WinInfo Short Takes: Week of February 12

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a Mark update, Vista spurring PC sales, Hotmail makes a comeback, Microsoft vs. Steve Jobs, Open XML vs. OpenDocument, IE 7 anti-phishing, Symantec vs. Microsoft security , and much more...

WinInfo Blog

Well, good morning. I feel like my weekend has started already, which is a dangerous feeling early on a Friday morning, given the amount of work I still have to do. Anyway. It's been a busy week, and there's a lot to cover, so let's get started...

Last Friday, I noted that a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast would almost be certainly be posted that day, given that Leo and I (and my "Windows Vista Secrets" co-author Brian Livingston) had recorded it the previous Monday. That didn't happen, as many people noted via email. Sorry about that: Leo's away on a Geek Cruise of some sort, and I guess he didn't have time to post it. I'm waiting for it as well, but hopefully it will be up soon. No promises this time, obviously.

A number of readers wrote in about my son Mark, and thanks for that. We actually spent much of this week out in Northampton, Massachusetts, getting his hearing evaluated out at Clarke School. Mark is profoundly deaf because of a near-death experience with meningitis at the age of one, but thanks to a cochlear implant some six months later, he now does tremendously well. And we discovered how well during this evaluation. Socially, educationally, and otherwise, Mark is right on track (or ahead of the game) from an age standpoint, but some of his hearing test results were amazing. He does as well or better than most hearing-enabled kids his age in some ways, which doesn't make any sense, though of course overall he doesn't hear as well as most people, especially in noisy environments. Anyway, the kid is just doing so darned well. When I think back on the things that are truly important to me, this is right up there. I mean, wow. He's really just a miracle.

Regarding Mark's second implant, we're still waiting. There are numerous issues to resolve, including, of course, insurance, but hopefully this will get straightened out soon. Again, thanks for all the kind words.

Short Takes

PC Sales Surge on Vista's Release
Microsoft--and, let's face it, most of the PC industry--had hoped that the release of its long-awaited Windows Vista OS would trigger a PC buying spree and it looks like that's exactly what happened. Analysts at Current Analysis report that PC sales jumped 67 percent in January when compared with the same time period a year earlier. And they jumped 173 percent in the first week of February. Current Analysis says it was surprised by the "aggressive growth" and noted that it "bodes well for Vista." As predicted, most PC buyers are opting for Vista Home Premium and not the low-rent Vista Home Basic, which lacks the Aero UI and various premium media features: 70 percent bought Vista Home Premium-based PCs while only 22 percent of PC buyers in January chose Vista Home Basic. And at retail, Hewlett-Packard (HP) is doing the best job of moving Vista-compatible product: Over half of all Vista PCs sold in January were made by HP.

About Vista Ultimate and Those PC Sales
One final thought about Vista's torrid start: While Vista Home Premium dominated retail PC sales as expected, one might wonder how the expensive Vista Ultimate fared. It turns out that only 1.2 percent of PC buyers went with a Vista Ultimate-based machine in January. But don't be confused by that low figure: Few retail PCs include Microsoft's most expensive offering, because doing so would jack up the price. Over time, Vista Ultimate will no doubt come close to matching Vista Home Basic sales, especially as users begin upgrading to the more expensive system electronically.

Microsoft Will Retain Hotmail Name
In the latest sign that Microsoft's transition from MSN to Windows Live hasn't exactly gone all that smoothly, the company announced this week that it will back peddle from renaming its popular Hotmail service as Windows Live Mail and will instead go with the mixed moniker Windows Live Hotmail. To be fair, Hotmail does have over 260 million users, and a name change could be traumatic. But in my mind, Windows Live Hotmail has a bigger problem than its identity. Though Microsoft has been working on this major upgrade for quite a while and has no doubt overcome many hurdles, at the end of the day, Windows Live Hotmail just looks sterile and uninteresting compared to really attractive Web mail clients like the new Yahoo Mail, which is just stunning. I'd like to see Microsoft make Windows Live Hotmail better looking as well as more functional.

Microsoft Comes Out in Opposition of Steve Jobs
Apple CEO Steve Jobs' self-serving manifesto against Digital Rights Management (DRM) has garnered a lot of attention, both from his fanboys (who love the man and his allegedly pro-consumer stance) and from critics (who recognize his cop-out for what it really is). But I'm interested to see that Microsoft has publicly commented on the manifesto. Robbie Bach, the president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division (read: Xbox 360 and Zune) said this week correctly noted that Jobs was simply responding to recent antitrust pressure in Europe and wasn't really looking out for consumers at all. "They really don't want to license FairPlay \[Apple's DRM system\], for whatever reason," he told "Forbes." "We don't completely understand that, but OK. We've been very focused on producing a DRM system. We're willing to license it across the board. It's our job to provide the technology and the content providers can tell us what kind of restrictions and policies they want to apply to that."

