An irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Microsoft Ships Freestyle Beta
Microsoft shipped its first Freestyle beta kits this week. The kits include PCs equipped with Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1), Freestyle digital media software, a TV interface card, and a remote control. The Freestyle beta is something of an anomaly for Microsoft because of its hardware requirements, and representatives of the company's eHome Division, which is responsible for Freestyle, say that the initial limited beta will determine how future betas proceed. Freestyle won't ever be available for free download but could ship with Freestyle-oriented hardware packages--consisting of the TV card, remote control, and remote interface--in addition to new Freestyle-type PCs.
Windows "Switchers" Were Solicited, Paid
It turns out that Apple's latest ad campaign, in which former Windows users explain why they moved to the Mac, is less than honest. Contrary to comments made by CEO Steve Jobs last week, Apple solicited the ex-Windows users featured in the ads--the users didn't approach the company first. Furthermore, the participants were paid to be in the ads and will receive royalties each time their ad airs. I don't think any of this would be noteworthy if Jobs hadn't implied that the users approached Apple instead of the other way around.
QuickTime Usage Better than Thought
Speaking of Apple, here's some good news for the company. Apple's QuickTime media player will soon see a dramatic uptick in usage, thanks to a Web statistics company's admission that it had erroneously miscounted QuickTime users. On July 1, the Nielsen//NetRatings service will release new market-share figures that will include an expected 200 percent to 400 percent jump for QuickTime. Unfortunately for Apple, even a change of that magnitude won't help it beat market leaders RealNetworks and Microsoft. In the mindshare battle, however, the revised statistics are a coup.
Microsoft Posts Office Updates
Microsoft Office XP and Microsoft Office 2000 users will want to head over to the Microsoft Web site and download the latest security patches for those products, which address recently discovered vulnerabilities in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word (2000 and 2002 versions). The patches also incorporate all previous fixes.
Microsoft Sued Over Corona Technology
A company called Burst.com has filed a lawsuit against Microsoft, alleging that Microsoft's upcoming Windows Media technology (code-named Corona) uses misappropriated trade secrets. Furthermore, the suit alleges that Microsoft illegally convinced Burst.com's technology backers, including Intel, to stop supporting Burst.com. At issue is Burst.com's "faster than real time" technology, which largely overcomes streaming buffering problems by feeding more media data than the player requests. Corona uses a similar method to overcome buffering problems. However, Microsoft says that its Corona technology was developed in-house. I'm not quite sure what to make of this squabble, beyond a gut feeling that the two companies could indeed have developed a similar approach to overcoming a technical problem. But the coercion issue is another matter, especially given Microsoft's recent legal problems. Stay tuned.
Microsoft Ships New Mac IE
This week, Microsoft delivered a minor upgrade to the Mac version of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). The upgrade takes advantage of Mac OS X's Quartz rendering technology to dramatically improve the quality and readability of onscreen text. Other Mac browsers, such as The Omni Group's OmniWeb and Opera Software's Opera, already support the feature and have used it to justify their cost. So let's see: Microsoft is adding to its free browser features that people pay for in other vendors' products. Where have we seen this strategy before?
MSN, Verizon in DSL Deal
This week, Microsoft and Verizon Wireless announced a deal that will bring MSN DSL service to Verizon's customers beginning next spring. According to the companies, the high-speed Internet service will use Verizon's data pipes and feature an MSN Web portal with exclusive content. MSN is also partnering with Verizon to bring MSN content to mobile phones, but the DSL deal, of course, is much bigger. Previously, MSN worked with Qwest Communications on DSL deployments, but Verizon is now MSN's number-one partner in that area.
Powerful New iPAQs to Debut Next Week
Hewlett-Packard (HP) will unleash a new line of iPAQ Pocket PC devices next week. The new devices will feature more powerful processors and screens than the current units. However, to take advantage of the wealth of iPAQ-compatible hardware add-ons, the devices will retain the basic look and feel of the current units, which are sold under the Compaq name. The devices support transflective screens, similar to those on some Sony CLIE devices, that enable easier outdoor use. But they will also carry hefty price tags: The HP units will cost from $650 to $750. Yikes!
Sun Giving Windows Server Users A Free Gift
Sun Microsystems announced this week that it will provide its Sun ONE Application Server for free to users of Windows Server 2002. Sun hopes this move will eliminate the key advantage of Microsoft's application server, which comes free as part of Windows. Sun ONE Application Server works with Windows 2000 and Microsoft SQL Server and is compatible with various competing database servers.
IBM Drops Linux Support for Thinkpads
In a curious move, given its otherwise stellar support of Linux, IBM is dropping support for the open-source solution from its line of ThinkPad laptops effective immediately. The decision to terminate support was purely financial, with IBM dropping funding for the project and laying off the people who worked in that group. Incidentally, in IBM-speak, this decision is referred to as a "resource action." Outside of IBM, we call it boneheaded.
Microsoft Posts Cool New Web Development Tool
ASP.NET coders will want to check out a cool new free development tool called Web Matrix, which includes a WYSIWYG development environment, Microsoft SQL Server management capabilities, and mobile-application creation features, all wrapped up in a tiny 1.2MB download of managed code goodness. I was at Microsoft this week for a technical workshop and learned that the company will use Web Matrix to test features intended for the next Visual Studio version. For more information, head over to the ASP.NET Web site.
Software Update Services Now Available
What used to be Windows Update Corporate is now available as Software Update Services (SUS), a corporate solution for managing the download and installation of crucial security fixes on client computers. SUS consists of a server component that sits inside your corporate firewall and interacts with Windows Update to download crucial updates, which your local clients can then download from your server. Administrators can selectively approve content to be rolled out to desktops and manage how the SUS servers interoperate with Windows Update. For more information and the free download, visit the Microsoft Web site.
Microsoft Addresses High-Speed-Wireless Concerns
Last week, I noted that Microsoft doesn't support 802.11a, but the company contacted me to set me straight. Here's the story: Microsoft is currently granting Windows XP Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) certification to equipment that uses either the Wi-Fi (the 802.11b wireless standard) or the faster Wi-Fi5 (802.11a) standard. For future versions of Windows, Microsoft is considering requiring dual-band support for Wi-Fi5 to pass future WHQL tests (i.e., to ensure backward compatibility for Wi-Fi, or 802.11b). The company is working with industry standards organizations such as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) and industry partners to establish a reasonable timeline for this dual-band requirement to go into effect. There you go.