About Those Exclusive WMP 8 Shots . . .
Yesterday, Microsoft sent some screenshots of its upcoming Windows Media Player 8 (WMP8) software, which will be integrated into Windows XP. You can view them on the SuperSite for Windows. Since I posted the shots, several readers sent me questions, and although I can't answer most of them until Windows XP Beta 2 ships, here's what I can say now. WMP8 will ship only as part of Windows XP; the software won't be available as a free download because its UI is integrated into the XP UI (and vice versa; WMP technology also is integrated into the Windows XP shell), and you won't be able to use it without XP. However, to play media that's designed for Windows Media 8 formats, you'll be able to apply the new Windows Media Audio 8 (WMA8) and Windows Media Video 8 (WMV8) codecs to WMP7 on older versions of Windows. Whistler testers wonder why WMP8 isn't in the build they received this week (2428). The player isn't included in that build because WMP is on a separate development track, and I've heard that this player will be integrated into the Windows XP code-base post-Beta 2. Incidentally, I understand that Build 2428 was the first build to integrate the new UI into the Whistler code.
Some Comments Aboutthe Windows XP UI
Speaking of Windows XP, I'm getting a little tired of people dishing on a UI they've only seen in a few low-resolution screenshots. So here's the deal: If you feel like criticizing Windows XP and its new Whistler ("Luna") UI, make sure you've actually used it. Although I can't talk too much about the OS until Beta 2 ships, Windows XP is designed for new PCs that will ship in third quarter 2001, not that old clunker you might be using now. And new PCs translate to high-res screens, fast processors, and lots of RAM. On such a system, Windows XP will scream, look beautiful, and feel elegant. I don't know why Microsoft chose to release screenshots in 800x600 format with large icons in the toolbar, but please, take my word on this one: After you sit down and use XP, you'll never again want to touch your previous version of Windows. As promised, I'll have a ton of XP-related content available the day Beta 2 ships. So we'll have to wait until then for more info. On the other hand . . .
Windows XP vs. Aqua? You're Joking, Right?
Another interesting, if obvious, topic regards comparisons of the Windows XP UI with the Aqua UI in Mac OS X, which is due next month. Folks, it's no contest. Apple broke virtually every UI guideline the company's ever created to make an OS with beautiful but useless special effects, liquid-style buttons and controls (Why? Because Steve Jobs wanted them.), and other fluff that has nothing to do with actually using a computer and everything to do with looking good for the sake of looking good. Meanwhile, the Windows XP interface will let any Windows 95+ user (that is, at least 90 percent of the computer-using world) sit down and immediately get to work with virtually no learning curve. So am I saying that Windows XP is better than Aqua? Duh. Let's give credit where credit is due. Windows XP makes sense; Aqua is different for the sake of design. Windows XP makes the computing experience better; Aqua makes it prettier. Guess which one gets old real quick. Now guess which one most people will still be using a year from now.
Microsoft Releases AD Client Extensions for NT 4.0, Win9x
Almost a year to the day after the company released Windows 2000 with its then-new Active Directory (AD), Microsoft has finally released the client extensions for its other OSs so they can be integrated into AD networks. The AD Client Extensions for Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT 4.0 Workstation (yes, that's the name), lets legacy versions of Windows take advantage of AD's special features, such as site awareness (logons will occur on the closest AD domain controller), Active Directory Services Interface (ADSI) compatibility for scripting needs, Distributed File System (DFS) fault-tolerance compatibility for remotely accessing DFS shares, compatibility with AD Windows Address Book (WAB) property pages to search for people directly in AD from the Start Menu, and NT LAN Manager 2 (NTLM 2) authentication support (OK, exhale). Unfortunately, the release doesn't include support for Kerberos, Group Policy, IntelliMirror, IP Security (IPSec), Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP), and several other features. Microsoft notes that the full AD experience can be had with Win2K Professional clients, but you already knew that, right? Anyway, if you work in a mixed environment (and who doesn't?), this news should be of interest, assuming you use AD. Find out more and grab the free 1.5MB download from the Microsoft Web site.
New WM8 Encoder Beta Available
Thanks to Thomas Vochten for this tip: I should have included this information in last week's Short Takes, but somehow I missed the email. Microsoft has released a new beta version of its Windows Media 8 (WM8) Encoding Utility beta, which lets you encode audio and video using Microsoft's new codecs. WM8 lets you use much smaller file sizes without any appreciable loss in quality, but the Encoder utility is a command-line tool, so you have to be a serious geek as well as a music lover to appreciate it. For more information and the free download, head over to the Microsoft Web site.
Did IBM Aid the Nazis in World War II?