Sun vs. Microsoft in Open Office Format Smackdown
In this corner, we have Microsoft with the open-standard-to-be Open XML, a successor to the company's proprietary and binary Office document formats. In the other corner, we have OpenDocument, a Sun-sponsored and open source document format. Can these two heavyweights ever get along? Maybe not: This week, 19 of the 30 countries that partake in the ISO standardization process submitted comments and objections about Open XML, a potential problem for Microsoft's attempts at getting the formats standardized. Sun, meanwhile, is rushing ahead with its OpenDocument conversion plug-in for Microsoft Office 2003, which would allow users of Microsoft's productivity suite to work with Sun's formats. The idea is to establish OpenDocument as a de facto standard while Open XML wallows in standardization hell. You know, it might just work.

Microsoft Tweaks IE 7 Anti-Phishing Performance
Microsoft this week issued a patch for Internet Explorer (IE) 7 that speeds up the performance of the browser's anti-phishing feature. This is interesting because the company is set to issue its regularly scheduled security patches next week, and Microsoft decided instead to ship the IE 7 patch by itself a week earlier. Apparently, Microsoft's phishing filter was slowed down by pages that use complicated HTML frames, and the patch addresses that problem. A version for Windows Vista is out now, and versions for XP and 2003 will ship later this month.

Symantec CEO: Microsoft Security an Oxymoron
OK, he didn't actually say that, but he should have. Symantec CEO John Thompson this week called for a multilateral industry approach to security at the RSA Conference 2007 in San Francisco. He also railed against Microsoft for increasing its role in the security space, which he describes as a "conflict of interest" because Microsoft's software is implicitly responsible for most of the security woes PC users now face. "No company is so dominant or so all-knowing that it can provide the level of confidence needed throughout the entire online world," he said during his RSA keynote address. "Who would trust one company to do everything for them? You wouldn't want the company that is keeping your books to audit them," Thompson said. "By the same logic, you wouldn't want the company that created your company's operating platform to be the one that secures it." Perhaps. Honestly, I think the company that makes my OS should secure that OS as much as possible. I do, however, agree that Microsoft shouldn't sell security software. That should just be built into its products for free. It should, in effect, be one of the reasons we choose Microsoft solutions, not one of the Microsoft solutions we choose. If that makes sense.

Microsoft: Vista Security Holding Up Well So Far
And speaking of Microsoft security, it looks like Windows Vista is holding up pretty well so far. Despite widespread fears that Windows Vista would face withering electronic attacks in the days following its consumer launch, nothing major has happened. There are criticisms, of course. People are still in a tizzy over the (necessary) annoyance that is User Account Control (UAC), and there are some reports about BitLocker (a full drive encryption solution) being cracked. Ultimately, however, these stories are just manufactured by people looking for scary headlines. From what I can tell, Vista's launch hasn't been accompanied by any major security problems, at least not yet.

Microsoft to Reward Gaming Geeks with Too Much Time on Their Hands
One of the features in Microsoft's Xbox 360 that didn't get too much attention early on was the notion of Achievements: Each Xbox 360 game title can award up to 1000 Achievement points, rewarding the player for their successes and providing all players with a way to compare how well they've done, overall and in particular games, against others. Well, these Achievement points have proven enormously popular, which makes sense given how competitive game players are by nature, so this should have been obvious. Anyway, Microsoft is now going to reward players with a new Reward Challenge program that will provide Microsoft Points and even cash prizes for those Xbox 360 gamers who are able to raise their Achievement points totals by at least 1500 points by April 12. Hey, just what we need: Yet another reason for Achievement point fanatics to spend even more of their loveless lives online.

Vista Tidbit: Microsoft Issues Experience Pack for Tablet PC Users
Tablet PC-based Windows Vista users will want to head on over to the Microsoft Web site and download the Experience Pack for Windows Vista, which includes four neat add-on programs: Media Transfer, for copying and streaming media files from a desktop PC to the Tablet PC; Ink Crossword, a neat crossword puzzle game; Equation Writer, for handwriting mathematical equations; and Ink Flash Cards, for creating flash cards to help you study. The utilities are all ink enabled and are updated versions of a similar Experience Pack Microsoft earlier released for Tablet PC users. But now they're Vista enabled too.

Comedy: Apple to Attack Vista... But Only to Apple Customers?
ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley has the same questions I do about Apple's strategy to wage an anti-Vista campaign ... from within their own retail stores. That's right: If you step into an Apple Store in the near future, allegedly, you'll be confronted with anti-Vista advertising. Why Apple would restrict this to their own stores--i.e. the home crowd; those people who are already Apple converts--is confusing. After all, if you're trying to get the message out, how about actually doing something that will be seen by the wider world? To be fair, Apple has issued one of those snarky "I'm a PC, I'm a Mac" ads in which the PC guy is burdened by a CIA-like guy who represents Vista's UAC feature, which, admittedly, is kind of cute. But that's the kind of thing they should be doing.

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