WinInfo Short Takes: Week of December 3 - 30 Nov 2001

Xbox Part of Wider Microsoft Conspiracy
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer revealed this week what his competitors have long feared: The company's Xbox game system is indeed part of a new Microsoft conspiracy to monopolize fun and entertainment. Ballmer said that the original plan for the Xbox was to create a general purpose set top box that could play games and DVDs, do email and Web browsing, and provide interactive TV services. But no one was interested. So the company came back with just games and the floodgates opened. But they're going to start pushing some of the boxes other functionality, and when you think about it, it's a powerful PC in your den that costs only $300. There's definitely an opening there to do so much more.

QuickTime Buoyed by STAR WARS, MPEG-4
Apple Computer revealed this week that it's QuickTime multimedia software is surging in popularity after being kicked around by competitors Windows Media Player and RealPlayer for the past few years. The reason is simple, says Apple: QuickTime has exclusive content for popular upcoming movies like STAR WARS Episode II and new music previews that can't be found elsewhere. The software is downloaded over 300,000 times a day, according to the company, and will hit the 100 million user mark later this year. Also, the International Standards Organization (ISO) has chosen QuickTime to be the format for MPEG-4, an Internet video standard. An interesting factoid: Over 90 percent of QuickTime users run Windows, not the Mac. Go get 'em, Apple.

AOL Faces Its Own Class Action Lawsuit
It's so nice to see the words "class action lawsuit" in a sentence without having to mention Microsoft. (Doh!) The online service everyone loves to hate (AOL) was dealt a legal blow this week when a federal judge ruled that a deceptive advertising class action lawsuit could proceed against the company. It seems that AOL customers in Florida and Kansas were stung by promises of $19.95 monthly fees in early 2000, only to see the rate quickly rise to $23.95. The suit alleges that AOL didn't notify customers of the fee hikes in a timely manner, and didn't alert customers when the numbers they were calling were toll calls. No fan of AOL, I recommend breaking up the company into separate OS and application companies. Or something.

AOL Hits 32 Million Yoozers
And speaking of AOL, the "you can't fool all people all of the time" theory was proven wrong once again this week when the service revealed that it now has over 32 million users, an increase of 1 million users in only 2.5 months. This means that, despite being the most expensive ISP on the planet (see the previous blurb) and being in league with a conniving sub-demon named Belial, AOL is somehow still able to keep growing at an amazing rate. Actually, that might explain it.

Judges Slams Rambus...
…and sadly, it wasn't because its memory underperforms and is overpriced. Instead, a federal judge has rejected a Rambus patent claim against Infineon regarding memory chip design. Rambus was handed a permanent injunction barring it from asserting a series of patent claims against two types of Infineon double data-rate synchronous dynamic random-access memory chips (which apparently will be called DDR-SDRAM); this follows an earlier defeat in which Rambus was found guilty of fraud, though again, this was unrelated to the company's overblown claims for its chips. What a world.

Recession? Not During These Holidays, Mister!
Well, we may be in the first recession since the last Bush administration, but that hasn't stopped shoppers from crowding brick and mortar and virtual shopping centers this holiday season. Retailers are reporting that shoppers are spending more money so far than at this point last year, and Internet-based shopping is up 22 percent. Sales of big ticket electronics, such as new gaming systems from Nintendo and Microsoft, are through the roof: Both companies report that their new systems are selling out everywhere. Sales of PDAs and portable digital audio players, however are down. Fun fact: 75 percent of all holiday sales occur in the final 10 days before Christmas.

MyPalm, YourPalm, It's NoOnesPalm
Palm announced this week that it will soon shutter its MyPalm Web portal, which allowed users of the Palm OS to access their personal calendars and address books online. I guess these people will have to invest in some sort of personal information management (PIM) system instead. I recommend a Pocket PC.

SQL Server "Yukon" Beta on Tap for Early 2002
Microsoft will release its first beta of "Yukon," the next version of SQL Server, early next year, giving developers and database administrators their first look at the new product. But Yukon is far more important than a mere database server: The technology in this release will form the basis for a wide range of products, including a new file system for Windows and the back-end data stores for future versions of Exchange and Active Directory. The final version of Yukon is due in early 2003.

