WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 15 - 12 Jan 2007

While I'm disappointed at not being able to meet up with the many friends who did go to the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this past week, clearly, not going was the smartest thing I've done in a long, long time. Vegas is a fascinating city, but it slows to a crawl when the CES crowd shows up, making it a nightmare of long lines, standing around, and walking for miles on end just to get anything done. Thanks to some timely briefings by Microsoft, I was able to cover the company's presence at the show in a way that was easily comparable to what I've done in the past, and it didn't require me to sleep in a clown-themed hotel with a $20 breakfast buffet. My heart, mind, and body are the better for it.

Next year, I'll try to do the same thing with CES. It's just too much of a mess. But that doesn't mean I'll start doing every trade show virtually. I'm definitely going to WinHEC this year, and I'm looking into other shows like E3 and, of course, TechEd.

Leo and I recorded another episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this week, where we compared and contrast the CES and MacWorld keynotes. It should be up sometime today.

Speaking of MacWorld, I feel that a couple of things got lost in all the hoopla around the iPhone. First, since this device won't even ship for 6 months, many of the "gotta-have-it" purchasers are likely to hold off over time, once the euphoria of the event winds down and rational thought returns. Ultimately, the iPhone is a typical 1.0 Apple product: Beautiful, yes, but aimed at a niche, over-designed, and overly expensive. It's a closed system by design, and this time no one can argue that it was closed off to make it easier or better for users: It was closed off to benefit Apple's network partner, Cingular/AT&T and to shut out potential third party developers. I'm sure the iPhone will be somewhat successful. But I'm curious what this 6 month lead time will do to dampen excitement.

Secondly, I think we're seeing the beginning of a long farewell to the Mac as a general purpose computing platform. On Tuesday, Steve Jobs said that Apple now had four core businesses, Mac, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV, and three of those work just as well with the PC as they do with the Mac. More problematic, Windows-based users of the iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV will vastly outnumber Mac-based users. I'm sure Apple will ship a compelling Leopard upgrade sometime this year--sometime late this year, it's now looking--but I'm also sure that this is the swansong. Steve Jobs and Apple are moving to potential cash cows like moths to a flame. You can't blame them, and let's be serious: The Mac has been in a holding pattern for a long time. And yeah, the Apple fanatics are going to be hopping mad at this one: There goes Thurrott, predicting doom again. That's not it at all. I love the Mac, and this freaks me out. It should freak out anyone that cares about the Mac. Instead, Mac fanatics just become iPod fanatics. That should tell you something about those guys.

As for the Apple apologists who would buy an Apple-branded toilet paper holder if Steve Jobs told them he used one as well, no, the iPhone is not a Mac, sorry. We've had Windows-based embedded devices, PDAs, and smart phones for a decade now, and they're not the same as Windows-based PCs. While I'm intrigued that Apple took part of OS X and embedded it in a portable device, that's not the same as an ultra-portable OS X PC (like Microsoft's UMPC) or a table (like Microsoft's Tablet PC). The iPhone is just a phone and an iPod, not a Mac. And if it's successful, the iPhone may very well be the only thing even cursorily related to the Mac that Apple sells in a few years. Again, this bothers me.

One final thought. I've often wondered how Apple is able to garner as much press attention as does the entire CES show, which comprises an incredible range of companies. This year, the comparison is even more interesting: Not only did Apple capture the hearts and minds of the press this year, it did so while discussing exactly two products, one of which it previously disclosed. (And neither product is even close to shipping.) This makes my toilet paper holder comment, above, even more believable.

Vista's Vanishing Point

We suffered through the stupefying hype for the Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) and the banal viral marketing campaign for the Zune. Now, Microsoft's back with an even stupider marketing trick, but at least this time the product is pretty darned good: Windows Vista is being supported by a viral marketing exercise called "Vanishing Point" (Get it?) where lonely geeks with way too much time on their hands can participate in a game, of sorts, where clues are provided online and even in physical locations around the country. One clue was famously portrayed in the Bellagio Hotel's fountain during CES, and there's a Web site where you can find out more. Maybe I'm just old or something, but I hate this kind of thing. Then again, I was never any good at the Rubik's Cube, anagrams, or crossword puzzles either.

