WinInfo Short Takes: Week of July 30

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Mark's progress, when squirrels attack, Vista hits 60m in sales, a new Zune (duh), Visual Studio 2008 Beta 2, software + services, TiVo lowers the boom on Media Center, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

It's been a busy week. Yesterday, my son Mark finally had his new cochlear implant turned on. The results may seem somewhat anti-climatic, but this is the best case scenario: He is hearing beeping sounds in place of actual sounds from that side. This indicates that it can work, which is great news, and over time, hopefully, it will begin working better. The thing is, this side of his head has been silent for several years, so there was always the chance that nothing would happen. Now, he just needs to keep it on and hope for the best. Speaking of which, in the absolute best case scenario, this second implant might eventually surpass the quality of the first one. I don't want to hope for that, but you never know. (Worst case is nothing changes.) Certainly, that he can hear at all is a miracle and he does amazingly well with just the one. Anyway, just a short update: Mark is doing fantastic, and since healing up has returned to a normal summer of sports and swimming.

This one was like a scene from a Chevy Chase movie, which is, of course, why I'm even mentioning it. We sometimes leave our back garage door open at night and lately we've been aware of a sparrow flying in and out of the garage and squawking at us when we use the grill. So the other day I went in there to see if there was a nest and, sure enough, up in the corner, pretty well hidden, was a tiny nest. Hmm. So I grabbed a flashlight and a ladder and investigated. Yup, three tiny featherless baby birds. So we've been forced to just leave the door open. This morning, over a bowl of cereal and the newspaper, I saw a squirrel in there, so I went in to scare it out. I guess I scared it too well because it suddenly launched out of its hiding place and landed right on my knee. Straddling my leg like it was a small tree trunk, the little rodent and I had a brief eye-to-eye moment (it's unclear which of us was more surprised by the appearance of the other) and then he was off, scrambling out of the garage and leaving me with a couple of perfect little squirrel scratches on my leg. I mean, they're like little hand prints. Unreal.

Leo and I recorded a live episode of the Windows Weekly ( podcast this week on TalkShoe. We're going to be off for the next two weeks of separate travel-related issues.

Speaking of which, my family is leaving for France on Monday night. We'll be there for four weeks and doing a home-swap like last year. A family from Paris is staying in our home. While there, I'll be working as normal for the most part, but thanks to the six-hour time change, my schedule will let me go into town or wherever each day, and then be home by 3:00pm (9:00am in Boston) to start work. We're actually staying in Fontenay suis Bois, a suburb of Paris, and very close to some friends, which will be nice.

Short Takes

Vista Hits 60 Million in Sales

Microsoft sold 60 million copies of Windows Vista by the end of June 2007, making this supposedly lukewarm upgrade the fastest selling version of Windows ever created. And finally, the company publicly acknowledged a fact that I wish it had been more upfront with months ago: Windows Vista "eclipsed the entire installed base of Apple in the first five weeks that this product shipped," Microsoft COO Kevin Turner said yesterday. Exactly: That's the kind of healthy competitive truth that the company should tout more often. Microsoft also noted that the installed base of Windows-based computers will hit 1 billion machines within the next 12 months, a massive milestone that means there will be more PCs on earth than automobiles, according to the software maker.

Not News: New Zune Model(s) this Year
It's unclear to me why this generated any press, given two basic facts. First, Microsoft publicly said last year that we can expect new Zune models in time for the 2008 holiday season. Second, no one seems to care much about the Zune anyway. I guess once the Vista SP1 silliness from last week died down, the bloggers needed another non-story to trade around the Web, and this is it: Microsoft will indeed ship a second-generation Zune MP3 player this year in time for the holidays. And that's all we know, so the speculation starts with bigger hard drives and a flash-based model. You know, exactly the same information that was tossed around late last year. Wake me up when you actually know something about a new Zune model, please.

Microsoft Ships Major Beta Milestone Version of New Developer Tools
Microsoft on Thursday shipped the Beta 2 versions of Visual Studio 2008 and the .NET Framework 3.0, as well as a Release Candidate (RC) version of Silverlight, its Web application development environment. Microsoft is so confident in the quality of these pre-release products that they're instituting a "Go Live" license for who wish to use them in production environments. Microsoft expects to complete each by the end of the year, but if you want to check them out, you can do so via these links.
Visual Studio 2008 Beta 2
.NET Framework 3.0 Beta 2
Silverlight RC

Surprise! Microsoft Still Unclear on "Software + Services" Strategy
So Microsoft made the big but surprisingly vague announcement recently that it would begin transforming its core product lines into "software + services" products that would compete both with traditional desktop applications as well as Internet "cloud" services such as those offered by online giant Google. The real surprise, of course, is that the company honestly has no idea how it's going to make it all work yet. Yesterday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said they would need 3-10 years, depending on the product, to make this transition, but he couldn't help himself and still expressed surprise that people would want to do all their computing online. "People tend to get weird and extreme about this," he said. "Does everything move to the cloud? I think that is wrong-minded." And that, sir, is the moment at which you jumped the shark, the moment at which this generation's steam locomotive maker denounced the coming generation of gas-powered automobiles. We expect Microsoft to be at the forefront of the PC revolution, not following along with the rest of the pack. Here's a head's-up, Steve. We're not there yet. But we will be. And you should be leading the charge, not running around wondering what just happened.

