WinInfo Short Takes: Week of March 23

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a hopeful spring, Ballmer on Yahoo! (yes, again), Ballmer's search strategy, Windows 7, video game sales, IE 8 security and functionality, Xbox Live cyberggedon, and much, much more...

WinInfo Blog
It's been one of those weeks, but we've clearly crossed over some weather threshold: Reports of forthcoming precipitation now don't include the word "snow," so I'm at least happy about that. I've been working furiously on Windows 7 Secrets, the follow-up to Windows Vista Secrets SP1 Edition, all week, but I feel like I'm getting nowhere, and of course it's not as if I can take time off. Hopefully, I can make some headway—that is, turn in actually completed chapters—this weekend. That's the goal.

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

Ballmer Talks Yahoo, Take 371
It never ends. Or, at least, it won't end until Microsoft has consummated some kind of Yahoo! deal. In New York this week for a media summit, Steve Ballmer had a lot to say (see the next few blurbs), but let's start with Yahoo!—if only to get it out of the way. Ballmer said that he would sit down and chat with Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz "when it's appropriate" and that "there's a good opportunity for a deal" in which Microsoft purchases Yahoo!'s search business and, presumably, Yahoo! then settles into a long downward spiral, during which time it becomes less and less relevant every day. The weird thing is that Yahoo! is apparently OK with all this. "We're going to negotiate as companies negotiate, privately," Bartz said recently of potential talks with Microsoft. Let's just state out in the open what's really going on here: This deal is happening, and it's just a matter of time and details. Obviously.

Ballmer: We Can Compete in Search. Just Not in the Same Market as Google
Speaking of Steve Ballmer, the mercurial Microsoft CEO also talked up his company's ongoing efforts in the online search market. (Yes, it's a surprise to most people that Microsoft has a search engine.) He said that Microsoft doesn't have to compete with Google to be successful, which is pretty convenient given, well, you know. "Google does have to be all things to all people," he said. "Our search does not need to be all things to all people." In case it's not clear what he's saying—and believe me, you're forgiven if you find that to be the case—what Ballmer is trying to say is that although Google's business is centered around plastering ads on its general-purpose search engine, Microsoft's search strategy is to find a niche in which it handles certain kinds of searches very, very well. I wonder how many people search Live Search for "google."

Windows 7 Is Microsoft's First "Post-Gates" OS
And, you know, maybe that explains why it's so good. Steve Ballmer said this week that Windows 7 was the result of a new generation of engineers and technical guys at the company "growing in new ways" in the wake of co-founder Bill Gates' (sort of) retirement from Microsoft. "\[Windows 7 is\] a great piece of work," he said. "And it's a piece of work that was driven by a team independent of Bill \[Gates\] and his leadership. And I think we're all, you know, feeling pretty good about it. We've got to finish it, but I think it'll be a big, big deal." Windows 7 is indeed a big deal, and I agree that it will give Microsoft a healthy shine of success that it hasn't had in a while. But sometimes it's the small stuff: That you can once again remove Internet Explorer (IE) from Windows—a feat that was described as "impossible" as recently as just a few years ago—is perhaps the best sign in the OS that Microsoft is doing things differently these days. It's nice to see.

Nintendo and Microsoft See Video Game Boost; Sony, Not So Much
According to market researchers from NPD, both Nintendo and Microsoft benefited from solid gains in their video game businesses in February. Sony, meanwhile, well ... still makes video games. Or so I'm told. Nintendo sold 753,000 Wii consoles in the month (up a whopping 74 percent), compared with 391,000 Xbox 360s for Microsoft (up 53 percent) and 276,000 Sony PlayStation 3s (down 1.7 percent). This data marks a huge turnaround from this time last year, when the PlayStation 3 was routinely beating the Xbox 360 month-to-month and it looked as if Sony might actually turn things around. However, Sony never got the memo on price cuts and the Xbox 360 has been eating PlayStation 3's lunch since mid-2008. That's assuming you don't factor in Nintendo, which is apparently playing a completely different and much more lucrative market in which it regularly outsells its closest competitor by a 2-to-1 margin. The big story here, though, is Sony, which continues "hemorrhaging at retail," according to Microsoft's Aaron Greenberg. "You can't underestimate that we're half the price of the PlayStation 3 at a time when consumers are looking for great value." Yep. Sony?

