never really taken off with users, probably because it was never free, as were market leaders IE and Netscape. So with version 5, Opera is offering a "free" version of the browser that includes an annoying advertisement pane in the corner, ala the equally irrelevant NeoPlanet browser. Frankly, when you can get the top two browsers for free, I don't see the point, but if you're an alternative kind of person, you can check out Opera 5 on the Opera Web site.

Apple QuickTime 5 beta available for Windows
The second beta of Apple QuickTime 5 is now available in a Windows flavor as well. QuickTime 5 includes a slightly different user interface that does away with the annoying "drawer" design from QT4 and includes a number of other features. For more information and the free download, head on over to the Apple Web site.

Microsoft seeks to grab developers from Palm
Talk about party crashing: Microsoft's mobile division is actively recruiting developers at the annual PalmSource conference, the leading Palm OS developer conference in Santa Clara, California. The goal: Get Palm developers to support the PocketPC and port over their Palm apps to the Dark Side. Evil? Maybe. Smart? Yes.

Gates seeks to become master of privacy
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates addressed the invitation-only SafeNet 2000 conference this week and announced that extensive privacy options and data security will become available in all of its next-generation software. "In an era where the Internet is increasingly central to our lives at work, at home and at school, it is more important than ever that our industry give customers the assurance that their information will remain secure, respected and private," Gates said later. I think we all trust this guy with our privacy. I know I do.

Microsoft to support P3P in IE 6
Speaking of privacy, one of the interesting tidbits that came out of Gates' talk at SafeNet 2000 was a new feature in Internet Explorer 6, the next version of IE. Due to debut with the Beta 2 release of Whistler "early next year," the new browser will exchange information between IE 6 and Web sites that support the technology, using five pre-built security levels. IE 6 will also include a new user interface, according to Gates.

Note to Apple fans: It's called constructive criticism
The one thing I wish we could all rise above is the childish ranting that occurs every time I write about the Macintosh or Linux. Many people assume I'm some sort of Windows-loving sycophant because I write for Windows 2000 Magazine, but that's not the case at all. For example, yesterday's article about Apple didn't pull any punches, but that company has had a free pass with the press for too long, and this week's financial announcement was far worse than most Apple fans would like to admit. Yes, the company is going to post a $225+ million loss during its historically most profitable quarter. Yes, it has an unheard-of 11 weeks of inventory rotting in warehouses. And yes, their product line is utterly stagnant. But here are some things I didn't mention: This loss represents a shortfall of at least $600 million when compared to the company's previous quarterly projection, and a shortfall of over $1.5 billion for the year; and the PowerPC chip, despite what Apple fans will tell you, is horribly and perhaps permanently behind the times, stuck at speeds only 1/3 of its Intel compatible rivals. And Apple's problem selling previous generation technology gussied up in pretty new plastic colors is all happening when the PC industry is growing by almost 20 percent overall, and over 30 percent for notebook computers worldwide, according to IDC. Do the math, Apple fans. This company needs an injection of technology, and it needs it fast. A cool new OS isn't enough.

Intel warns investors
On the other hand, even Intel has been affected by the slowdown of consumer-oriented PC sales in the United States. The company warned investors this week that revenues for the quarter would be less than previously expected, due largely to order cancellations by PC makers. Thus revenues will be flat when compared with the previous quarter. PC makers that focus on consumer products, such as Gateway and Apple, have fallen on hard times this holiday season as U.S. consumer PC sales plummet. As Intel is the primary parts maker for PCs, this shortfall has finally made its way back to the source. Intel's stock has fallen over 50% since August.

Wall Street says what the heck, lowers Microsoft forecast too
A Goldman Sachs analyst has lowered his earnings and sales estimates for Microsoft because of the drop in consumer PC demand in the United States, causing the company's stock to fall to the $50 range, near its yearly low of $48. Microsoft's revenues for the second quarter, which ends December 31, are now expected to be $125 million less than previously thought, though Goldman Sachs admits that it has no access to the company's financials and Microsoft officials aren't talking. What the heck, the rest of the sector is going south, why not Microsoft?

Microsoft donates $1 million to LA elementary school
And to end this little tirade on a happy note, Microsoft announced a $1 million charitable donation to UCLA's School Management Program (SMP) for the implementation of a Connected Learning Community at the Laguna Nueva Elementary School in Commerce, California (now there's a moutful). Microsoft's goal with the donation is to create a school community that uses technology to improve student learning and increase the participation of families in their children's education. It's all in the spirit of the season, the company says

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