WinInfo Short Takes: Week of March 12 - 09 Mar 2007

As I was watching my son Mark puking his guts out all over the bathroom floor (so close, yet so far) at 3:00 am this morning, a surprisingly happy thought occurred to me. OK, he's sick. But he's not going to school on Friday either, and that means my weekend is starting a little early this week. That's right: We're playing video games all day today. This news was met enthusiastically by Mark, as you'd expect, but not so enthusiastically by my daughter, who announced, "that's not fair" as she shuffled off to school. Of course, she's the only one who slept through the night, so I guess it's a matter of perspective.

The next episode of the Windows Weekly podcast should be up soon. Leo and I finally got to chat with Microsoft's David Caulton, a consumer strategist on the Zune team. Dave and I go way back, and hopefully this discussion will go a long way to explaining what Microsoft is trying to accomplish with Zune.

I don't usually do this sort of thing, but the magazine is hosting a cool contest, and the winner actually gets to go to Cancun. Here's the story: IT pros can test their skills about the upcoming Windows Server "Longhorn" release and possibly win a trip to Mexico by entering the ChampFest contest launched this week by Windows IT Pro magazine. "Longhorn" ChampFest tests IT pros' knowledge about virtualization, Terminal Services, security, and IIS through a series of short online quizzes. IT pros who succeed in the online contest will compete in another round of quizzes at the Windows Server "Longhorn" Roadshows visiting 16 cities this spring. Winners of the district finals will get an expenses-paid trip to compete in the ChampFest Finals at the Microsoft Windows Server "Longhorn" event later in 2007. The grand prize winner will receive an all-expenses paid trip to Cancun for six days. To take the online quizzes and learn more about the Windows Server "Longhorn" roadshows, go to the Windows IT Pro Web site.

I might be appearing at one of those road shows, by the way: Though I'm busy for much of the time the road shows are happening, I think I'll be going to the final one, in Denver.

Microsoft Reveals Live for Windows Pricing

As you probably know, Microsoft will soon launch a Windows version of its Xbox Live service, so that Windows gamers can compete against each other and, in some cases, against Xbox 360-based gamers. This week, the company announced pricing for the service, which will be called Live for Windows Vista. As with the Xbox 360 version of the service, the Silver version will be free, while a Gold version will cost $49.99 and allow for online deathmatching. If you're already an Xbox Live subscriber, you're already in: The services are interchangeable, and achievements you are awarded in one will reflect in the other. Sounds interesting, and when Halo 2 for Windows Vista finally ships, we should be able to check it out. I can't wait.

In Rare Move, Microsoft to Patch No Bugs in March

For the first time since September 2005, Microsoft will issue no patches on its regularly scheduled monthly patch day, set for March 13. This is interesting, since the software giant is currently investigating almost a dozen vulnerabilities in various products. Microsoft explains: "There are many factors that impact the length of time between the discovery of a vulnerability and the release of a security update, and every vulnerability presents its own unique challenges," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "Microsoft continues to investigate potential and existing vulnerabilities in an effort to help protect our customers. Creating security updates that effectively and comprehensively fix vulnerabilities is an extensive process involving a series of sequential steps. All updates need to meet testing standards in order to be released. This ensures that our customers can confidently install these updates in their environment." There you go.

Microsoft Opens TechFest

Microsoft this week held its annual TechFest, a confab held at its Redmond campus where Microsoft researchers can show off the next-generation technologies they're working on. As you might expect, the future as portrayed by Microsoft is quite bright. I'm not sure the details are all that important, given the forward-looking nature of the technologies and Microsoft's historic inability to translate cool research into cool product features. (Let's be fair here: production automobiles seldom are as nice looking as their prototypes either.) Anyway, TechFest is opening up a bit. This year, people outside the company were allowed in, though the best stuff was saved for employee-only events later in the week.

Microsoft Announces Bigger Xbox 360 Memory Unit

I'm trying to resist jokes about unit size, but you know how it goes. This week, Microsoft announced that it will soon increase the size of its Xbox 360 Memory Unit, a removable Flash RAM-based storage device, from 64 MB to 512 MB. The 512 MB version of the card will include a full copy of the game "Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved" and cost $49.99. The 64 MB part will still be available for a reduced price of $29.99. Apparently, that one is for gamers who truly believe that size doesn't matter. Sorry.

