An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Mark progress, the iPhone, terrible problems with the Xbox 360, Windows Live OneCare 2, Google and healthcare, Europe vs. next-gen DVD formats, GPLv3, music sales, and much, much more...
Mid-week holidays are always a bit weird. I spent much of yesterday in a funk because it felt like Sunday but I had to work. Needless to say, I didn't get much done. It's unclear to me why each national holiday in this country isn't just the closest Monday to the actual date: That way, we could always have a three-day weekend. Does that just make too much sense?
So I did manage to get an iPhone last Friday, though I'm happy to say I didn't have to wait in line to make it happen. Indeed, at about 6:15 pm that today, 15 minutes after they went on sale, I decided to just order one from Apple.com, but it turns out they weren't being made available there until 6:00 PST, about three hours later. In a bizarre and wonderful coincidence, I called my friend Kyle because I knew he was waiting in an Apple Store line, and I wanted to see how he did. Turns out he had gotten one already, and had gotten an extra one for me. He said he had read about how lousy my week was last week and figured he'd snag one knowing that if I didn't want it, he'd have no problem finding someone who did. What a guy. Thanks man.
Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly (http://www.twit.tv/ww) podcast this week and as usual, it should be up in the next day or so.
Mark continues to progress, to the point where he's annoying his sister again and starting to get edgy because he can't yet swim or play sports. Last night he was digging around at his incision, which is apparently itchy, and he managed to dig out a stitch, causing a tiny area of the incision to open up a bit. A few frantic calls to the doctor later (and after my wife dismissed my ludicrous idea to "put a band-aid on it"), it was decided that we could just leave it alone. This was exactly what Mark wanted to hear, and I'm guessing he'll be a bit more careful about the incision.
Three-Year Xbox 360 Warranty is Only the First Step, Microsoft
So, I'm obviously ecstatic that Microsoft is finally doing the right thing about the endemic failure rate of its Xbox 360 consoles. Two of the three Xbox 360's I've purchased have failed, one quite quickly, and I've heard from numerous friends and readers about more problems, so I've been beating the drum on this for a long time. However. There's another equally damaging issue for the 360, and I can't believe Microsoft is continuing to ignore this issue: The Xbox 360 is randomly scratching game discs and rendering them inoperable. I've had this happen to me several times, and I've got two game discs that are now completely useless. The damage is physical and obvious, with deep scratches across the entire disc surface. I won't feel completely safe about the 360 until Microsoft addresses this problem too. Come on guys, own up to it: This is not user error. It's a physical manifestation of a yet another hardware defect in your console. To claim otherwise is criminal.
And What's Up with Sales?
While the Xbox 360 continues to be the overall best-selling next-generation game console in the United States, it's certainly not meeting Microsoft's expectations. The company had originally pledged to sell 15 million of the consoles by the end of June 2007, but later revised that figure down to 12 million units. But it turns out that the company has sold just 11.6 million Xbox 360 consoles since its November 20005 launch. Meanwhile, the Nintendo Wii is outselling the 360 in many markets, including the US, since November 2006. I can't imagine this latest news about 360 quality control problems is going to help things. What would help things is if people would simply understand that the Wii is a joke: I'd rather play excellent games on a wobbly console that will be fixed for free than uninteresting games on a lackluster console. Yeah, I'm serious.
Here Comes Windows Live OneCare 2
Microsoft is prepping the imminent release of Windows Live OneCare 2.0, the latest version of its PC security and maintenance subscription service. The new version boasts a number of new features, but the big news this time around is x64 support: That's right, it will finally protect x64 systems. (Though it's unclear right now if it's a single 32-bit executable that happens to work on 64-bit systems, or will come in two versions. My guess is the former.) OneCare 2 also sports multiple PC management, so you can check the health status of other PCs on your network from a single location, printer sharing, and online photo backup. Is it me, or are the feature sets for OneCare 2 and Windows Home Server (WHS) edging ever closer to each other?
