WinInfo Short Takes: Week of July 17 - 14 Jul 2006

Starting today, the Boston area begins a five-day nose-dive into a true heat wave, with temperatures well into the 90s. I can't say that I'm all that excited about it. After seven years in Phoenix, the one thing I don't miss is the heat. I used to sweat just getting the mail, and I recall burning my feet at least three times running out to the mailbox. I don't think I have to worry about that here but the humidity is sure to be killer. I'll be in bunker mode for the duration. Well, except for Sunday, when I'll be deep-sea fishing.

Last week, I stumbled onto an amazing new feature in the Windows Movie Maker feature of Windows Vista: It lets you edit TV showsthat were recorded with Windows XP Media Center Edition. It's incredible: I was archiving my favorite travel shows, commercials and all, in Microsoft's painfully bloated proprietary DVR-MS file format. But now, I can strip out the commercials, re-encode them in hard-disk-friendly Windows Media Video (WMV) variable bit rate format, and save a ton of disk space. How much disk space, you ask? Well, a typical 30-minute TV show in DVR-MS format occupies a whopping 1.6GB to 1.8GB of hard-disk space. But the high-quality WMV versions take up only about 200MB to 250MB each. Yikes! I'm not a math whiz, but that's got to be a space savings of 3 gajillion percent at least. There are two downsides: First, it takes a long time to do this: The encoding process alone is about 40 minutes for a 30-minute show. Second, you can't edit "protected" TV shows, such as those shown on HBO or Cinemax. No big surprise there, I guess.

EU Action Won't Prevent Vista, Although Microsoft Has Offered Concessions

Despite comments this week from European Union (EU) trustbuster Neelie Kroes, Microsoft says the EU won't delay the Windows Vista release. The company revealed that it had made changes to Vista during the beta tests based on feedback it had gotten from the EU and had provided the EU with a list of concessions it was willing to make going forward. However, EU-specific changes to Vista would be made only in versions sold in Europe; users outside of Europe won't have to worry about buying a Windows version that's been stripped of multimedia functionality, for example. Not yet, at least.

Office 2007 Student and Teacher Will Be Available on New PCs

Microsoft's unsurprisingly popular version of Office aimed at students and teachers (or any family with a student) is now heading to new PC bundles. Heck, Office Student and Teacher Edition costs only $129 at retail, so it's sort of a no-brainer. Starting with Office 2007, users can get the full-featured Office 2007 Student and Teacher Edition when they purchase a new PC, instead of being saddled with a limited version of the suite. That's good news, although I'm curious to see how PC makers will handle the three-PC install license that comes with Office Student and Teacher Edition. With luck, users will get a CD so they can install the application on two more PCs.

Microsoft Provides Virtual PC for Free

Well, you can't argue with that price. Several months after making Virtual Server free, Microsoft has made its client-side virtual machine (VM) solution, Virtual PC 2004 Service Pack 1 (SP1), free to customers. That's nice, because Virtual Server 2005 R2, its free server-side VM solution, works on Windows XP but is a bear to use unless you really know what you're doing. Next year, Microsoft will ship a free version of Virtual PC 2007 for Vista users. So how does Microsoft make money if these products are shipped for free? Volume. And no, that's not a joke: By proliferating its VM solutions for free, Microsoft hopes to steal the VM market away from VMware.

IBM Brings Lotus Notes to Linux

As if using Linux wasn't punishment enough. IBM has announced it's shipping a version of the painful and awful IBM Lotus Notes client for Linux. Interestingly, Linux users will pay the same price for a Lotus Notes license as Windows users do. Don't get me started on the damage to the soul one incurs by using Notes. I'm pretty sure Singapore uses Lotus Notes as an alternative to caning these days.

Microsoft Updates PC Assessment Tool in Vista

This week, Microsoft overhauled its PC assessment tool in Vista, which is designed to rate the overall performance of your computer on a scale from 1 to 5. Most users--even those with high-end PCs--were surprised to discover that the tool rated their PCs in the 3 range, even though most individual components rated a 5. The new version of the tool apparently removes the random number generator that created the old scores and replaces it with a less subjective rating system. But the overall rating on my main PC, whose individual components are rated as 3.5, 3.6, 3.9, 5.9, and 5.4 (apparently individual components can rate above a 5), is still... 3. Let me guess: The person who designed the assessment tool is the same one who wrote the code for the Windows installation progress bar that estimates how much time is left. Come on, Microsoft. Admit it.

New ... Well, Old ... Arcade Games Come to Xbox 360

This week, Microsoft finally began adding content to the Xbox Live Arcade, which has been surprisingly dormant this year despite the vast range of classic arcade game content out there. Beginning this week, Microsoft will add a new game to Xbox Live Arcade every Thursday. This week's addition--the first--was Frogger. Most Xbox Live Arcade games are pretty cheap--$5 to $15--and the service has been surprisingly popular: Microsoft says that customers have downloaded more than five million free trial game versions this year, with more than 20 percent converting to the full, paid versions. With more than 20 games now available on Xbox Live Arcade, Microsoft hopes to have 50 games available by the end of the year.

WGA: The Spyware Debate

There's apparently a big debate going on right now over Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) technology, which is designed to prevent Windows pirates from getting software updates. On one hand, we have Microsoft, which presents WGA as a value-add that helps customers appreciate the many benefits they receive by paying for Windows. On the other hand, we have security experts, who note that WGA is spyware. Spyware, by the way, is "unwanted software that collects information about a computer user and/or the PC itself and transmits it back to the software publisher without informed consent by the computer user," according to "PC World." And you know what? That's sounds exactly like WGA. I guess I'm not clear on what the point of this debate is.

Intel's Core 2 Duo on Tap

On July 27, Intel will unveil its Core 2 Duo microprocessor, a release that puts the final nail in the coffin of the venerable Pentium line of processors. Compared with Pentium-based chips, Core 2 Duo chips offer better performance and use less power. More importantly, they outperform AMD's well-regarded microprocessors, a feat that Intel hasn't been able to accomplish in years. The desktop-oriented version of the Core 2 Duo, code-named Conroe, will be the focus of the July 27 launch. Intel is also planning Core 2 Duo processors for notebook computers and servers due in August and September, respectively. Could Intel be staging a sudden comeback? I think Intel just might.

Intel Lays Off 1000 Workers

Speaking of Intel, the microprocessor giant also has other strategies for turning its financial tide: It's laying off 1000 employees, or 1 percent of its 103,000 workers, a move the company says will streamline its business and save money over the long haul. I guess that's one way to do it. But if laying off 1000 people saves a bit of money, wouldn't unloading, say, 50,000 employees save even more? OK, I'm joking. But why does Intel need more than 100,000 employees? That's insane.

Microsoft Ships Windows Fundamentals

This week, Microsoft unveiled its latest Windows version--calm down, kids, it's not Vista--a low-end version of XP targeted at older "legacy" PCs. Foolishly dubbed Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs, the new OS version aims to provide customers the same security benefits as XP but on systems that, quite frankly, aren't powerful enough to run a full version of XP. However, Windows Fundamentals, originally code-named Eiger, isn't a full client OS. Instead, it's sort of a hybrid thin-client OS, on which some code runs locally while some runs on a Windows server. Windows Fundamentals is available to only corporations via Software Assurance (SA), Microsoft's volume licensing scheme.

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