WinInfo Short Takes: Week of June 4

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a silly injury, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at "D," Milan stupidity, Windows Live Wave 2 appears, Longhorn Deloaded, Dell layoffs, Google and Apple privacy issues, and much, much more...

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Leo and I weren't able to record an episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this week for reasons that are unclear to me at this point. I think Skype was acting up, or something. I'll reconnoiter with Leo today to see what we can do, but we might have to hold off until next week.

Last week, we celebrated Memorial Day with a three day weekend, which I managed to turn into five days of yard work, complete with high-power fence washing, mowing, spreading four yards of mulch, and assorted other sweat-inducing toils. It actually felt pretty good, to be honest, in sharp contrast with my time at the gym, which never feels particularly good. We also managed to get to the beach twice over the weekend, thanks to surreally nice weather, and cooked out there Sunday. Overall, it was good time, and this shortened week has followed the traditional path, meaning that I haven't felt like doing much and have simply been biding my time until the next weekend.

Part of the reason for this down time, I'm sure, is result of the most un-athletic thing I've done in a long time, which involved trying to jump over a freshly-washed and thus wet fence in order to avoid going around the long way: I ended up slipping, impaling myself on the top, and thudding to the ground in a fetal position. (At least I made it over the top.) I have huge purple bruises in several places now, including up and down my right arm, three on my right hip, and one nasty one on the soft part of the bottom of my foot. I was lucky not to tear the skin, frankly, and was grimly envisioning an afternoon at the hospital. But really, I just feel stupid about the whole thing, given that I was the one who had just washed the fence, so I should have known better. Never underestimate how dumb you can be. Or how dumb I can be, I guess.

And speaking of dumb: Frustratingly, Mass Eye and Ear delayed Mark's cochlear implant surgery yet againMass Eye and Ear delayed Mark's cochlear implant surgery yet again this week. We were originally scheduled for March, to give you an idea of how aggravating this is getting. Through a combination of multi-person incompetence at the hospital and some insurance issues, we're now unsure when we're going to be able to do this. I feel like lashing out at someone for what I hope are obvious reasons. Maybe it's time to write a letter to various administrative bozos at Mass Eye and Ear to remind them that there are real people involved on the other end of their never-ending chain of screw-ups. Really, really frustrating.

Short Takes

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs Meet on Stage, Share Absolutely No Barbs
Gosh, you'd think these two guys had been drinking buddies for the past decade. An almost somnolently calm Bill Gates and a surprisingly nervous-looking Steve Jobs met on stage at the "D: All Things Digital" conference this week and proceeded to wax rhapsodic about each other and the past, disappointing Apple fanatics who were hoping to see their hero lash out at Gates and Microsoft like he does so often from the comfort and safety of Apple's various events. But instead, we were treated to another Jobs, one who is markedly less sure of himself and clearly nervous about being confronted. It was an interesting and somewhat disquieting display. Generally, I would say that Jobs is the better speaker, by far, than Gates. But in this setting, Gates clearly had the upper hand, and he appeared calm and unfazed by the whole thing, deferential and unassuming. Jobs, meanwhile, was visibly shaking almost the entire time. Odd. The only really good quip that came out of the meeting of Tech Titans, meanwhile, was directed at Gil Amelio, the former Apple CEO who Jobs ousted a decade ago after his return to Apple. Jobs said that Amelio once told him that Apple was a sinking ship that had a hole in the bottom. And it was his job to steer that ship in the right direction. Jobs, Gates, and the audience laughed uproariously at that one.

Jobs Gets a "D"
Apple CEO Steve Jobs appeared separately from Bill Gates at the "D" conference as well, and again, it was interesting to see him sputter about when someone was there to trip him up when he played loose with the facts. While Jobs did get one nice quip in without Gates there to humble him--he compared Apple giving Windows users a version of iTunes to "giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell"--that sound bite came only after host Walter Mossberg forced Jobs to admit that the vast majority of iTunes users were running Windows, not Mac OS X. "Statistically," Jobs said, dismissively. "Statistically?" Mossberg retorted. "In reality? In this dimension?" I have to say that I'm not a big Mossberg fan: He sucks up to Apple way too obviously, and too often. But this was a fine moment for the guy, and I give him credit for dragging Jobs right back out of that infamous Reality Distortion Field. Now what kind of CEO would publicly insult the majority of people who use his product? Why, Steve Jobs of course. I guess that's what tough love is like in Cupertino.

