WinInfo Short Takes: Week of March 18

An irreverent look at some of the week's other news...

Here Comes Da Judge
At the risk of sounding like an old schoolmarm armed with a wooden yardstick, our 1-week break from the Microsoft antitrust trial will be officially over on Monday. That's when the nine nonsettling states and the District of Columbia get their day in court. Then, hearings about the states' stricter remedy proposals will begin, and I expect those hearings to continue for at least a few weeks. Deep breaths, deep breaths ...  

Mira's Dark Side
I'm really excited about Mira, the new remote display technology that Microsoft will debut in Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) this fall. But one thing about Mira troubles me: The technology is slow, very slow. In my hands-on tests at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, the display refresh was pretty lousy, and Microsoft confirmed that anything 3-D related--modern games, primarily--won't work over a Mira connection. Also, if you look at recent shots of Mira from the CeBIT trade show, you'll notice that the Windows UI is in Classic mode, not the newer, more colorful "Windows XP" style. Why? Classic mode requires less bandwidth and, therefore, will display more reliably over Mira's relatively slow wireless connection. Maybe Mira 2 will support a faster wireless standard. 

Digital Insanity: Congress Tries to Stop Media Copying
No offense to the US government, but I think we're all tired of the heavy-handed ways in which our rights are being taken away in the post-9/11 world. Case in point: Congress is considering legislation that would severely limit our ability to copy and trade digital music and movies. The government would make it a crime for companies to sell such content--on audio CDs, DVD movies, or whatever--without copy protection. The goal, of course, is to prevent piracy. But the equally obvious result is that such a law could prevent you from listening to music, or watching movies, that you legally purchased. If I spend $13 to $18 on an audio CD, I want to be able to digitally record that music so that I can listen to it on my PC, in my car, and on a portable audio player if I should so choose. I won't accept anything less than total access to this content, and neither should you. Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina is responsible for this mess, and he must be stopped: Get Mr. Smith on board, it's time to go to Washington and whoop some butt.  

Ballmer: Can't We All Just Get Along?
In Germany for the CeBIT trade show this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that he'd like the company to be a trustworthy partner in a world of trustworthy computing. This persona contrasts sharply with the company's current image of a hungry 800-pound gorilla locked in a cage with a bunch of frightened spider monkeys, but I think we get the idea: If Microsoft's image has been miscast in our minds, perhaps it's time for a kinder and gentler Microsoft. "We have to be a respectful, open, and appropriate competitor," Ballmer said. We could have used this kind of common sense about 6 years ago.

What Microsoft Really Needs to Bundle in Windows ....
... is antivirus software. Now there's something every Windows user needs--unlike Windows Movie Maker, Windows Messenger, and Windows Media Player (WMP). And Microsoft's email server products should perform virus scanning before mail makes it to end users. Think about it.

Microsoft Bay Area Employees Face Smaller Bonuses
As if the company's San Francisco Bay Area employees didn't already feel like second-class citizens in the Microsoft Empire, they're facing a pay cut on August 1. The reason? Microsoft's Bay Area employees had previously enjoyed a 25 percent "geographical pay differential" because of the area's higher cost of living. But with the computer industry in the dumps and Bay Area companies disappearing even more quickly than they arrived during the dot-com boom, Microsoft is dropping the differential to 15 percent. The company's Bay Area employees develop Macintosh software, Ultimate TV, and related technologies.

It's Official: AOL Testing Netscape/Mozilla
Although AOL Time Warner resisted making a public announcement about its decision to use Netscape/Mozilla technology in its AOL online software, the company recently sent beta testers an email confirming the rumor. According to the email, testers can now access a special version of AOL 7.0, code-named Talon, that uses the Netscape/Mozilla "Gecko" rendering engine instead of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). The email announcement led AOL to issue a statement. "AOL is just beginning to test \[Gecko\] now," a company spokesperson said this week. "We've invested significant resources in continuing to develop Gecko, and it is great technology." Oh, and it isn't made by Microsoft, which is key as well.

