WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 14 (CES Special Edition)

CES Surpassing COMDEX
Not surprisingly, the attendance at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is neck-and-neck with big daddy COMDEX, and when it comes to floor space, CES surpasses COMDEX by a considerable amount. Final figures won't be available until late today, but CES 2002 will definitely meet or surpass last year's CES attendance of 126,000 and this year's COMDEX attendance of about 125,000 (if that; COMDEX organizers always exaggerate the official figure). This year's CES show used a whopping 1.2 million square feet of convention floor space--a record. (COMDEX used only 750,000 square feet.) To be honest, the CES show is almost too large to grasp, thanks to the ever-expanding Las Vegas Convention Center, which is almost a city in its own right.

Get More Freestyle and Mira Information
Microsoft has posted a lot of Freestyle and Mira information on its Windows XP Web site, including a few screenshots of the Freestyle UI, which looks nice. If you didn't go to the show, definitely check out this information; both of these technologies will ship by the end of the year, and I honestly think they'll change the way many people use their PCs.

Mira vs. Tablet PC
Speaking of Mira, several readers wondered how this technology, which enables a new generation of portable and wirelessly connected computer screens, compares to a Tablet PC. The distinction is rather vague: A Tablet PC is a full-fledged portable PC that will include a range of value-added software, such as digital-ink and handwriting capabilities. Mira screens will run Windows CE .NET and offer a Windows Terminal Services-based wireless connection to the PC, which would need to be within a certain distance from the screen (e.g., within a house) to work. Mira screens won't include any of the special Tablet PC software but will include transcriber and virtual-keyboard software similar to that found on today's Pocket PC devices. Presumably, Mira screens also will weigh less than Tablet PCs, but the ViewSonic Mira prototype I used at the show was every bit as heavy as the two Tablet PC prototypes I've used. In addition, Mira screens will be considerably less expensive than Tablet PCs.

PC vs. Mac, Round 27
Apple CEO Steve Jobs says that PCs and TVs will never be combined; Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates thinks differently (ahem) and is releasing a slew of products based on that assumption. So who's right? You don't have to walk too far--one benefit of a show that features thousands of different companies--through the CES show floor to realize that the PC is indeed migrating into the living room. Head's up, Apple: The new iMac looks different, but it's just a flat-panel PC. Funny how the real innovation in this industry jumped over to the PC side ...

Smart Phone 2002 the One to Watch
Smart Phone 2002, previously code-named Stinger, was almost lost in the Bill Gates CES keynote address. The handy little phone includes PDA-like functionality, including contact lists, Mobile Internet Explorer (IE) Favorites, and a Microsoft Outlook-like Calendar, on its small color screen. How does the Smart Phone stack up against the PDAs that are being imbued with phone capabilities? Think about it this way: Which do you use more often, the phone or your Pocket PC? For most people, the phone wins every time. So the Smart Phone's form factor--that of a cell phone--should win out over PDA-phone hybrids, which simply tack phone features onto bulky PDA bodies. It's about time form followed function.

Windows Media Expands into More Car Stereos
This news was also lost in the CES hoopla: More and more car-stereo makers are supporting Windows Media Audio (WMA) format in their CD-based stereos. AIWA, Blaupunkt, Kenwood, and Pioneer now ship car stereos that let you listen to as much as 22 hours of WMA music per CD, a huge advance over MP3-equipped players. It's only a matter of time before these companies also support DVD-R in their players, which would push the amount of music to about 170 hours per disc. Yikes.

Microsoft Upgrades Ultimate TV
The company's Ultimate TV service, which supplies satellite-based DirecTV customers with dual-receiver Digital Video Recorder (DVR) capabilities, Internet access, and other features, announced a service upgrade that will add some cool new features. Remote Record is chief among these new features; it lets Ultimate TV users log on remotely to their program guides over the Web and set up recording sessions; the service even works from a Pocket PC. Other new features include Ultimate TV Movies, for easier movie searching, and Auto Record, for automatically recording shows that meet certain criteria. Now if Microsoft would port the service to digital cable, more than 18 people could use it.

MSN Search Number One in United States
Don't these people know about Google? Microsoft announced this week that MSN Search has surpassed Yahoo! to become the most popular Web search in the United States. MSN Search also reportedly leads Yahoo! in Australia, Canada, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. What are the top three searches on MSN Search? 1) Weight-loss programs (remember, it's the New Year), 2) recent and upcoming movies, and 3) wedding planning. Contrast these searches with the more sophisticated Google, where top searches include C# versus Java debates and Frank Stallone movies.

