WinInfo Short Takes: Week of February 15, 2010

An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...

WinInfo Blog

Next week is February vacation in the Boston area (which, unlike much of the country, doesn't do a March spring break), and although I'd like to go to Barcelona for the Mobile World Conference and Microsoft's Windows Mobile 7 unveiling, I'll have to do that virtually—because we're going to Florida with another family on vacation. Of course, vacations for me are virtual vacations, and I'll still be working. So aside from some email-response slowness, it should be business as usual here.

Leo and I recorded the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday at the usual time, so you can expect the new episode to appear by the weekend, as usual. Be sure to check out the SuperSite for Windows, however, because I'm now doing weekly Windows 7 feature overviews and tips, and publishing both to the site each week.

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

Short Takes

Windows 8: It Won't Be Called Windows 8, for Starters. But All New? Please.
A Microsoft employee briefly blogged about the next Windows release—Windows 8—recently, although the software giant quickly pulled the post. There were some interesting tidbits. First, Microsoft isn't referring to the next Windows version as Windows 8; instead, the OS is currently going by a very common Microsoft moniker, Windows Next. ("Next" or sometimes "v.Next" is often used to simply ID a product as the next version.) This is an important distinction because, as I've noted before, Microsoft isn't doing major and minor Windows versions anymore. So Windows 8 (or whatever it will be called) will simply be the next version of Windows. The post also made a bizarre claim. "The next version will be something completely different from what folks usually expect of Windows," it reads. This pronouncement has set off a bizarre series of speculative blog posts from people who simply don't understand Microsoft. No, Windows 8 won't be a cloud OS or something silly like that. It will simply be the next Windows. What I'd like to see—and this is something that matches nicely to the "completely different" note above while not actually changing the core of what Windows is—is a pervasive use of virtualization technologies to run legacy (i.e., pre-Windows 8) applications while offering a clean break to create a system that is, in many ways, brand new and not technically bound to the past. Hey, we're all speculating here, so what the heck.

Understanding How Microsoft Makes Money
In the wake of Microsoft's blockbuster financial earnings report from last week, a number of people have been examining how the software giant makes money. More specifically, it's pretty clear that the Windows and Office divisions make lots of money, the Server and Tools team does pretty well, and the rest of the company is in the toilet. But a handy new chart from Silicon Valley Insider really puts the situation in perspective. The chart offers a visual look at the operating profits, by division, of the largest, most profitable software company in the world, and it does so over a period spanning three years, so you can see the ups and downs of each business. And seen in graphical form, the trends really jump out. First, Windows is huge, and always was—even during Windows Vista's mainstream lifetime. (And although there's one serious dip, that occurs in the short time period right before Windows 7 shipped.) Also, Office is huge, and it roughly mirrors the operating profits at Windows, making Microsoft a two-product company, in effect. As noted above, Server and Tools does well but runs about one-third the size of Windows or Office. Beyond that is mostly red. The only exception is Entertainment and Devices, the Xbox division, which occasionally (but always temporarily) pokes its head into profitability. Online Services just loses money, and the trend is that it's getting worse over time. Anyway, it's not really new information, but it's a nice presentation.

Microsoft Announces Office 2011 ... For the Mac
Not that many of you care, per se, but the Macworld trade show is happening as I write this. And unlike in previous years, Apple isn't even attending the show, so it's generating a lot less buzz and—perhaps more important—fewer attendees, which could spell the end of a decades-long tradition. But there are companies trying to take up the slack and, go figure, Microsoft is among them. The company announced its plans for Office 2011 for the Mac, which it says will ship by the end of 2010. (Office 2010 for Windows, meanwhile, will become generally available June 15, 2010.) As previously announced, Office 2011 will include a version of Outlook, replacing the horrible Entourage email/PIM application that has dogged Mac Office for years. But there was some new information this week: Office 2011 will feature a Mac-like take on the hugely successful ribbon UI that Microsoft first pioneered in Office 2007 on Windows. That's neat, and it's about time. Despite wishful thinking from the Mac fanbase, Office for Mac has always been like a sad, second-rate copy of the Windows version. Maybe this time, Microsoft will get it right.