IE 8: It's About Security, Stupid
Microsoft unveiled the final shipping version of Internet Explorer 8 (IE 8) at the MIX09 conference this week, and the company was careful to position its new browser as the more secure alternative in a dangerous world. "On the web today, bad things happen to real people in many ways," Microsoft General Manager Dean Hachamovitch said during a MIX keynote. "It's not just about fighting phishing and malware. IE 8 is the only browser with built-in protection from cross-site scripting and out-of-the-box protection against clickjacking." I would also point out, however, that Microsoft is doing in IE 8 what few other browser makers are doing by dramatically increasing the application's "beyond the page" capabilities with such features as Web slices, Accelerators, and visual search. If you haven't given IE a look recently—you Firefox-using browser snob, you—you should at least look at IE 8. It's a better browser than ever.

The Greatest Next Generation: Microsoft's Online Billing System Nose Dives at Time of Need
With millions of Xbox 360 gamers queuing up on Thursday to purchase the first Map Pack for the popular Call of Duty: World at War game, Microsoft's Xbox Live online service did what it does so often in times of need. It collapsed. The portion of the service responsible for billing, account recovery, and other Marketplace functions went offline for much of yesterday—or, at least, reacted to requests only sporadically. And that situation affected everyone who needed to purchase the Microsoft Points required for the Map Pack download. (Unlike all other online merchants, Microsoft uses a silly micropayment system that I'd rather not discus at the moment.) The result was a lot of disappointed gamers, including my son, although he was finally able to get the add-on thanks to (literally) hours of work by his frazzled parents. (I spent much of the day trying to get his console updated and talking to Microsoft by phone; my wife went to Best Buy and purchased a Microsoft Points card.) Microsoft told me at one point yesterday that the billing problems would last only a few hours, but multiple online reports (and our own experiences last night) suggest that problems continued well into the night. "Thanks for your patience," a Microsoft blog reads. "Until these issues are resolved, you will \[have\] difficulties with account recovery, account management, Marketplace functions and/or making purchases." As of today, Microsoft claims the problems are fixed.

Cisco Flips the Bird at Consumer Market, Buys Pure
Networking giant Cisco has been moving quickly into (shall we say) non-core markets recently, none more obvious than this week's push into consumer video. The company spent $590 million to purchase Pure Digital Technologies, makers of the wildly popular Flip video camera line. The Flip cameras sell for as little as $150 and connect to PCs with an onboard USB plug and no external wires, and there's even an HD version. Pure has sold more than 2 million of the tiny portable devices since 2007, and Cisco started thinking about buying the company when CEO John Chambers revealed that his family owned eight of the devices. Although the marriage of consumer video and corporate networking might not seem an obvious mix, Cisco has big plans for the Flip, including a version that can sync wirelessly with PCs. Sounds good to me. But let's not forget the core functionality, including the single most obvious feature missing from today's Flip devices: Image stabilization. There's no reason for home movies to be as nauseatingly jiggly as a modern zombie film.

Apple Takes iTunes Purchases to HD
This week, Apple announced that customers of its iTunes Store can for the first time purchase and rent movies in HD format. The selection is small for now, but when HD versions are available, the purchase will typically cost about $5 more than the standard-definition (SD) version of the film, or about $20 for the HD version of a film that costs $15 in SD. Rentals are also priced higher, with HD rentals costing $4.99 each. Previously, iTunes customers could purchase HD versions of only TV shows, and then only via the Apple TV

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