TiVo Finally Lowers Price of HD DVR
In what might be the most dramatic competitive move against Microsoft's Media Center software yet, TiVo this week unleashed a $300 HD (high definition) TiVO digital video recorder (DVR) box with CableCard support, meaning that it can largely replace your existing cable box. (Well, aside from a few niceties like On Demand.) To get this kind of functionality from the Microsoft camp, you'd have to spend $1500 or more on a high-end Media Center, which is considerably more than the TiVo, even when you factor in the monthly service fees. Years ago, Microsoft had to decide between delivering Media Center via a simple dedicated device (like the TiVo or Xbox 360) or the more complex but more powerful PC. It chose the PC, and increasingly that's looking like a bad decision. I really like Media Center and use it every day. But I can tell you that I'll be getting one of these new TiVos when we get back from France. Don't be surprised to see one of Media Center's strongest advocates making a lifestyle change. DVR-wise, that is.

Video Game Sales Up in June. Well, Not for Microsoft
Sales of video games in the US rose 31 percent in June (year over year) to $1.1 billion, with all three consoles showing strong gains. That said, the competitive landscape remains the same as it has all year: The underpowered and thoroughly uninteresting (to me, anyway) Nintendo Wii continues to dominate, while the Xbox 360, and to a much lesser extent, the Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3), pick up the scraps. Nintendo sold 381,000 Wiis in the US in June (up 13 percent from the previous month), compared to 198,000 360's (up 28 percent) and 98,500 PS3s (up 20 percent). Nintendo is also coming on strong in the portable game market, where the DS sold 562,000 units in the month, compared to just 230,000 units for the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) which, yes, I prefer to the Nintendo. It's like the early 1990's all over ago, with Nintendo dominating and everyone else just trying to catch up.

Blockbuster will be Netflix's Viet-Nam
Blockbuster is the largest retail distributor of rental DVDs in the United States, but with direct mail competition from Netflix and an emerging group of digital distribution offerings appearing in recent years, the company had to change or die. And change it did: Blockbuster now offers a service that is identical in both price and functionality to what you can get with Netflix, but with one crucial advantage: You can return DVDs that are mailed to at a local Blockbuster and get a free rental. And since Blockbuster supplies regular free rental coupons via its Web site, the savings are even better: For every two movies I get via mail from the service, I usually get three free rentals from the store, or about 6 free rentals a month. What this all boils down to is that anyone still using Netflix should be looking at Blockbuster, because they can offer one thing--a local store---that Netflix cannot. And while getting the movies you want delivered to the house is cute, sometimes you want a particular movie. And on those nights, it's nice having a local alternative. Netflix is already losing customers to Blockbuster and has had to lower prices to match what Blockbuster is doing. Mark my words: Blockbuster will be Netflix's Viet-nam.

CinemaNow Goes Vista, Adds Xbox 360 Support
And speaking of an emerging group of digital distribution offerings for movies, one of the pioneers in this space, CinemaNow, this week updated its PC-based software with two key pieces of functionality. First, it's now compatible with the Xbox 360, so you can download movies to your PC and then view them on the 360 over a home network. Second, the Burn-to-DVD feature, which lets you create normal DVD movies from downloaded videos, now works in Windows Vista. (What took so long?) Services like CinemaNow and MovieLink have been around for several years, and it's unclear why they never really took off. But if you haven't looked at these services in a while, now is the time to do so: They're getting better all the time.

Xbox 360 HD DVD Player Drops to Just $179
Microsoft this week dropped the price of its Xbox 360 HD DVD Player (which, by the way, also works with Windows-based PCs) from $199 to $179. That's nice, but the best part is that they're now offering a slew of free HD movies with the device, too. Where it originally came with just "King Kong," the new HD DVD Player packaging offers five free movies of your choice from a collection of 15 popular movies via a mail-in offer. This promotion lasts from August 1 to September 30, 2007. If you were looking to make the move to HD DVD, this is an interesting and inexpensive way to do so.

Verizon Comes Around, Backs Google Plan for Radio Spectrum
After trying to sabotage Google's efforts to open up an emerging part of the radio spectrum in the United States, broadband provider Verizon has apparently had a change of heart. This week, the communications giant essentially agreed that Google's recommendations for the spectrum--essentially that they should be open to any devices and any applications, and not locked to just the subset of services offered by the wireless provider--should be adopted. Verizon offered a few caveats to this approach--for example, that the wireless provider who does purchase the spectrum not be required to guarantee that everyone works properly--but its turnaround is quite admirable, if self-serving. Is this the first step to a first-class wireless infrastructure in the US? You know, I think it could be.

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