Google Tries to Protect Health Industry, Attack Michael Moore
Here's a bizarre one, and I'd like to think you'll be disgusted by this regardless of your political bent: A Google employee who posts to the Google Health Advertising blog this week actually informed potential advertisers from the health care sector that Google could help protect them from negative news arising out of the recent Michael Moore documentary, "Sicko," which blasts the American health care system. (And deservedly so, but let's not get off-topic.) Her post, "Does negative press make you Sicko?" is the type of political polemic you might expect from Fox News, not a supposedly neutral party like Google. "Moore's film portrays the industry as money and marketing driven," the post reads, "and fails to show healthcare's interest in patient well-being and care." Uh, right. Google? Anyone? After the post garnered a lot of negative feedback--you know, kind of like the US healthcare industry--another post appeared from the same over-zealous young employee. "I've learned a few things since I posted," she wrote. "Advertising is an effective medium for handling challenges that a company or industry might have ... advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue. That is Google's opinion." Sure it is.
Europe Probes HD DVD, Blu-Ray
The European Union (EU) is apparently taking a day off from its insane pursuit of Microsoft to tackle other groups engaging in supposedly anticompetitive behavior. This time around, the EU is looking into the companies behind the HD DVD and Blu-Ray next-generation DVD standards to discover whether they are suppressing competition and attempting to coerce Hollywood studios to support their formats. Guys, guys, let me explain how this works: While the EU is a relatively new establishment, back-room deals have been standard practice in Hollywood since, well, since there's been a Hollywood. This is how industry conglomerates make so-called "standards" like MPEG-4, which are "standards" in the sense that all the companies who have a stake in its success have agreed to ratify it as such and then license its use to others. This is how the very studios you're trying to protect push wave after wave of unfiltered crap at moviegoers while endorsing a shadow government-like entity called the MPAA and allowing theaters to charge consumers $4 for a glass of tap water. These guys don't need protection. We need protection from them. And if I understand this investigation as I believe I do, you're only looking at a very small part of the problem. No one buys HD DVD and Blu-Ray movies, and no one ever will. It's time to turn your Sauron-like Eye on the entirety of Hollywood, shake the whole thing down, hose it out, and start anew. Maybe your buddies in the US can help, if they can shake all those Hollywood lobbyists for a few minutes. Unlikely, but you're into vain pursuits, so give it a shot.
Microsoft Denounces GPL 3
And speaking of futile, Microsoft this week said that it was not obligated by the new GNU General Public License version 3, or GPL 3, an agreement which will cover many open source projects going forward. Currently, the Linux operating system is licensed under terms in the GPL 2, which is quite incompatible with GPL 3. And while Microsoft's recent spate of deals with Linux companies is OK under the terms of GPL 2, that won't be the case if Linux moves ahead to GPL 3. No problem, Microsoft says, noting that these recent deals have nothing to do with the GPL. "Microsoft does not grant any implied or express patent rights under or as a result of GPLv3, and GPLv3 licensors have no authority to represent or bind Microsoft in any way," the company noted in a statement. "Microsoft is not a party to the GPLv3 license and none of its actions are to be misinterpreted as accepting status as a contracting party of GPLv3 or assuming any legal obligations under such license."
Hackers Go to Work on iPhone
Apple's iPhone has been on the market for less than a week, but already a number of hackers are working at freeing the device from its Apple and AT&T chains. The most high profile hack allows iPhone users to activate the device--and thus all of its non-phone features--without having to sign up for a two-year agreement with AT&T. But hackers are also looking at more complicated hacks, like getting the device to work on non-AT&T networks, which is understandable, given that AT&T is clearly the weakest link in Apple's iPhone strategy.
Music Sales Continue to Dissolve
I've said it before and I'll say it again: You can point your finger at digital music pirates all you want, but the real reason music sales are plummeting is that the actual content--the junk that music labels are now foisting on consumers--is among the worst ever sold. This week, the music industry continued to suffer because of its decision to push one-hit wonders and pursue digital music lovers, posting yet another decline in sales, this time for the first half of 2007: 229.8 million albums were sold in the US during this time frame, down 15 percent from the same time period in 2006. On the good news front, digital music sales--most of which occur through Apple's iTunes service---were up 49 percent to 413.7 million tracks. Needless to say, digital music sales are doing absolutely nothing to make up the shortfall in traditional CD album sales. But again, I have a solution: Sell. Good. Music. Hey, it worked in the past.