WinInfo Short Takes: Week of March 16

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including New England weather, a Hotmail outage, IE 8 performance, EU vs. Microsoft and IE bundling, Microsoft settles an Xbox lawsuit, Microsoft's "Crazy Eddie" pricing, and much, much more...

WinInfo Blog

As is always the case after a few straight weeks of travel, it's nice to be home for a change. That said, the weather has been positively schizophrenic. 60 degrees over the weekend, followed by snow on Monday, that kind of thing. This isn't unusual, I guess--winter often goes out kicking and screaming around here--but given the amount of snow we've had this year, it's just hard to take. I need Spring now. And it's just not happening.

I had a dream last night that we moved ... to the 1950s. In the dream, my wife was curiously, even unreasonably, upset about the whole thing, especially about the telecommunications limitations of the day. In fact, I'm still vaguely upset with her over this. She doesn't understand why.

Leo and I recorded the Windows Weekly podcast at our regular Thursday time, so it should be available by the end of the weekend as always.

But wait, there's more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed, and the SuperSite Blog.

Short Takes

Hotmail suffers outage, users take to streets with pitchforks, torches
Microsoft's Windows Live Hotmail service, more commonly known simply as Hotmail, suffered a global outage for several hours on Thursday, leading me to suggest a new name for the service: Notmail. But seriously folks, in the wake of two smaller Gmail outages and the attendant uproar over the potential collapse of western civilization that followed, I'm curious why this Hotmail outage wasn't a bigger deal. How bad was the outage? Eager Web mail fans had to resort to the indignity of using--gasp--Twitter to express their outrage, which is sort of like using a telegram to complain about the slow delivery of postal mail, when you think about it. My opinion about this is simple. Outages happen. Let's move on, shall we?

Microsoft: IE 8 is as fast, if not faster, than all competing browsers
It's interesting to compare how Microsoft and Apple market their respective products. When Apple announced the beta version of its Safari 4 browser last week, it made sweeping claims like "world's fastest browser," "more than four times faster," and "up to 30 times faster than IE." Well, Microsoft is gearing up to ship its next browser, Internet Explorer (IE) 8, sometime soon, and it's addressing the performance issues as well. It's just being a lot humbler than Apple. As usual. "Internet Explorer is fast, just like other browsers," the company claims, using thorough testing against all major browser competitors as its proof. "Internet Explorer 8 loads faster on 5 of the top 10 web sites, and 12 of the top 25. It's faster on three times as many sites as Firefox. And one-third more sites than \[Google\] Chrome." Unlike Apple, Microsoft provides a whitepaper describing its exact methodology and results: It uses real-world Web sites to test and not micro-benchmarks that are meaningless in the real world. You know, like Apple does.

EU gives Microsoft more time to come up with excuses
Is it me, or is the EU's stance towards Microsoft softening in ever-obvious ways over time? After years of blustery talk and increasing litigation, the EU this week gave Microsoft an extension, to April 21, to respond to objections about the bundling of Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows. The timing is interesting, as Microsoft last week revealed that its coming Windows 7 OS will allow Windows users, for the first time in a decade, to optionally remove IE from the system. My guess is that this move alone will mitigate all of the EU's bundling concerns, though you never know with those guys. I guess this is where we find out if there's any common sense over there or not.

Microsoft settles Xbox patent case
Microsoft this week settled a patent infringement lawsuit in which a New York firm was seeking $90 million in damages from the software giant. The company, PalTalk Holdings, claimed that Microsoft's original Xbox video game console and the "Halo" video game titles violated two of its patents. The terms of settlement have not been disclosed but PalTalk is said to be "quite pleased with the outcome," which suggests that some silly amount of money exchanged hands. PalTalk bought the patents in question for less than $200,000, clearly with the intention of making a profit by suing Microsoft. Sometimes I just weep for America.

Microsoft goes "Crazy Eddie" with its corporate customers
Microsoft this week cut the price of its Open Value/Software Assurance licensed software products by up to 25 percent in a bid to spur spending during the worst economic downturn in its history. The sale effects corporate software like Exchange Server, Office Communications Server, SQL Server, Office SharePoint Server, Visual Studio, Office Project, and the like, and typical savings are in the 15 to 25 percent range. For more information about this sale, which is being marketed through a "Simplify and Save" program, check out the company's Microsoft Incentives Web site.

Attackers target unpatched Excel flaw
Which makes a lot more sense than targeting a patched flaw, though they do that as well. Microsoft this week warned users that hackers are exploiting a previously unknown security hole in its popular Excel spreadsheet software by spreading booby-trapped Excel files around the Internet. This particular vulnerability is notable because it affects all currently supported Excel versions, even those that run on the Mac. (And really, isn't it cute that one of the few Mac vulnerabilities out there right now would be Microsoft's fault?) "This vulnerability is one that we had not seen before," a confident-sounding posat on the Excel team blog reads. "It turns out that this vulnerability exists in the old Excel binary .xls format and not the new .xlsx format. Opening the malicious spreadsheet triggers the vulnerability." Microsoft says it's not yet sure what the point of the exploit is, but they're working on it. Should this prove serious enough, the company could post an out-of-band fix. Otherwise, they'll wait for a coming regularly-scheduled security update.

Microsoft shutting down its Web site analytics solution
Microsoft quietly announced this week that it will not ever bring its Microsoft adCenter Analytics solution out of beta but will instead shutter the service: It's now closed to new customers, though existing users can continue using it through December 31. Microsoft adCenter Analytics was originally designed to provide Web site owners with details reports of the activities of their readers and the performance of their advertising and it competed with similar solutions from Google and others. "We can be of most value to advertisers and publishers by offering a tailored solution that meets more specialized needs," a posting on the adCenter blog reads, suggesting that Microsoft will continue working in this space, but perhaps only for sites that are hosted on its own solutions, and not the wider Web.

Microsoft goes green
Microsoft says it will reduce its carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2012 by improving energy usage in its facilities, reducing air travel, and increasing its use of renewable energy. It will also support the creation of software that will help address climate change issues, thus ensuring that its Redmond campus doesn't become the next Atlantis when the Pacific Ocean reclaims much of western Washington state as the polar ice cap melts. But fear not, construction fans: Microsoft is also continuing work on a $1 billion project to expand its Redmond campus dramatically. Maybe if they keep expanding, at least part of it will one day be beach-front property instead of submerged. Cross your fingers now.

Apple to detail next-gen iPhone software
Apple next week will provide the first "sneak peek" at iPhone Software 3.0, the next generation software for its smart phone devices. At a special event being hosted for the media on March 17, Apple will discuss changes to the iPhone's software, explain new developer and App Store features, and, it is expected, perhaps even unveil a next-generation iPhone device. Certainly, the Cupertino company is interested in maintaining iPhone momentum, which has been absolutely spectacular overall so far: Apple has sold over 17 million iPhones since mid-2007 and 500 million applications from the mobile App Store. Still, there's competition from Microsoft, RIM, Nokia, and others looming, so it makes sense for Apple to keep running on that treadmill. My expectation is that next week will be very, very interesting.

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