WinInfo Short Takes: Week of February 8, 2010

An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news, including some interesting he-said she-said moments between Microsoft and an ex-executive and between Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Google, an Office 2010 RC, a 17 year old Windows bug, and much more...

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Super Bowl Sunday
awaits and while my New England Patriots weren't much more than a shadow of their former selves this season, at least we've got two excellent teams playing for the championship. Which, let's face it, is pretty unusual. Hopefully it will be a decent game.

Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday with special guest Mary Jo Foley. Expect the new episode to appear over the weekend as usual.

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

Short Takes

Ex-Microsoftie Criticizes the Company, Microsoft Fires Back
I woke up the other morning and was amazed to read an editorial in The New York Times about Microsoft's "creative destruction." It became clear that it was written by an ex-Microsoft executive so I skipped ahead (I read the paper on the Amazon Kindle) to see who wrote it. Dick Brass? What? Aside from the obvious porn name, I couldn't remember this person, and actually spent some time on the phone with ZD's Mary Jo Foley to figure it out. Turns out I had seen the guy at some Tablet PC events almost a decade ago, but Brass left Microsoft almost six years ago. Why the tell-all now? Well, of course it's because Apple just announced the iPad, and even though we know the thing isn't a game changer now, the mainstream press still has to play it up because it engorged itself on the rumors before the iPad introduction and it has to justify the hype. But the funniest thing about this event is that Microsoft has actually responded, sort of, to Brass' central criticism, i.e. that Microsoft has lost its edge and cannot compete with smaller, faster companies anymore. (And really, who would know better than a guy that left the company six years ago?) "Obviously, we disagree," Microsoft Corporate VP Frank Shaw wrote in the company's blog. "We think about innovation in relation to its ability to have a positive impact in the world. For Microsoft, it is not sufficient to simply have a good idea, or a great idea, or even a cool idea. We measure our work by its broad impact." Fair enough. But the problem for Microsoft is that a "cool idea" needs to travel through 17 different layers of competing hierarchy before it can ever get approved and turned into a product. And by the time that happens, if ever, Apple or Google has already dominated that new market. Methinks it really is time for a change.

Microsoft to Patch Bug that Lived in Windows for 17 Years
In a stunning example of how slow moving Microsoft really can be, this coming week Microsoft will patch a bug in various versions of Windows that first appeared in Windows NT 3.1 (the first "modern" version of Windows as we now know it, and the basis for all current Windows versions) 17 years ago. The bug was found by a Google security researcher (and, I presume, a Dead Sea Scrolls enthusiast) last month: It involves a backwards compatibility technology for running 16-bit DOS-style applications. Apparently, it can be exploited in all currently supported Windows versions, including XP, Vista, and 7, as well as Windows Server 2003 and 2008. I wonder if the bug was found encased in amber.

Microsoft Delivers Office 2010 Release Candidate, but Only to TAP Members
Microsoft this week provided a Release Candidate (RC) version of its upcoming Office 2010 productivity suite to its Technical Adoption Program (TAP) partners, but there's no word when or if the rest of us will get our hands on the updated code. (Microsoft previously released a public version of the previous milestone, the Beta release.) The release has sparked speculation that Microsoft might be able to release Office 2010 earlier than was originally announced (i.e. by mid-2010) but my sources tell me that the General Availability (GA) date for Office 2010 is in fact June 15, 2010, so no change there.

Apple CEO Puts on His Jerk Hat and Fires off a Tirade at Google...
Steve Jobs is many things, but no one who knows him has ever described him as a sweetheart. In fact, he's often just a jerk. And it's always fun when a guy like him finally lets loose in a semi-public forum because, frankly, it doesn't happen that often. (Though his private dressing downs at Apple and, earlier, at NeXT are of course infamous and a matter of history.) This week, Jobs gave us all what we were waiting for when the normally heavily-scripted persona we know from his "keynotes" at Apple events (really just product unveilings where noob "journalists" cheer for some reason) came tumbling down and the mean-spirited little jerk he really is was laid bare for all to see. At a town hall-style Apple employee meeting this week, Jobs exploded on onetime Best Friend Forever (BFF) Google, snorting that the online giant "wants to kill the iPhone." WTF, he seemed to say, "Apple didn't enter the search business." But the best line was reserved for Google's "Don't be evil" mantra, which Jobs said was "a load of crap." (Jobs also unloaded on a "lazy" Adobe, but let's face it, no one likes Adobe anymore.) Anyway, it's nice to see Jobs reveal himself to be the Bond villain those in the industry always knew he really was. Collusion is cool. Just don't step on his toes, or you're dead to him. Nice guy, that Jobs. But hey, he really can sell stuff, can't he?