What's All the Fuss About Milan?
I've been somewhat astonished by the sheer number of people who seem to have been taken in by Microsoft's promises for Milan, the table-top computing platform. Seriously, you guys know this is the company that's been trying to get pen-based computing working since 1993, right? The company that took five years to develop Windows Vista? The company that brought us Clippy, Microsoft Bob, and WinFS? OK, they didn't deliver WinFS, but maybe that's my point. There is nothing in Microsoft's history to suggest--and I mean absolutely nothing--that they will deliver Milan on schedule or that it will do even a tiny percentage of what they've demonstrated. So why don't you just sit down, take a chill pill, and realize that the Jetsons-like future Microsoft is promising isn't going to happen any time soon? Geesh.

Queuing Up for Windows Live Wave 2: Live Mail, Messenger 8.5, Writer
Microsoft slipped in under its May deadline and delivered the long-awaited public beta of Windows Live Mail, the desktop mail client that it says will supplant both Outlook Express and Vista's Windows Mail. Windows Live Mail looks like a winner after a few days of testing: It features Web mail, POP3, and IMAP support, in addition to RSS and USENET newsgroup support, and you can turn off the advertisements. I'm using it now and will write up a review in the coming weeks. In addition to Windows Live Mail, Microsoft also shipped public betas of Windows Live Messenger 8.5, which is more Vista-like than the previous version, and Windows Live Writer, a blog posting solution that's surprisingly solid.

Windows Live Mail Beta
Windows Live Messenger 8.5 Beta
Windows Live Writer Beta

Microsoft Puts the Deep Freeze on Stupidity
I don't believe I wrote this up in WinInfo previously, but there's been a bizarre effort recently to revive Longhorn build 4074, which Microsoft released years ago to testers ago. Dubbed Longhorn Reloaded, this was an attempt to bring back something that, frankly, wasn't that great to begin with and, obviously, had dubious legal standing. Not surprisingly, Microsoft issued a cease and desist order this week, effectively bringing the effort to a halt. But, and I can't stress this enough, this had to be one of the silliest things I'd ever heard of. Vista today is so much more interesting and full-featured than that old Longhorn beta, and even if they had the source code, the guys involved in this project could never have turned into anything even remotely interesting. It was a just an obviously bad idea to begin with, sorry.

Dell to Lay Off 8,800 Amid Higher-than-Expected Earnings
In a stunning moment of good news/bad news, Dell announced this week that it had earned $759 million on revenues of $14.6 billion, much higher than any analysts had expected, even after a one-time charge of $46 million related to an SEC investigation of the company's accounting practices. But Dell tempered the good news by announcing that it would lay off 8,800 workers, or about 10 percent of its workforce, in the next year in order to save money. I'm a bit surprised that Dell even has 88,000 works, to be honest--that's more than Microsoft, for example--but

Again, Google Runs Afoul of Privacy Advocates
A new Google Maps feature called Street View allows Web users to view areas in and around San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Miami and Denver at, literally, street level, bringing a new level of detail to one of the more successful Web services. There's just one problem: Privacy advocates, and some people who have been shocked to discover their homes made available on the Web in stunning detail, are worried that Google may have gone too far. You can see people in their yards and even in their homes. You can see license plate numbers clearly. You can even see some Stanford co-eds sunbathing in bikinis if you're so inclined (and know where to look). So... is this an invasion of privacy? Google says, naturally, that it takes privacy very seriously, so that should end the debate. Ahem. But the company also says it will remove any offending images if asked. To date, there's no evidence that's actually happened, despite some high profile requests. Hey, it's a beta.

Apple's DRM-Free Tracks in Unexpected Controversy
And speaking of privacy concerns, Apple this week shipped its new iTunes Plus service, which allows iTunes customers to purchase DRM-free tracks for $1.29 (compared to 99 cents for DRM-encoded tracks). Although currently limited to tracks from EMI, the service offers a big bump in quality over non-DRM tracks and could mark the end to DRM as we know it if it's successful. There's just one problem: The DRM-free songs included embedded information that identifies the purchaser, apparently in a bid to help prevent people from free distributing these songs around the Internet. This has privacy advocates up in arms (what doesn't?) but the reality is that the information is easily removed and, honestly, why wouldn't Apple do such a thing? Color me unconcerned.

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