This Is What Happens When You Use Open Source
A major bug in an open source software (OSS) compression library left Linux systems open to attack this week, but the problem might also affect a wide range of Microsoft's proprietary software, including Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), Windows Messenger, FrontPage, and even DirectX. Microsoft confirmed that a flaw in the zlib software-compression library might affect its products, and said it's investigating the matter. What the company is doing using open source code is unclear, but it isn't the first time the company has pulled in work from other places (ahem).

Xbox Makes a Big Splash in Europe
The Xbox might have gone over like a Godzilla/Mothra rematch in Japan, but Microsoft's launch of the Xbox in Europe this week was much more successful. Microsoft is making 15,000 Xbox units a day to meet European demand, and reports circulated this week that many video-game fans in the UK took the day off from work Thursday to be first in line to pick up the new console. "In about 5 to 10 years time, people will look back at this time as the start of the golden age of gaming," said Microsoft UK marketing manager Richard Teversham. Kind of like we look back at 1990 to 2000 and think about it as the golden age of Microsoft domination.

Microsoft Works with US Government to Curb Cyber-Crime
I'm sure Microsoft's recent antitrust settlement had nothing to do with it, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer confirmed this week that the company is working very closely with the US government to curb cyber-crime. Ballmer even said that he had worked with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to get the government to provide additional funding for the FBI so that the agency might more effectively fight computer-based crime. You know, it wasn't that long ago that Microsoft was lobbying Congress to reduce the pay of lead DOJ prosecutors that were fighting Microsoft in court. It's amazing how time heals all wounds, eh?

Oracle Proves to be Quite Breakable
No, I'm not talking about Oracle's products this time. Citing the economy, Oracle announced this week that its financial results were going nowhere but down for the foreseeable future. Oracle's most recent earnings were down 13 percent from the same quarter a year before, and the company doesn't see any improvements coming soon. The weird thing is that Oracle's doom-and-gloom pronouncements stand in sharp contrast to many other IT indicators, including PC sale predictions (up in 2002) and Intel's predictions for the year, which are also up. You don't think the real problem is SQL Server, do you?

In Case It Isn't Obvious: The Problem With Linux and Mac OS X ...
I spend a lot of time studying and using other OSs so that I can be educated about the competition and know where other platforms stand in relation to Windows. So I have an Intel-based portable dedicated solely to Linux--the notebook revolves between the latest distributions (currently a Mandrake 8.2 release candidate) and an iBook, which I've configured solely with Mac OS X (no Classic). There's a lot to like about each machine, although I wouldn't risk taking the Intel on business trips (desktop Linux is still in a bizarre halfway house, functionally, despite years of steady and obvious improvement). That said, I often confront the issue of platform change: Why not go all Mac? Why use this one over the other? And depending on the issue, I waffle. Apple's digital media tools are good, for example, but they're not as good as Windows XP's (they're not even close, except for iMovie, which is much better than XP's offering). But every once in a while I'm reminded why I stick with Windows. Mira, Microsoft's upcoming remote display technology, is a great example. This new technology will eventually be copied wholesale on Linux and the Mac, although many people think this type of thing never happens. Freestyle (a set of digital-media technologies that enhance and extend the core experiences in XP), new living room-based PCs, and the Windows Media Audio (WMA) format are all other great examples. It comes down to this: Mac OS X and Linux are improving every day, but they're just playing catch-up with Windows. And I'm sorry, but I don't see them ever catching up, I just don't.

Email Me: A Not-So-User-Friendly Reminder
Last week's note about my email problems scared a number of people, but that wasn't my intent: I really do want to keep receiving your email messages, but I'm forced to take draconian steps to ensure that I spend less time sifting through spam. The downside to this is that I spend a lot of time sorting through my Junk Mail folder to find messages that shouldn't have been discarded in the first place. So although I might never get this straight, I'll keep trying. Several readers had questions and offered suggestions about my email, and I'll try to address those soon. To answer the most common question, however, I use third-party spam filters in addition to Outlook's Junk Mail feature and, no, they aren't free. I'll explain how and what I do soon on the Windows SuperSite. Thanks!

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