Apple vs. Microsoft: Which Is Slated (Ahem) for Success?
Speaking of Apple and Microsoft, there's been a lot of whining on the PC side of the world since Apple announced its lackluster iPad product to shockingly positive reviews. (This, despite the fact that virtually no one outside of Apple has even spent an appreciable amount of time with an iPad.) The issue here is simple: With rare exception (Windows 7), Microsoft can't appear to get anything right, whereas Apple, with rare exception (Snow Leopard), can do no wrong. What the heck went wrong? And how can Microsoft reverse this weird perception problem? What it comes down to, I think, is how each company develops and releases products, and although each approach has its high and low points, the advantages that Apple has over Microsoft are size, speed, and vision. Apple is smaller than Microsoft, from the perspectives of employee count, bureaucracy complexity and overhead, and team size. This positioning lets it move very quickly, albeit in a limited number of markets. But once it sets its sights on something, Apple can bring products to market in ways that Microsoft simply can't. (Microsoft, by contrast, uses more of a carpet-bomb approach). And Apple has a vision of the future that it can deliver on and iterate quickly. Microsoft has vision, sort of, but once it comes time to implement, the company gets bogged down in in-fighting and platform creation, both of which make it slow and unwieldy. The solution is simple. But making it happen? Maybe impossible.

Absolutely True, Ridiculous News Story of the Day: Microsoft Announces New "Chief Creative Officer" Position
Speaking of the differences between Apple and Microsoft, here's a pretty good indication that the Redmond software giant still doesn't get it. This week, the company actually announced the creation (ahem) of a new job, "Chief Creative Officer." And while the jokes just write themselves here, I'll be even lazier and just roll my eyes and wonder how it was that we got to this point. Spare me.

Microsoft Blue Screen Patch Pulled
When Microsoft released one of its biggest ever bumper crops of security patches earlier this week, it also apparently delivered an inadvertent bonus: a bug that caused "blue screen" crashes on a number of Windows XP systems. "We stopped offering this update through Windows Update as soon as we discovered the restart issues," said Microsoft Senior Manager Jerry Bryant, although he says the problem affected only a limited number of systems. (The patch has since been pulled.) And while I'm sure this wasn't a subtle reminder to Microsoft's stalwart XP customers that maybe, just maybe, it's time to upgrade to an OS that was actually designed in the past decade, one does have to wonder. I will say this, however: Let's not take this problem as some rationale for not installing updates. Sure, there have been incidents like this, but they're rare. And the benefits of auto-downloading and installing critical security patches far outweigh the risks.

Microsoft Patches Windows Product Activation ... But Only If You Want It To
Microsoft this week announced a forthcoming update to the Windows 7 product-activation technologies, which form the basis of the company's anti-piracy efforts. As with a similar update that Microsoft provided to Vista users with that OS's SP1 update, this update—called the Windows Activation Technologies Update (WATU)—is aimed at fixing exploits discovered post-release. But unlike the Vista update, this one is completely optional and won't ever be required. So if you don't want it, you can prevent it from installing. (See my WATU article for details.) This news is interesting because it reverses a trend with product-activation updates of the past, where it appeared that the updates were somewhat user-unfriendly. This development isn't as good as not having product activation, but it's a nice start.

So What if We Blew the Holiday Sales Season? Xbox Did Great in January!
Eager to put its disappointing December sales performance behind it, Microsoft's Xbox group is now crowing about the fact that it was quite successful in January. You know, after you ignore the fact that January isn't December or a particularly meaningful month for video game sales. Xbox 360 gamers spent $158 million on Xbox 360 games in the month, higher than the spending rates for Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 3 games. And its Xbox Live service now has 23 million registered users. (Let's just pretend that Microsoft doesn't lose money on this service, as that makes it appear more impressive.) Put most simply, the Xbox 360 is "the most-used console on the market," which is both nebulous and non-provable. But it's also not indicative of "success." And that, really, is the problem for Microsoft. January or not.

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