A new book and lawsuit accuses one-time IBM chairman Thomas J. Watson of collaborating with the Nazis by using his company's technologies to help them become more efficient at putting people to death in the early days of World War II. But I don't believe it's true. According to IBM researchers, Watson abhorred the Nazis and worked to prevent the war in the days before World War II, a task for which the president of the United States rewarded him. And when the Nazis overran IBM's Germany subsidiary, there wasn't much Watson could do about it. The notion that even primitive computing devices could be used to aid in mass destruction doesn't really come as a surprise, but the way that Watson and IBM have been dragged through the mud--unfairly, it seems--does. Have the days of frivolous lawsuits returned?
Compaq Releases New Alpha Chip: Is It Too Late?
I remember walking through Digital's Alpha display at Comdex years ago and marveling at the curiosity of Windows NT running on that high-end platform (ditto for the PowerPC version). And then I marveled at the lack of applications for NT running on the Alpha. Then Compaq bought Digital, and support for Windows 2000 and NT on Alpha evaporated. Despite last year's indications that Compaq would once again resurrect the Alpha as a Win2K platform, that never happened. But now Compaq has finally released an upgrade for the microprocessor that runs at 833MHz and is designed for high-end machines that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Like just about every high-end design these days, the new Alpha was late, very late (about 18 months), and no one is sure what kind of market exists for these boxes, given the gains Intel, AMD, and Sun's SPARC line have made.
Industry Downturn Hits Dell
This is what we call a lose-lose situation. Like other companies in the high-tech sector, Dell has been hard hit by the recent economic downturn, but the bad news hit a new low this week when the company announced that it will institute its first-ever layoffs after cutting its earning forecast for the current quarter. The layoffs, which will affect 4 percent of Dell's workforce, or 1700 employees, come at a time when even steep price cuts haven't helped sales. CEO Michael Dell says the price cuts will continue, although he's not sure about future earnings because of market uncertainty. Interestingly, Dell announced that its profits for the fourth quarter actually rose 16 percent.
Clinton Not Coming to Oracle
I love it when the worlds of technology and politics collide, because it gives reporters in both fields a chance to talk about things they know nothing about. This week, a weird rumor said that ex-Commander in Chief Bill Clinton would join database-maker Oracle's board of directors. Yesterday, Oracle finally shot down the rumor when the company publicly denied it had ever talked to Clinton about such a thing. But on Monday, Clinton will deliver a speech for Oracle at an event in New Orleans. And, of course, Larry Ellison is a devoted admirer of Bill Clinton, which apparently led to speculation about "Bill and Larry's Excellent Adventure."
Microsoft Appeal Will Be Broadcast Live . . . Audio Only
The main phase of the Microsoft antitrust trial carried a TV and radio blackout, but word has come down from on high (in this case, the US Court of Appeals) that the court will allow live audio feeds during the appellate phase, which opens late this month. The audio feeds will begin during the oral arguments in Microsoft's appeal, slated to start February 26.
Mozilla 0.8 Now Available
Thanks to Asa Dotzler for this tip: Late this week, open-source Web browser project Mozilla hit a new milestone with the release of build 0.8. Mozilla 0.8 includes new find-and-replace functionality, a "new message" sound, global history sidebar capability, drag-and-drop mail folders, cascading windows, improved system-color support, and several other features and bug fixes. If you like living on the edge, head over to the Mozilla Web site and take a look.
Microsoft to Divest Home Site
Microsoft is scaling back its HomeAdvisor Web site; the company will sell part of the site's content and roll the rest into its other MSN properties. A few years ago, when Microsoft thought it would be a content company, the company began or invested in several online ventures, and even after most of them fell apart, it intended to keep HomeAdvisor going. But a year and $100 million later, the company is pulling out of this losing venture. Given the rise in home prices where I live, I'm surprised the idea didn't fly. We're casually looking around for a bigger house, and I could really use some sort of Priceline-like site that pits home sellers against each other for once.
Casio Goes Crusoe
Hasn't anyone told these guys that we all gave up on Transmeta about 6 months ago? This week, Casio announced that next month the company will release a Cassiopeia-branded mini-laptop running Transmeta's low-power Crusoe microprocessor. The device features an 8.4" screen and will run Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me). I'm guessing the product will see some success in the Far East, but you have to wonder, given the relatively ho-hum experience others have had with the Crusoe, why the company is bothering to go this route now.
Transmeta to Release Mobile Linux
And speaking of Transmeta, the company will release its Mobile Linux OS as early as next week. Designed for Internet appliances and mobile devices, Mobile Linux will offer an alternative to Windows for devices that use the Transmeta Crusoe microprocessor. The release sort of mirrors the way the Crusoe itself is an alternative to Intel's mobile chips, I guess. But it seems to me that most people aren't really concerned about what runs these devices; most people just want them to work. Was the state of this market so bad that we had to wait 2 years for a new processor and its accompanying OS to arrive?