WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 1 - 29 Dec 2006

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the Microsoft blogger bribe, Vista security concerns, Microsoft and Ford cars, Microsoft's RSS moves, Apple's option grant scandal, the next version of the Xbox 360, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

This week was a text book example of a slow news week, but then the week between Christmas and New Years often is. I always have a tough time coming back from a few days off, but I did post a number of new sections to my Windows Vista review which, yes, I'll actually finish soon. By January 1, if I can swing it.

One evolving story I've been watching with some humor this week is the Microsoft laptop giveaway scandal, which I discuss below if you're not familiar with the sordid tale. My take on this is simple: If you're not actually reviewing hardware products on an ongoing basis, this is a bribe, and one Microsoft should never have made. That said, were I in the same position as the people who did accept the free machines, I'd keep it. How crazy would you have to be to turn down such a gift? Most of these guys could never afford a $2200 laptop.

But here's the thing: Why did Microsoft give away previous generation hardware? They should have waited until some cool Vista-specific hardware was available and offered machines with SideShow support, Tablet PC capabilities, and a convertible touch screen. You know, something that would have really shown off Vista. Anyone can stick Vista on a 2006-era laptop. Geesh.

As for all those holier-than-thou bloggers raking people through the mud for morality reasons, maybe it's time to look in the mirror and admit you're just upset that Microsoft didn't offer you such a gift. If there's one thing all these guys have in common, it's that none of them actually had the opportunity to turn down the free laptop. I'm guessing few would have, though it's easy now to pretend that's not the case.

Oh, and could it possibly be 2007 already? Yikes.

Short Takes

The Microsoft Laptop Giveaway Scandal
Microsoft this week began shipping free high-end laptops to so-called high visibility bloggers, touching off a scandal in which the company and its cronies are being accused of .... well, being buddies, I guess. For the record, I turned down a similar laptop offer when it was made back in October, but not because I'm above receiving free hardware for review. No, I turned down a free Microsoft laptop because I don't need yet another laptop in my increasingly crowded office. (This offer was likely not made through the same program that gave away laptops to bloggers, but I can't be certain.) What I do need is an HDCP-compatible Media Center PC and, yes, I do expect Microsoft to show up with one eventually. However, I don't treat hardware like that as a gift. Depending on the size and cost of the device, I'll typically review it and then send it back when it's requested. This happened recently with the Zune: Microsoft had originally sent the device for just two weeks, and actually did ask for it back (which, frankly, is unusual for such an inexpensive product). So I requested more time because I wanted to test upcoming updates to the system, such as Vista compatibility and the upcoming podcast update. But the point here is simple: If they want it back, it's theirs, and they can have it. As for the bloggers who got those laptops, who wouldn't accept such a gift? Sure, their souls will be forever scarred for being in league with the IT world's version of the Devil, but let's face it, these guys were all in bed with Microsoft to begin with. If the company wanted to really make a difference, it should have loaned Vista systems to Linux and Mac guys, along with a request for an honest review. The results would have been both more interesting and far more relevant.

Vista: Secure, Yes. Perfect, Not Quite
Faced with the shocking news that Windows Vista might actually be susceptible to electronic attack, Microsoft this week went on the defensive with an argument that should be pretty obvious, mostly because it's true and because the company has been very clear about this fact for some time: Vista is more secure than Windows XP, yes, but it's not perfect. "The finding of vulnerabilities in any software is to be expected," Stephen Toulouse, a Microsoft senior product manager in the security response center wrote in his blog this week. "This is all part of the process of creating complex software today, and no one is immune to it. It's not, as they say, big news to us in the security industry." Nor should it be. But people seem to get all twisted up whenever Vista comes up in a security context, but my take on this is that Vista is definitely more secure than previous Windows versions. Whether that matters in the long term remains to be seen, but I've got a good feeling about this one.

Microsoft, Ford Working to Put Bluetooth in Cars
Ford Motor Company is working with Microsoft to make hands-free Bluetooth wireless systems an option in all of its vehicles over time. The system, which was co-developed by Microsoft and dubbed Sync, will provide hands-free cell phone communication, as expected, but also other services, such as in-car communication between devices and even email and music downloads. The Sync system will debut in two Ford models, the Five Hundred and Focus, in the coming year, and then move to other Ford vehicles. Microsoft fans will note that it's based on the company's Windows Automotive software, which hasn't exactly had a major hit despite years on the market. I'm sure latching onto Ford at this moment in its illustrious career is a fine move.

Microsoft Denies RSS Moves
A recently revealed Microsoft patent application has the blogging community up in arms over fears that the software giant is attempting to control the RSS (real simple syndication) technologies that power blogs and podcasts. More problematic for these hot-head bloggers is that they believe Microsoft is also trying to take credit for creating RSS. Not so, says Microsoft. "These patents describe specific ways to improve the RSS end-user and developer experience (which we believe are valuable and innovative contributions)," Microsoft RSS program manager Sean Lyndersay wrote in his blog this week. "They do not constitute a claim that Microsoft invented RSS." As for commandeering RSS, I'm pretty sure that's exactly the plan. I mean, this is Microsoft.

Apple Comes Clean on Options Grants
Apple announced today that it will restate financial data going back four years and take an $84 million charge as the result of an internal audit that found the company had misdated thousands of stock option grants to executives. However, Apple did exonerate CEO Steve Jobs, who let's face it IS Apple Computer. (Why they don't just call it Steve Jobs Corp is beyond me.) In its filing with the Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC), Apple said that though Jobs was aware of the illegal grants, he didn't profit from them and there was no misconduct by current management. "The board of directors is confident that the Company has corrected the problems that led to the restatement, and it has complete confidence in Steve Jobs and the senior management team," Apple's press release reads. So is this story over? No, probably not. But it seems that Apple has taken the steps needed to protect Jobs, which is wise, since his ouster would likely lead to a complete collapse at the iPod maker.

Xbox 360 Mach 2 Delayed
If you've been waiting for that smaller and quieter new version of the Xbox 360, I've got bad news: The wait just got longer. Chartered Semiconductor, which manufactures about half of the Xbox 360 CPUs for Microsoft, has delayed a smaller, more efficient version of the chip by several months according to a report in TechWhack. The upcoming chip will be made with a 60nm manufacturing process, much smaller than the 90nm version in the current console: The result would be a quieter and more efficient Xbox 360, since the new chip will require far less cooling. For potential customers waiting for an Xbox 360 that will actually work in a home theater setting, this delay might mean that the new version of the console won't be ready in time for Christmas 2007.

Amazon Posts Best Sellers List this week announced which products sold best from its online store. Among the best sellers are Apple's iPods (all models combined, in consumer electronics), the Nintendo DS Lite (computers and video games), "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (DVDs), and "World of Warcraft" (software). Meanwhile, the 30 GB version of the Apple iPod was both the most popular electronics gift and the most wished-for electronics product. Curiously, the iPod wasn't the most-loved (i.e. best-reviewed) electronics item, however. That accolade was bestowed on a Sony digital camera.

Amsterdam Latest European City to Threaten Microsoft with Open Source
And finally, a little fun from one of my favorite cities in Europe: This week, Amsterdam said it would begin in 2007 a two-year test of open source software on PC desktops, giving Microsoft those two years to convince the city to stick with its proprietary alternatives. However, Amsterdam doesn't intend to completely eradicate Microsoft software from its PCs. The city is apparently interested in seeing if it can moderate its Microsoft diet by selectively using open source solutions where they make sense. That Amsterdam would make such a common sense decision shouldn't surprise anyone. I'm interested to see how this one plays out.

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