WinInfo Short Takes: Week of July 28, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, a summer vacation in Ireland, news from Microsoft's annual analysts meeting, a Windows Vista blind taste test, Microsoft's designs on Apple, some Google-oriented R&D, Yahoo! closure, and much more...
WinInfo Blog

My family and I are heading off to Ireland today (Friday) for about two and a half weeks. As with this past two summers, we're doing a home swap, so a family from suburban Dublin will be living in our home during this time as well. The previous two home swaps (both in suburban Paris) went very well, so we're hoping for the best. But the weeks leading up to a trip like this are stress-ball of cleaning and decluttering that puts everyone on edge. Assuming we get out of Logan Airpoirt without issue tonight--never a given in these days of air travel nightmares--let's just say we're all going to sleep wonderfully tonight no matter how packed the conditions.

Despite the trip, I will be working and from a WinInfo perspective, the news will continue on its normal schedule. My blogging and other articles on the SuperSite might slow down a bit for a few weeks, but I'm not sure how the schedule will work out. On the past two trips like this, the 6-hour time change made for a nice schedule--out and about in the morning and then back by 3:00 pm (9:00 am EST) for work. I may or may not to do that this year, depending on how things work out. Not that it matters, I guess.

As with the previous two home swaps, friends of ours from Dedham are coming out for a week with their kids again, which is always nice. And our friends from Paris are also coming for several days, so we should have a full schedule. We'll be mostly visiting in and around Dublin, but we have a three-day side-trip planned for Northern Ireland as well.

Leo and I recorded another fun episode of the Windows Weekly podcast yesterday. As always, you can expect to see the new episode sometime this weekend. I'm planning on recording the podcast as usual while away, though I suppose that will depend on the Internet connection and so forth. But for now, the plan is to continue as usual.

But wait, there more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed, and the SuperSite Blog.

Short Takes

I Told You So: Windows Vista Wins Big in Blind Taste Test
It has to make you laugh out loud, unless of course you're one of those iHaters who was convinced that Windows Vista really was a piece of junk. Microsoft this week rounded up Windows XP users who professed to have negative impressions about Vista and put them in front of a "new" operating system, codenamed Mohave, showed off its new features, and then gauged their reactions. Over 90 percent of them loved it, which is really interesting, because Mohave is ... get this ... Windows Vista. Which just goes to show you, perception really does go a long way. A tip of the hat to CNET's Ina Fried for breaking the news on this one. It's just good stuff.

Microsoft Wants to Be More Like Apple (You Know, Without the Arrogant Self-Importance)
In a letter to all Microsoft employees this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer discussed a number of initiatives the company will undertake in its next fiscal year (which runs from July to June). One of the more interesting bits involves Apple. This is interesting because Microsoft has conspicuously (and to their detriment, I believe) ignored Apple publicly as a competitive threat in the past. "In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1," he wrote. "But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience. Today, we're changing the way we work with hardware vendors to ensure that we can provide complete experiences with absolutely no compromises. We'll do the same with phones -- providing choice as we work to create great end-to-end experiences." While it's unclear what this change in relationship means exactly, I'm heartened to see Microsoft finally rising up to meet the Apple challenge. This should have happened a few years ago.

Cost of Keeping Up with the Googlers? Oh, About $2.5 Billion a Year
At its annual analysts meeting this week, Ballmer also discussed his plans for competing with Google. Previously, those plans seem to involve jumping around on stage and pointing over to a vague spot in the corner and claiming they were doing something, when, in fact, they were not. This time, Ballmer says, Microsoft will throw $2.5 billion a year into Google-related research and development. "We're going to need to continue to invest until we get greater scale in this business," he said. Steve, you could only have greater scale.

Ballmer: Seriously, We're Over Yahoo! No, Really
Ballmer and other executives also talked up the company's soap opera-esque pursuit of Yahoo! this year, claiming that they are finally "done" with Yahoo! (you know, like Web users). "It didn't work out," Ballmer said. "Fine, we're done. We can move on." Other Microsoft executives weren't as sanguine, and CFO Christopher Liddle went so far as to burn a few bridges while he was at it. "Time passed and value eroded," he said, describing Yahoo! as a "declining asset." "I think the chances of us buying Yahoo ... are so small that they are essentially negligible." Whoa, whoa. Are you saying there's still some chance--however small--that you might actually buy Yahoo!?" Ah, geeze.

Microsoft Taps Facebook to Grow Live Search
With a Yahoo! deal (probably, maybe) not happening, Microsoft has to turn to other more traditional ways of competing with Google in online search. That's right, they're going to buy market share. The first step involves providing Web services and online ads for social networking super-site Facebook, which (unfortunately for Facebook) has a two-year old deal with Microsoft specifying such a relationship. So like a Mafia Don upset that payment is a bit late, Microsoft is going to descend on Facebook and extract what it needs. Hey, you didn't think that Microsoft made a $240 million investment in Facebook for nothing, now did you?

One Online Brand to Rule Them All, Microsoft Says
No, not Google, you clown. Something from Microsoft. Another cute little factoid to come out of the afore-mentioned annual analysts meeting is that Microsoft is working to create a single brand for all of its confusingly named online services. This one is so obvious I'm curious why it didn't happen a long time ago. I happen to prefer the "Live" moniker: It's short, easy to type and remember, and it's not (yet) embarrassing to have as an email address. But I could see where Microsoft might want something a little more, shall we say, Microsoft-centric. Heads up, guys: Your brand is OK, but it's not flying online. Tune down the Microsoft part and try to stop looking like you're trying to be cool. I know, it's hard. But there are branding experts out there. Outside of your company. Use them.

Users Buying Up Low-Cost Versions of Office 2007
In another "I told you so" moment, Microsoft's strategy to spam customers with a million different products versions is apparently not paying off as expected. Right now, you can purchase about 117 different versions of Microsoft Office 2007 and related standalone products. But get this: People are buying the cheap versions. I know, it's shocking when you consider that a top of the line version of Office can set you back over $500 (about the price of a decent PC these days). Microsoft says it's sold 120 million copies of Office 2007 since late 2006, a run rate that is slightly faster than the rate for Office 2003. But the product mix is decidedly down-market, and individuals are buying the low-end "Home and Student" version of the product far more than the more expensive ones. Come on, is this really a surprise?

Fear Not, Windows 7 is "On Track"
And I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief at that one. At its annual analysts meeting, Microsoft execs reiterated that Windows 7 will ship "three years from general availability of Windows Vista," or in very early 2010. Put even more simply, Microsoft has yet to ever change the estimated ship date for Windows 7, even once.

Massive Reorg, Feature Scale-Back at AOL
And yep, AOL is still around in case you were about to ask that very question. In an email message to the troops this week, AOL CEO Kevin "will the last one out turn off the light?" Conroy discussed a huge reorganization of the company while killing a number of AOL products. Among the products being "sunset"-ed are XDrive and AOL Pictures, consumer storage services that apparently never really took off with consumers. (You know, like AOL of late.) AOL is also killing (sorry, "sunset"ing) AIMWorld and MyMobile, and will "complete its HP deployments" of MyAOL. Long story short, this is a company that is looking at increased "distribution and monetization" of its browser toolbar for revenue growth. I'm not a financial expert, but I'd steer clear of this one.

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