... and Google Fires Back with its Own Middle Finger Pointed Toward Cupertino
In a clear response to Jobs' truculent outburst this week, Google offered up two interesting updates but no stupid public comments. (And thus the hunted becomes the hunter.) First, it pre-announced a decidedly iPad-like tablet of its own, running the Android OS, of course, and due sometime this year. Second, it suddenly provided users of the Android-based Nexus One smartphone with the one feature that device lacked, but iPhone users have been enjoying for a while now: Multi-touch support. Google previously left this little feature out of the core OS because of concerns about an Apple patent or two in that area. But I guess when the gloves are off, we can just not worry about such niceties. This latter update, in particular, seems like a "dare you" for Apple. Go ahead, Apple, sue us. We dare you.

Google Turns to NSA for Help with China Hack, Raising Even More Questions
When Google shocked the world last month by revealing that it had been the target of a "sophisticated" cyber-attack that likely emanated from the Chinese government, it raised all kinds of questions, though the company has been curiously silent about the issue ever since. This week, Google asked the National Security Agency (NSA) to help it investigate the attack. But this raises even more questions since Google, of course, stores all kinds of privacy information about its users, and now one of the most secretive government agencies in the world is going to get their hands on the online giant's computers. Google's decision to turn to the NSA, which investigates international security issues, is likely designed to prevent it from coming under the oversight of a domestic security agency, like Homeland Security, which may push to have the company's services protected as part of the United States' critical infrastructure. That means massive governmental regulation, which is exactly what the high-flying and copyright-adverse (see below) company doesn't want. Put simply: Google would rather give up your personal data than see itself be regulated by the government. Don't be evil!

DOJ Not Happy About Latest Google Book Deal
Ever since Google decided to skirt US and international copyright law and just scan books until someone noticed, it's been in a lot of hot water. And even though the suddenly belligerent online giant has reached a second settlement with a little group of publishers and authors that had launched a class action lawsuit here in the US, the government has stepped in to examine things. And so far at least, they're not amused. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) this week said that the settlement, while an improvement over the original deal, doesn't go far enough. "The settlement suffers from the same core problem as the original agreement: it is an attempt to use the class-action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the court in this litigation." In other words, Google isn't respecting copyrights, giving the company ownership of millions of orphaned books, which was of course the very original complaint. This DOJ filing will likely cause a court overseeing the case to simply reject the deal. Back to square one, it seems.

Internet Explorer Is Not Just Popular, but Dominant. So Why All the Talk About Its Decline?
As alternative browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome continue to eat away at Internet Explorer's usage share, the talk continues incessantly online: IE is dying. IE is dying. And sure, it's important to understand that Firefox and, to a much lesser degree, Chrome, are indeed chipping away at IE. But is it really that bad? According to researchers at Devil Mountain Software, no, it really isn't. In fact, IE is used much more often than many people believe. In fact, in the enterprise especially, it's basically all IE. "While IE's presence across the broader Internet may have declined in recent years, its stranglehold on enterprise IT application compatibility, development practices and in-house deployment standards remains as firm as ever," Devil Mountain CTO Craig Barth wrote in a blog post. "While users may continue to install IE alternatives, they'll do so as supplements to—as opposed to replacements for—Microsoft's browser. For many IT shops, including those that need to maintain compatibility with legacy IE-specific applications, Internet Explorer will remain the default option for the foreseeable future." This could of course explain Microsoft's decision to continue developing IE and the underlying technologies that power the browser, rather than turn to third party/open source technologies as others (myself included) have called for.

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