WinInfo Short Takes: Week of March 10, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including MIX'08 in Las Vegas, Apple's iPhone 2.0 changes, Silverlight updates, Windows StartKey, Ultimate PC, Xbox 360 an Blu-Ray, Google and DoubleClick, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

Well, it looks like five straight weeks of traveling have finally caught up with me: I spent most of Thursday in a catatonic state with a nasty fever. I ended up watching Steve Ballmer's MIX keynote from the press room, but fell asleep on the couch like an idiot. So I headed back to my hotel and spent the rest of the day in bed. It was a great time. Well, not really. But the fever finally broke that night, so I feel somewhat normal again.

And in case it's not obvious, if there's a worse place on earth than Las Vegas when you've got a splitting headache and a fever, I'd love to hear about it. I'm going to be hearing the phantom ding-ding-ding sound of those damned casino machines for the next week. Really irritating.

Because of this week's trip, Leo and I weren't able to record the Windows Weekly podcast at our usual time, but fear not: We're recording Saturday night. So it should be up sometime over the weekend.

Short Takes

Apple's iPhone to Gain Exchange Compatibility
It's got to rankle Apple CEO Steve Jobs that the number one request they got for the iPhone was that it be made compatible with Microsoft's Exchange messaging server, but at least the company has the guts to just make it happen. At a special event on Thursday, Jobs announced that it will release an iPhone 2.0 software update this summer that will include support for Exchange features like ActiveSync, over-the-air push email, contacts, calendars and global address lists, remote wipe, password policies and auto-discovery. In other words, the iPhone is finally getting a bunch of features that Windows Mobile devices have had for years. This is a huge advantage for Apple, frankly, because the iPhone is obviously a lot more interesting than any current Windows Mobile devices, and this update effectively removes some key complaints. The world is changing...

Apple Ships iPhone SDK Beta
In addition to Exchange compatibility, Apple also shipped a beta version of its iPhone SDK, a software development kit that will allow anyone to create full-featured applications for the company's popular smartphone-like device. The SDK requires a Mac and Mac development skills, which will initially limit its appeal, but I expect this release to usher in a deluge of iPhone applications regardless, and I'm curious to see how the big players, especially--Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and so on--take advantage of it. Apple says it will ship a non-beta version of the SDK, along with the iPhone 2.0 software required to utilize it, this summer at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC).

MIX'08: Microsoft to Port Silverlight to Nokia Phones
Microsoft announced this week that it would port its Silverlight Web technologies (essentially a .NET-based alternative to Adobe Flash) to various Nokia smart phones. (Microsoft is also porting Silverlight to its own Windows Mobile platform.) Nokia is currently the world's biggest maker of smart phones, with about 53 percent of the market. According to Microsoft, the Nokia port won't be the last.

MIX'08: Microsoft Ships Silverlight 2.0 Beta
While the first version of Microsoft's Silverlight Web browser plug-in was aimed solely at high-quality video, Silverlight 2.0 is decidedly more compelling, giving developers a way to create desktop application-like user experiences on the Web. Microsoft shipped a beta version of Silverlight 2.0 at MIX'08 this week, and while I'm trying really hard not to go overboard here, you need to see some of the applications people are developing to understand how amazing this is. The best example, perhaps, is the work NBC is doing on its Olympics Web site for the upcoming games in Beijing: It's simply amazing. The Hard Rock Café also created an amazing Silverlight front-end to all of the music industry memorabilia it has in its collection. I think what amazes me most about Silverlight is how much it looks like all the early "Avalon" demos Microsoft did for Windows Vista, years ago, when it was still known as Longhorn. Back then, getting effects like that on the desktop was hugely impressive. Now they're doing it on the Web.

Start Me Up: Microsoft to Put User Profiles on USB Keys
ZD Net's Mary Jo Foley reported this week that Microsoft is working on a product called StartKey that will turn USB memory keys into "Windows companions" that users can cart around with them. These keys would include all of your Windows and Windows Live settings, so when you plugged one into a PC, it would be like you were sitting at your own PC. Obviously, this would require some support tech on the PCs you're accessing, so I'm guessing that part of the product will include a software update for Windows Vista. Still, it's an interesting idea, and not just for the emerging markets that are the obvious target market. Foley says that Microsoft began working on the project after agreeing with SanDisk in 2007 to develop something to replace the reviled U3 Smart Technology stuff that currently ships on so many USB keys.

Ultimate PC? Sort Of
Microsoft this week launched a new Web site, Ultimate PC (, which appears to be a companion, of sorts, to the company's ill-fated Ultimate Extras feature in Windows Vista Ultimate. While I give them credit for continuing to push the notion of high-end Windows experiences, I think Microsoft would be better served by fixing the Ultimate Extras mess first. That said, Ultimate PC will apparently be used to provide updates about future Ultimate Extras: That's right, they're supposedly still working on it. We'll see, but right now, I see nothing here to suggest that this won't just die a quiet death in the months ahead.

Blu-Ray Coming to Xbox 360?
Microsoft previously denied that it would ever consider creating a Blu-Ray add-on drive for the Xbox 360, citing the low sell-through rate of the HD-DVD add-on drive. But this week, "The Financial Times" is reporting that Sony is in talks with Microsoft to sell an upcoming version of the Xbox 360 that would substitute the current DVD internal drive for a Blu-Ray unit. Such a model would make the Xbox 360 more competitive with Sony's PlayStation 3 line, which utilizes a Blu-Ray drive. So why would Sony do such a thing? Apparently, the company feels that pushing Blu-Ray is even more important than propping up the PS3, from a revenue perspective. I think this is a fine idea, but only if Microsoft is also able to ship a version of the 360 that is nearly silent: Today's models are far too loud to be consider home theater equipment.

Sony Says Microsoft Blew Its First Year with the Xbox 360
And speaking of Microsoft and Sony, a Sony Computer Entertainment executive said this week that Microsoft wasted its one-year head start with the Xbox 360, which shipped a year before the PS3. "The time that they had to create huge distance and build a massive install base before the PS3 could really take root; that opportunity is over and there's no real capitalization of it," said Sony's Scott Steinberg. "To me that speaks of a failure to broaden their reach beyond the core first person shooter player who was in their back pocket for Xbox." So, he has a point, of course. While one month does not a trend make, the PS3 actually outsold the Xbox 360 in January for the first time, and Microsoft has flailed in the face of surprisingly strong competition from Nintendo. By the time this generation of video game consoles draws to a close, Microsoft may very well find itself in the same position it was in previously: Third place.

EU Ready to Approve Google's Purchase of DoubleClick
According to various reports, antitrust regulators in the European Union (EU) are getting ready to approve Google's controversial purchase of DoubleClick. Google announced its intention to purchase DoubleClick in April 2007, but complaints from competitors such as Microsoft led regulators in the US and Europe to examine the deal a bit more closely. The US approved the purchase in December. Ironically, Microsoft's attempted hostile takeover bid for Yahoo! may very well make the software giant's complaint moot. So much for all those complaints about Google having an unfair advantage in online advertising. Maybe the EU could approve the sale contingent on the Microsoft/Yahoo! bid going through. :)

Gates Falls to 3rd Richest
And finally, you'll be shocked and amused to discover that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is no longer the world's richest man. The reason? Apparently, Microsoft's attempted takeover of Yahoo! has so adversely affected Microsoft's stock price that Gates' fortune fell just enough to drop him from the top spot, the first time he hasn't been there in 13 years. Coming in at number one was Warren Buffet, worth an estimated $62 million, while Mexican communications industry leader Carlos Slim Helu came in second with $60 billion. Gates, with a paltry $58 billion fortune, was third.

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