Microsoft Promotes Pocket PC with Harley Imagery
Here's a weird item: For some reason, Microsoft promoted the Pocket PC at CES with a Harley Davidson-inspired logo that sports the Software Matters slogan. Apparently, the advertising isn't limited to the faux tattoos the company is handing out at its booth. Cruising up Sahara Boulevard yesterday afternoon, I noticed a Harley--complete with leather-clad rider--sporting a Software Matters flag. Two questions: How much does that kind of advertising cost? And how does Microsoft know he's going to leave the flag on the back of his bike?

And Speaking of the Pocket PC ...
A guy from California is suing Microsoft over the name Pocket PC and the domain, saying that he invented the phrase and a corresponding product in 1985 and thus owns a common-law trademark. The Pocket PC in question was a $10 novelty item that contained a coin you could use for making heads-or-tails decisions. The man says that he wants only the URL and $5000 from Microsoft, which would cover lost sales from December. I think the guy needs a clue.

DVRs Make a Splash at CES
Too bad no one's buying them. Like the TIVO and SONICblue Replay, Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) never really took off with consumers, although most people who use the devices become instant converts and try to sell the technology to friends and family. Of course, the fact that the technology isn't popular hasn't stopped just about every company under the sun from announcing a DVR or DVR-like product at CES; even Microsoft's Freestyle technology will enable this capability on a standard TV. Recording TV shows on a hard disk is a great idea, but I think people see the technology as a techie niche market. That's why Linux-based DVR products are so uninteresting: The general public couldn't care less about remotely accessing into their home stereos.

Welcome to the Recordable DVD Wars
And speaking of technology that no one understands, recordable DVD is making a lot of noise at CES, too, but consumers are bound to come away confused because of the many competing formats, including DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM. All the formats look identical and offer 4.7GB of space. But you can't mix and match disk types (DVD-R media won't work in a DVD+RW drive and vice versa), which offer different capabilities (some store only data, some record home movies only, and some do both) and compatibility (DVD-R movies work in most home DVD players; DVD+RW movies don't). Ugly? You bet. Counter-productive? Definitely. My advice: Wait for DVD combo drives, which support DVD-R, DVD-RW, and DVD-RAM media.

Sony PlayStation 2 Continues Domination
The Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo GameCube got all the press this holiday season, but guess what? It doesn't matter. Sony's seemingly ancient PlayStation 2 sold more than 5 million units during the holidays, far outstripping its upstart competition, and Sony says it will sell more than 25 million units by the time the product's first anniversary rolls around in March. But that isn't the only good news for Sony: In a sign that PlayStation 2 will continue to outstrip its rivals, PlayStation 2 game rentals were up 36 percent in the first week of January compared to the same period last year. And the top-five rentals are all Sony PlayStation 2 titles; no Xbox or GameCube title has ever cracked the top five.

Microsoft Employees Tip the Scales in Online Poll
Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. When ZDNET UK polled its visitors about which Web-services technology--Windows .NET or Java--will win out, .NET won by a landslide. Then ZDNET looked at its Web logs and discovered that an undisclosed "high percentage" of voters came from the domain. Reports about this event implied that Microsoft rigged the vote, but clearly an employee grass-roots campaign made the difference. ZDNET, of course, doesn't provide enough information to determine whether .NET would have won without the Microsoft votes, leading me to believe that it would have won. So what's this "high percentage" of votes, exactly? Is it 10 percent? Or 50 percent?

AOL alerts? Have they no shame?
And speaking of shameful, this week, AOL released a new service called AOL Alerts that not only sounds like .NET Alerts, but duplicates some of that Microsoft product's features. AOL Alerts delivers sports scores, weather reports, stock quotes, and news to AOL-enabled cell phones, pagers, and Mobile Communicator-based email devices. Sound familiar? Yeah, it does to me, too, but AOL denies that it's aping Microsoft and says that AOL Alerts is simply an obvious extension of its AOL Everywhere strategy. Which reminds me: Wasn't Microsoft's strategy called Windows Everywhere?

Microsoft Releases Windows Media Player for Mac OS X
That's a name that's sure to warm the cockles of any Mac user, eh? Microsoft released its latest media-player client for Mac OS X this week, although an earlier version shipped with Office v. X in November. The player supports Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Windows Media Video (WMV) formats and sports a Carbonized Aqua UI. I just want to know when I can play WMA files on my iPod.

Top Stories of 2001 to Continue on Monday
Several readers have asked me about the top stories of 2001 articles, which stalled at number three. Sorry about that! I had intended to continue the articles this week while I was at CES, but each of them requires me to go back and review a large number of articles online, which I haven't been able to do at the show because I've been so busy. I'll get cracking on the rest of the top-10 stories next week. I promise.

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