An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...
Ah, there's nothing like a momentous news week. Between the Zune 4.2 software update and Microsoft's announcement that Office 2010 will have the same system requirements as its predecessor, I spent nights in front of the PC just trying to keep up with it all!
Actually, there were some big news stories, of course. And if Windows 7 setting all kinds of sales records doesn't do it for you, you can at least enjoy the iPad comedy. I mean, really? Apple? Is that the best you can do? I actually thought the iPad was a joke until the company started bringing out partners to talk about it. Thanks for that.
Leo and I recorded the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday. Expect the new episode to appear over the weekend, as usual.
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Windows 7 a Huge Success ... But Maybe Microsoft's Only Success in the Quarter
Microsoft this week announced record revenues in a blockbuster financial quarter that saw 60 million copies of Windows 7 sold. We all knew Windows 7 was going to be huge. But the big news, I think, is that the rest of Microsoft did pretty poorly during the time period in question. In fact, Windows 7 was so huge, it actually masked how badly the software giant's other businesses did. Office, number two among Microsoft's top three businesses, experienced soft income and revenues, and was down year over year. And Windows Server, the final piece of Microsoft's business troika, was up just 2 percent overall. Look past these stalwarts and the real disaster shows its ugly face. Xbox? Pfftt! Console and games sales were down—big time. Online Services (you know, the future of the company?) lost money. And the only reason we can't describe Windows Live as a disaster is because it's part of Windows now. So Microsoft's one killer business—Windows—is basically hiding weaknesses everywhere else in the company, at least for the most recent quarter. And while one could reasonably expect Office and Windows Server sales to perhaps even grow in 2010, thanks to planned upgrades, what about the rest of Microsoft?
iPad, We Hardly Knew Ye, Part 1
There's a lot to discuss about the Apple iPad, both good and bad. It's supposedly a netbook killer, a smartbook killer, a Kindle killer, and—in the words of one particularly clueless Mac pundit—a "PC killer." Cute. But I don't see any huge new business developing here, and although I realize I automatically align myself with a certain crowd (ahem, "realists") by doing this, it's hard for me to not see this device's problems. There's no camera (and there should be two). No multitasking, which would allow background apps. No support for Adobe Flash. No handwriting recognition, which is key for any true tablet device (just ask any student). The storage allotments are tiny—just 16GB to 64GB—and there's no expansion possibility. The list of drawbacks goes on and on. But the biggest problem I see is a bit more thematic. Not only does the iPad break no new ground, it also doesn't offer a single thing that isn't available elsewhere. Looking for a cheap PC that can do all the iPad stuff? It's called a netbook and—oh, by the way—it can also be a full PC capable of running 100 percent genuine Microsoft Office. You say you want something a bit less complex, perhaps based on a smart phone OS like the iPad? Allow me to point you in the direction of all the Android-based tablets and smart books out there. The problem is that the iPad, put simply, is yet another expensive companion device, yet another thing to carry around. It doesn't replace anything. And I just don't quite get what the market is for such a thing.
iPad, We Hardly Knew Ye, Part 2
The iPad has other problems, too. Let's start with the name, which brings up images of feminine products and not some high-tech "magical" device (Apple's term). We've put up with a lot of silly names in the tech industry ("Pentium," anyone?) and the argument is that we'll simply get used to the word iPad and it will no longer be a concern. We might never get the chance, actually: Fujitsu previously applied for a trademark for the term in the United States, and that company sells a device with the name already. And in Europe, a Swiss semiconductor company called STMicroelectronics already owns the trademark there and uses it for a product of its own. This isn't the first time Apple announced a product name without first clearing it with a company that already owned the name; Cisco trademarked the iPhone moniker. Apple was able to coerce Cisco into giving up the name after the fact, but promises of joint product marketing never happened, so I assume Fujitsu and STMicroelectronics are going to be a bit harder to convince. I think there's a good chance that a product called iPad never even ships from Apple. iTablet anyone? iSlate?
iPad, We Hardly Knew Ye, Part 3
These questions are only the beginning. There's silliness around the weird micro-SIM that Apple is using, which pretty much locks the "unlocked" iPad to AT&T. There's no tethering support, no way to get data from a camera, no textbook support, no planned TV subscription tie-in, and ... well, you get the idea. Does the iPad do anything right? I don't know, and I won't know until I review one. Which I will, so you don't have to. My guess is that the first-generation iPad should be given a pass, and that Apple will fix many of the concerns we've all raised. But that's for the future. For now, it's a waiting game. I'll review the iPad as soon as I can. But I have to be honest. I'm not expecting much.
Gates and Wife Pledge $10 Billion to Develop Vaccines
Ex-Microsoftie Bill Gates and his wife Melinda this week pledged $10 billion via their Gates Foundation for the development and delivery of new vaccines over the next decade. "We must make this the decade of vaccines," said Bill Gates. "Vaccines already save and improve millions of lives in developing countries. Innovation will make it possible to save more children than ever before." Not much to say here beyond the obvious: It's nice to see a guy who earned obscene amounts of money give it away for all the right reasons. I'm sure Steve Jobs will perform similar acts of kindness at some point. I mean, it's not like he's an egotistical monster or anything.
Ballmer Chimes In, Again, on China
To recap: Google (of "don't be evil" fame) brought its business to China several years ago and immediately ran afoul of privacy and human-rights advocates for kowtowing to the censorship demands of the regime there. And recently, Google announced that China had unleashed a dramatic electronic attack on the company and wanted to pull the plug on its search engine which, totally coincidentally, had been losing share badly on a regular basis there. Privacy and human-rights advocates immediately praised Google for growing a pair (as if), then turned their attention to Microsoft and other companies that refused to leave China. (I mean, there are more than 300 million Internet users already. Come on, people.) This week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer defended this stance for what I believe is the 117th time. "Engagement in China and around the world is very important to us," he wrote in a blog post after a bunch of irrelevant material about security, privacy, and censorship. "We have done business in China for more than 20 years and we intend to stay engaged, which means our business must respect the laws of China. That's true for every company doing business in countries around the world: we are all subject to local laws." Put simply, human rights is cute. But we're doing business here. And we need that money.
AT&T Wireless Earnings Deliver Some Interesting Factoids About Other Products
AT&T Wireless announced its financial results for the most recent quarter this week. But I couldn't care less about that. Of more interest are some of the comments the company made about other company news and products. For example, it will spend an additional $2 billion this year in an effort to improve its oft-criticized wireless network, which has been dropping calls and providing slow Internet access to iPhone users since, well, forever. The company noted that about 1 million of the 2.7 million new customers it obtained this quarter were eBook-reader users (i.e., are almost all Kindle users). That means that Amazon probably sold at least 1 million Kindle devices in the quarter, which is interesting, because Amazon never reveals Kindle sales figures. (Why "at least" one million? The Kindle is sold internationally as well, and not just on AT&T.) And although the company activated 3.1 million new iPhones, the vast majority of those were existing customers who upgraded from an older device—not new customers. So, the iPhone is still selling well, but like the iPod before it, most sales are now going to existing customers. It's hard to imagine how devastating it would be for AT&T to lose its exclusive iPhone access, which might explain why the company agreed to basically give away 3G access to iPad customers. And when you think about it, it might also explain why Apple was so kind to AT&T this week. It's a deal with the devil—except in this case, both companies are the devil.