Firm Posts Bounty on Vista, IE 7 Bugs

VeriSign iDefense has announced that it will pay up to a $12,000 bounty to anyone who can find an exploitable vulnerability in Windows Vista or Internet Explorer (IE) 7. The company says its seeking to discover whether the new systems are as secure at Microsoft promises and, amazingly, Microsoft doesn't seem to have any problems with the contest. The bounty, which ends March 31, isn't the first for iDefense, but the firm is unsure what the success rate will be for Vista and IE 7. But iDefense also defends the controversial bounty practice by noting that one in four of the vulnerabilities that Microsoft patched during June last year were the direct work of digital bounty hunters.

Cisco Sues Apple over iPhone Name

Only Apple could announce a product with a name that it knows to be trademarked by another corporation and then act as if it were the one that was harmed. This week, Apple announced its iPhone device, despite the fact that Cisco has owned the trademark on iPhone since 2000, when it purchased the company that obtained the original mark in 1996. This was "before iMacs and iPods were even glimmers in Apple's eye," Cisco adds. Cisco says it's been in serious discussions with Apple for "several weeks" over use of the term, but the companies weren't able to reach an agreement. So Cisco was somewhat taken aback when Apple actually announced a product with their name. What's amazing is that Cisco says the only thing holding it back from agreeing to let Apple use the name is that they want the iPhone to be an open system that can interoperate with other products and services: Cisco isn't looking for money, or some kind of products and technologies exchange. "How would Apple react if someone launched a product called iPod but claimed it was ok to use the name because it used a different video format?" Cisco senior vice president Mark Chandler asks in a blog posting. "Apple is a very aggressive enforcer of their trademark rights. And that needs to be a two-way street." Bravo, I agree. Apple's so arrogant sometimes it's almost comical. Don't believe me? Apple official response to the lawsuit was that Cisco's claims are "silly." Seriously.

iPhone: No Intel Inside?

And speaking of iPhone, despite a Mac OS X core, the device is most decidedly not running on an Intel processor. This is odd for a number of reasons. First, Apple recently underwent an epic and painful transition from the PowerPC to Intel's microprocessors. And second, Intel makes killer mobile device processors. While Apple hasn't yet admitted what processor is inside the iPhone, a help wanted posting on the company's Web site suggests that they're using an ARM processor. Why would Apple go to the trouble of porting OS X to yet another processor platform? It's not yet clear if that's what's happening, but one thing is clear: At this point, there are far more questions than answers with the iPhone.

Office 2008 for Mac: To Ribbon or not to Ribbon?

One of the big questions about the upcoming version of Microsoft Office for the Mac is whether Microsoft would port over its much-publicized Ribbon user interface from Office 2007 for the PC. This week, Microsoft announced that this next Mac Office would be called Office 2008 and would ship late this year. But the Ribbon question is still unclear: The company said it will feature a user interface with a new "Elements Gallery" that is modeled after the Windows-based Ribbon UI. (And it will, of course, support Office 2007's new XML-based data formats.) A peak at Office 2008 screenshots reveals something disturbing, however: Office 2008 appears to use both the old menu- and toolbar-based approach from previous Office versions as well as new tabs and a Ribbon-like strip. This Frankenstein Monster-like UI looks both huge and unwieldy, and occupies a huge portion of the applications' user interface. Bad move? Yeah, it's starting to look that way.

AT&T Kills Cingular Brand

And finally, one last bit of iPhone-related trivia. Just days after Steve Jobs announced that Cingular would be Apple's only network partner in the US for the iPhone, Cingular's parent company, AT&T, revealed that it would kill the Cingular brand. Starting Monday, Cingular Wireless will be renamed to Wireless from AT&T. What's interesting about this is that Cingular had previously purchased AT&T Wireless in 2004 and had dropped that name. Now, it's come full circle I guess. For a short time, AT&T will use both the Cingular and AT&T logos for the wireless service, but will drop Cingular's over time.

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