WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 18, 2010

WinInfo Blog

I'm not sure what it was about the 2010 CES trip last week—the mileage I logged walking around the Las Vegas Convention Center, the early mornings and late nights, the time change, the red-eye flight home—but I've been out of sorts ever since I got back. In fact, it feels as if I was gone for weeks, not four and a half days. Still, it's nice to be back on a normal schedule. I just hope my body catches up with that eventually.

Part of that normal schedule, of course, involves recording the Windows Weekly podcast at its normal day and time. Which we did, Thursday. So, the new episode should be up sometime 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

China's Google Attack Utilized IE Flaw
Which is either ironic or hilarious, when you think about it. Or both. China's brazen attack against Google and more than 30 other US high-tech companies was launched via a flaw in Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) web browser, according to McAfee. But I think a better way to view this event is that the hackers actually took advantage of humans, not software: They built websites that tricked users into clicking links that installed malicious software on their PCs—software that was then used to launch the attacks. So, it's easy to say something like, "Hey, just don't use IE," but the reality is that these people were clearly duped and likely could have been hacked with a different browser if that's what they'd been using. For its part, Microsoft says it will patch IE to plug the hole that allowed the hack and notes that using the latest version of IE in its default configuration would have limited the problem significantly.

Google's Stand in China: Saber Rattling or Just Good, Old-Fashioned Image Control
For a company whose official mantra is "Don't be evil," Google's three-year business in China has been hard to defend, mostly because of that country's heavy-handed privacy and human rights abuses. Officially, Google has said only that it must abide by the laws of the countries in which it does business, but that begs the question: Why even do business with such a totalitarian state? It turns out that Google is now asking itself the same question, and before anyone hurts themselves patting the company on the back, I'd like to remind you of one thing. If Google does leave China, it will be because its three-year investment hasn't reaped the financial windfall it was hoping for—not because China may or may not have broken into some dissident's email account. The moral stand is cute, but this is all about business, and nothing more. It's amusing—no, painful—to see people who previously called Google to task for turning a blind eye to the plight of Chinese citizens suddenly applauding the company. We shouldn't celebrate people for doing the right thing. That's the baseline.

Speaking of Organizations That Could Be Doing More
It's equally alarming to watch the US government do absolutely nothing about this China fiasco. Sure, China is the next global superpower, and I'm sure there's some handwringing about not handling this situation like Britain might have 100 years ago, but come on: It's pretty obvious that the Chinese government targeted more than 30 US high-tech companies, including Google, in what is developing into the biggest-ever cyber-crime in history. It's time to get active, people, if only to take our minds off the never-ending banking crisis and the fact that many of the executives at those banks are now taking in huge bonuses. Alas, the government has been largely silent. After a few off-the-cuff remarks from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton the other day, the Obama administration has been characteristically silent, and while I appreciate a cool, calm response as much as the next guy, I think it's time to act before we discover that China has hacked its way into our government mainframes as well.

Ballmer: Microsoft Will Stay in China
If you were hoping for some false platitudes from Microsoft about the Chinese situation, relax. CEO Steve Ballmer reminded the world this week that Microsoft is a corporation, not a hippie peacenik conclave out to free the world from the Matrix. "We've been quite clear that we're going to operate in China," he said. "Intellectual-property protection in China is very, very bad. Abysmal ... It's got to change." Giving up on China might help institute such a change. I'm just saying.

Intel Comes Roaring Out of Economic Recession
Microprocessor giant Intel just recorded one of its most profitable quarters in history, so if you were looking for yet another hint that we might finally be crawling out of the economic recession, this could be it. The company reported net income of 2.3 billion (up a whopping 875 percent year-over-year) on revenues of $10.6 billion (up 28 percent), which is pretty fantastic no matter how you look at it. Key to Intel's resurgence is a suddenly-growing-again PC industry and the surprise success of the low-end Atom processor, which Intel brought to market despite concerns that it would eat into its more profitable processors and hurt the bottom line. Of course, Intel does have some side issues that could prove troubling to its future, not the least of which is a number of antitrust investigations around the globe. Still, it's nice to see an industry bellwether actually report something positive for a change.

Video Game Sales Flat in December
With Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 already raking in over $1 billion in revenues since its late November launch, you'd think December might have been one of the best months in video game history. Sadly, that's not the case, thanks to the fact that Modern Warfare 2 was literally the only major video game released last fall. According to NPD, video game revenue in December did rise slightly, or 4 percent, year-over-year, to $5.53 billion. But video game software sales fell 7 percent to $2.58 billion due to a lackluster catalog of new games. As for the consoles, a flip-flopping picture emerged: Nintendo sold 3.8 million Wiis, compared with 2.3 million units for the Sony PlayStation 3. But this time, the Xbox 360 (1.3 million units sold) was the loser. Calendar year 2009 didn't look too good for the industry, either: Revenues were down for the year, 8 percent, to about $19.66 billion. Maybe Call of Duty 7 will resuscitate the industry later this year. Probably not.

Visual Studio 2010 Delayed until April
No biggie here, but Microsoft this week delayed the release of its next software development suite, Visual Studio 2010, from March 22 until April 12. (Also delayed is the accompanying release of the .NET Framework 4 APIs for developers.) According to the software giant, beta testers have found a couple of problems that the company would like to resolve, so it's pushing back the release by three weeks.

Windows XP Users: Here's Some More Outdated Technology for You to Upgrade From
If you're still using Windows XP—and really, God love you, you buggy-driving Luddite, you—well, you have more than enough problems on your plate, I'm sure. But although I'm sorry to add to your growing list of obsolete technologies that really, really, really need updating, these are bad times. And you've got some work to do. See, XP, aside from coming with such out-of-date technological follies as IE 6 and Windows Messenger, also ships with a seriously outdated version of Adobe Flash. I know, it's crazy: XP shipped just nine short years ago, and while much of the tech industry has simply stood still waiting for you to finish off that peach cobbler you seem to love so much, something crazy has happened. It turns out that Adobe has somehow managed to ship four major releases of Flash since then (I know, I know). And worse still, the version that's included in XP is, get this, hugely vulnerable to electronic exploits. Look, I'd be the last guy to ask you to fire up that 14.4Kbps modem and dial into AOL just so you could download one unnecessary security update. (Reality check: The number of them is closer to 137.) But seriously, wake up. Adobe discontinued support for this version of Flash 4 years ago. So update it. Now. No, really. And here's something for you to read while you update. Who says I don't take care of you?

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