WinInfo Short Takes: Week of December 19, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the impending doom of Christmas, an IE 8 release candidate, Xbox 360 woes, a mysterious Dell product line, falling TV sales, an RIAA Christmas miracle, and much, much more...

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Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And he's coming ... next week??!?! How did this happen? I guess I'm a procrastinator by nature, but this year it feels like Christmas just rose up out of nowhere and smacked me right in the face. Adding to the misery is a foot of snow expected over the next 24 hours, which should nicely shut down most local travel. You gotta love the holidays.

Leo is away on vacation, so we're taking a two week break from the Windows Weekly podcast, sorry. We're schedule to record the next episode right around New Years Day.

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

Short Takes

Microsoft to Web site operators: Get ready for IE 8
What would it be like if Microsoft released a major new browser upgrade to millions of users worldwide and Web site owners completely ignored the compatibility issues with their sites? Actually, that's exactly what happened this year with two major releases of the Internet Explorer (IE) 8 beta, and now Microsoft wants to make sure that history doesn't repeat itself. So when the company issues a near-final release candidate (RC) version of IE 8 sometime in the coming days--they won't say when, exactly--they want Web site developers, finally, to do just ten minutes of compatibility testing. The rationale is obvious: By this time next year, there will be tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of IE 8 users. So where's the sense of urgency? In a conversation with Microsoft general manager Dean Hachamovitch last week, I was told that the compatibility issues that dogged previous IE 8 beta releases have been largely resolved. But that doesn't mean Web sites are safe: Their owners and developers need to make sure everything's going to work before IE 8 is finalized. And if it doesn't work, Microsoft wants to hear about it. Here's the info you need to make that happen. So don't be a tool. Be ready.

Did Microsoft really fix the Xbox 360?
A year after Microsoft took its historic $1.1 billion warranty hit and (sort of) admitted to widespread problems with Xbox 360 consoles "red ringing" (failing), a question remains: Has Microsoft really fixed the Xbox 360? Officially, Microsoft says that it has "improved the manufacturing processes to improve reliability and our repair process to accelerate turn-around time for repairs." But according to a report on (which, non-ironically, was co-started by Microsoft), the software giant still doesn't know what causes an Xbox 360 to red ring. In fact, this problem is referred to internally as a "general hardware failure" because any number of things can cause it. What Microsoft has improved is the information users get when their machines are sent off to be fixed. In fact, this process was so successful that the group responsible for this information is working on the self-help and automated help features in Windows 7. But again, has Microsoft *really* fixed the Xbox 360? No, they haven't. And while free fixes are certainly welcome, you have to wonder about the long-term viability of a system that was known to fail regularly before it was even shipped to the public. I wonder sometimes if they'll ever really get it fixed. And for the record, I've had at least five Xbox 360s red-ring, two this year alone. That I've lost count says more about this issue than anything else I can think of.

A Christmas Miracle? Music industry takes a break from being The Evil Empire (tm)
After pursuing individual music pirates for several years running, the music industry association RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) said this week that it would abandon this strategy and look for more effective ways to bilk consumers, er ah, fight piracy. How serious is this change? The RIAA has sued over 35,000 individuals in the past five years, including, among others, a 13 year old girl and a grandmother. Oh, and a dead person. Yes, seriously. Now, the RIAA has established agreements with major ISPs in which the ISPs will forward complaints from the RIAA to people who are suspected to making copyrighted music available to others. If the user ignores 2-3 warnings, their access to the Internet will be cut off. OK, so this seems a bit more even handed to me, but it doesn't, of course, address the primary problem with the music industry. With music sales falling by over 150 million CDs a year every year now, what we clearly need are fewer Britneys and more truly talented musicians. Just a thought.

Dell site hints at Adamo ultra-thin notebook
Dell is apparently throwing caution and common sense into the wind and will soon launch a Macbook Air competitor called the Adamo. (And, really, what a fine name that is. Hmrph.) There's not much information available yet, but expect a device that is even thinner than Apple's pointlessly-thin Air, and possibly even a line of Adamo-branded desktop and notebook PCs down the road. "We need to get some iconic products out there, so people associate Dell's brand with other things," Dell VP Michael Tatelman told "The New York Times." By "other things" I assume he means "other than the whole failure to change with the PC market over the past decade" thing. But seriously, Dell's PCs are already fine-looking devices. They're not the problem. And entering into a market that values form over function is not, in my opinion, what Dell is all about. On the other hand, if Dell continues down the path it's on now, it may very well end up as the next Apple, at least sort of. That is, yes, they'll be a boutique PC maker.

Not the TVs
Of all the side effects of the current economic recession, the one thing I didn't expect to see was a fall in sales of flat-panel TVs. I mean, this is still the United States: People have the God-given right to flop down in front of the latest reality show travesty and veg out until sleep takes them, right? Well, apparently more people will continue doing this without the benefits of HD: According to market research firm DisplaySearch, flat-panel sales in the US will actually drop 4 percent year-over-year in 2009 for the first time. (Flat panel sales rose 77 percent in 2007 and are expected to rise 22 percent this year.) The fall-off has nothing to do with saturation, either: People are simply buying fewer new sets. This is arguably a good thing, I guess. But if you're not scared of the current economic climate yet, this should settle things for you. It's not looking good.

RIM surges on strong Blackberry sales
For all the bad news this year, one company continues to rock and roll from a sales perspective: Blackberry maker RIM has seen stronger than expected demand for its touch-screen Storm phone and other Blackberry devices, and in fact is selling more Blackberries than ever. The only downside for the company is that the prices of these devices, and thus the per-device profit, is lower than it was for previous generation Blackberries. But still, I have to say I was expecting RIM to fall into the dumpster with everyone else, so this is good news no matter how you shake it. Well, unless you've got a Windows Mobile investment, of course. Will this be enough to keep RIM ahead of the iPhone? That's hard to say, but the next few months should be interesting.

Jobs a no-show at next Macworld, will abandon show
This week, Apple suddenly and unexpectedly tossed some coal in the stockings of its most ardent followers (who, no doubt, are already bending reality to make this seem like good news). The company revealed that next month's Macworld tradeshow would be the last it would participate in, and, in a shocker, that mercurial CEO Steve Jobs would not even deliver the keynote, as he always has. Instead, the affable Phil Schiller will deliver Apple's last Macworld keynote, causing that portion of the world that can't stop thinking about Apple to wonder if Jobs has cancer again. (Jobs has appeared unusually thin and gaunt at events all year.) Apple says it just doesn't want to be beholden to an ill-timed event for announcing new products, but I'm pretty sure that's not it. For example, Apple unveils new iPods like clockwork every fall, and I'm positive that Macworld organizer IDG would have no problem moving the show to meet that schedule. So let's just dispense with the silliness and state the obvious: Something is wrong. I'm not saying that Jobs is dying, but come on. You don't do something like this, with this timing, unless you're a) pathologically stupid or b) lying. And let's face it, when it comes to Apple, it's hard not immediately pick option b), isn't it?

About the holiday schedule
Thanks to the holidays, we're looking at two three-day weeks in a row: WinInfo will be published as usual next week, and the week after, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, but we're taking the next two Thursdays and Fridays off. So I'll do a Short Takes on those Wednesdays, I guess. Have a great weekend. --Paul

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