Toshiba Kills Desktop Systems in US
They made desktop systems for the US? Toshiba has announced that it will stop selling desktop PCs in the US by the end of the year. The company's best-selling portable machines have done quite well here, but a four year "experiment" to bring its desktop machines to the US has failed, with yearly sales dropping from 250,000 units in 1999 to under 52,000 units this year. That's less than 1 percent of the market. I think the problem was that Toshiba's PC looked like generic white-boxes. The company should have done something to differentiate them from the el cheapo models you can build yourself.

IBM to Pay SFO in Linux Ad Embarrassment
IBM will pay the city of San Francisco a $100,000 fine and almost $20,000 in clean up costs to repair the graffiti damage caused by the company's obnoxious "Peace, Love & Linux" campaign. Hard as this is to believe, IBM actually spray painted Linux logos on sidewalks and streets all around the city this year, using paint that was supposed to be--but apparently isn't--biodegradable. Maybe next year they can throw toilet paper in the trees around Bill Gates' house.

L&H Coughs Up Assets to Scansoft
The majority of the remaining Lernout & Hauspie assets were auctioned off to OCR-maker Scansoft this week, effectively ending the death spiral of the once proud speech software company. Scansoft will get the Dragon Naturally Speaking retail package and other key L&H technologies. I had hoped to see L&H get back on its feet, but at least some of its best products will still be available. Why Microsoft didn't buy this stuff and replace its own inferior speech software is unknown.

Citing Legal Precedent, SonicBlue Ships New RePlay
SonicBlue began shipping its controversial RePlayTV 4000 digital video recorder (DVR) this week, despite an impending lawsuit from Viacom, Walt Disney, and NBC, which allege that the device violates their copyrights on video programming. DVRs have been around for a while, giving consumers the ability to pause live TV and record shows digitally. But these new RePlayTV devices have angered the TV industry by providing two new features: an automatic way to shut off TV commercials and a way to share digital recordings between devices. SonicBlue says that an infamous 1984 Supreme Court ruling, in which it was decided that home video recording of TV was legal, protects the company from attack. I hope they're right.

Professor Loses DeCSS Suit
There's nothing more disturbing than seeing the music and movie industries celebrate a legal victory. This week, a Princeton University professor lost his lawsuit against the Recording Industry Association of America (RIIA), in which he alleged that the organization threatened him for breaking several copy protection schemes related to digital watermarks. The professor, Ed Felton, figured in the Microsoft antitrust case, and says he will appeal the ruling. Maybe he can get some legal advice from Redmond.

With Egg on Its Face, Opera Releases Security Fix
Opera has released an updated version of its Opera 6.0 Web browser, fixing an embarrassing security hole in its implementation of JavaScript, which allowed hackers to gain access to users' files. News of the vulnerability comes just weeks after the company peppered the press with news releases urging users to switch from IE to Opera in part to enjoy a more secure browsing experience.

Linux Security Flaw Leaves FTP Sites Wide Open
And speaking of embarrassing bugs in a system touted as a safe alternative to Microsoft products, a vulnerability in a Linux FTP server caught the open source community with its pants down when Red Hat released information about the bug before alerting other Linux companies. I guess that's what happens when you don't have central control of the OS, eh?

Intel Reportedly Running Low on Pentium 4 Chips
Seriously, the demand is overwhelming. But would this still be true if the company hadn't basically stopped making Pentium IIIs? Intel reported this week that demand for its Pentium 4 is overwhelming supplies, the first time that's ever happened. Last year, the company had numerous supply problems with its high-end Pentium III chips, but then last year the company also sold a lot more chips. I'm guessing that the shortage is more PR stunt than reality, and I wonder whether the ploy will simply drive prices higher, ala the late 70's gas shortage. This would be a tough time for a price hike.

.NET: Secure or Insecure?
Quick: Is .NET secure or insecure? According to Microsoft, two independent security firms have given .NET the thumb's up, but critics allege that .NET isn't even available for testing yet, making the endorsements bogus. Given that Microsoft commissioned the reports, I can see their point.

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