Microsoft Sends HD Photo Format to Standards Body

Microsoft began the process of standardizing its HD Photo format (formerly called Windows Media Photo) this week, in a bid to provide digital photography fans with a picture format that offers much better quality than JPEG with none of the licensing hassles. "Microsoft intends to standardize the technology and will be submitting HD Photo to an appropriate standards organization shortly," the company said in a statement. A previous attempt at finding a JPEG replacement, JPEG-2000, never really took off, and if Microsoft is to be believed, HD Photo could be the real thing. Microsoft and Adobe even shipped an HD Photo compatibility plug-in for Adobe Photoshop CS2 and CS3 this week so users could check it out. Sounds like a plan.

In Copyright Debates, It's Google vs. Microsoft

This week, Microsoft lashed out at Google, complaining that the search giant takes a "cavalier" approach to copyright protection. At issue is Google's new book, video, and software services, which Microsoft says violate the rights of content owners. "Companies that create no content of their own, and make money solely on the backs of other people's content, are raking in billions through advertising revenue and IPOs," Microsoft associate general counsel Thomas Rubin said this week. "Google takes the position that everything may be freely copied unless the copyright owner notifies Google and tells it to stop." Despite Google's corporate motto--"do no evil"--it's pretty clear the company is up to some nefarious activities. But seriously, I think we're past the time where we can just blindly trust Google to do the right thing. And clearly, the law needs to catch up with the Web 2.0 way of doing things.

Apple Ships iTunes 7.1 with Partial Vista Compatibiltiy

Apple this week shipped a slightly updated version of its iTunes digital music jukebox, version 7.1, that addresses some (but not all) of the compatibility issues the software has with Windows Vista. Apple iTunes 7.1 might be enough for Vista users who were frustrated that the software wasn't working properly before (especially with iPod synchronization), but there are still a few issues, including iPod ejecting from Windows Explorer, incorrectly displayed graphics and text, contacts syncing, and 64-bit support. Hey, at least they're trying. It's not like Vista has been out for months or anything.

Xbox Live Hits 6 Million

Microsoft's Xbox Live online gaming service continues its domination of the almost non-existent competition: This week, Microsoft announced that there are now over 6 million registered Xbox Live subscribers, a milestone that occurred four months ahead of its predictions. Since its inception in November 2002, gamers have logged over 2.3 million hours online playing games against others, and the most popular title, still, is Halo 2 (responsible for 710 million of those hours). Microsoft expects Xbox Live usage to grow rapidly, thanks to recent additions such as TV and movie downloads and the availability of more online-enabled casual games.

Executives Flee Windows Live

As if we didn't have enough indications that Microsoft's Windows Live service was floundering, this week, two of the services fled the company. Blake Irving, the corporate vice president for the Windows Live unit, announced his retirement; he'll leave by mid-year. And Christopher Payne, vice president of Microsoft's Windows Live Search group, is leaving Microsoft to start his own company. So, are these events indications of wider problems or just coincidental. I guess we'll find out over time, but what kills me is that the Windows Live stuff is actually decent, or even better than decent. That Microsoft has not been able to capitalize on it is almost tragic.

First Sucker, er ah, Company Licenses Microsoft Protocols

Microsoft this week said that Quest Software has become the first licensee of the Windows Server protocols it was required to supply as part of the European Union (EU) antitrust decision. Coming as it is three full years after the decision, one might logically assume that the protocol license program, which includes the infamously incomplete documentation you've been reading about for so long, hasn't exactly been a huge success. And that assumption is likely correct: Though the protocol licensing was aimed at helping Microsoft's competitors achieve better interoperability with Microsoft's server software, it turns out that Quest is, in fact, a Microsoft partner. Yeah.

Sony Looking at Lower-Cost PS3

Sony said this week that it is trying to lower production costs of its epically expensive PlayStation 3 (PS3) videogame console by using less expensive chips. Hey, that's great. But I have an idea: How about actually shipping the console in volume first? Despite a late 2006 "launch," Sony has never made the PS3 available in volume, and disappointed videogame fans have been forced to turn to rival systems like the similar Xbox 360 or the cute and fuzzy Nintendo Wii. If Sony's secret plan is to aggravate and turn away potential customers, they're doing a bang-up job. This is a great example of how you can take a dominant and established brand and just flush it right down the toilet. Heck, they did the same thing with the Walkman, so maybe this shouldn't be a surprise.

US Readers: Don't Forget, DST This Weekend

Finally, a reminder: The United States is jumping into Daylight Savings Time (DST) three weeks earlier than usual this year, so don't forget to set your clocks one hour ahead this Saturday night. The early changeover, which has been described as a "mini-Y2K," is likely to wreck havoc with electronic schedules in numerous markets around the world, so don't be surprised when you wake up Sunday morning to the sounds of robots and flesh-eating zombies, battling for control of the remains of the Earth. And on that happy note, have a great weekend. :)

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