WinInfo Short Takes: Week of March 3, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a trip to Los Angeles and a trip next week to Vegas, Vista price cuts, Vista Capable not so capable, Hotmail outage, Windows Live dev tools, IE8 public beta later than expected, and more...

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I spent much of the week in Los Angeles, which was interesting for a number of reasons. I got to meet Tom Brokaw and Mo Rocca. I got to travel from a place that was 75 degrees (LA) to one that was -5 with the wind chill (Boston) in the span of five hours on Thursday. And most important, I got to meet up with a bunch of friends there, both from within Microsoft and without, that I haven't seen in a while. If there's a group at Microsoft that should be celebrating a job well done, it's gotta be the Windows Server guys. Seriously, dump all over Vista all you want, but Windows Server 2008 is pretty much unassailable. Sure, the Hyper-V stuff is a bit behind schedule, I get it. So what? Windows 2008 is solid. It was a good time, and well deserved. Congratulations everyone.

Next week, I'm heading to Las Vegas for MIX'08, Microsoft's Web development show. This will be the fifth straight week where I'll spend at least part of the week on the road, but it's also the last trip for a while, I hope. I'm starting to feel like a stranger in my own home.

Unfortunately, it looks like Leo and I will be unable to record the Windows Weekly podcast this week: I had hoped to get that done today, but Leo's in Vancouver and hasn't been able to get recording set up there. We should be back next week, I guess, but again, I'm away, so I'll need to figure that out.

Short Takes

Microsoft to Cut Price of Retail Versions of Vista
And that will be great news for the 17 people who buy Windows that way each year. Microsoft announced yesterday that it will be cutting the price of the retail boxed versions of Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate by 20 to 48 percent. (They don't actually specify what the new prices are, however.) The price cuts will take place concurrently with the release of integrated versions of Windows Vista and Service Pack 1 (SP1), Microsoft says, which will happen by the middle of 2008. Here's the thing: This doesn't affect much at all. Retail versions of Windows have always amounted to less than 5 percent of all Windows licenses sold, so it's unclear whether this change will make much of a difference to consumers or Microsoft. And it certainly doesn't affect the prices of the versions of Windows people really do buy, whether they're bundled with new PCs or sold to corporations as licenses.

Here's the Real Story: Windows Pricing in Emerging Markets
There's a side story to the retail price cut that I think is, in fact, the real story here: In addition to cutting the price of some retail versions of Vista worldwide, Microsoft is also consolidating and re-pricing various Vista versions that it sells in emerging markets. This is a much bigger deal to the company because of the potential financial upside to these markets, and I feel that the retail price cuts mentioned above are being made simply to put these products more in line with the way Windows is being sold around the world at retail. So what we're getting is Microsoft combining the retail Upgrade and Full versions of Windows Vista Home Basic and Home Premium into full versions of these editions in places like China and India, and then also reducing the prices of these retail products across the board. Microsoft is also lowering the price of Windows Vista Ultimate in emerging markets so that it costs less than an automobile in those countries. (And thanks for that, Tata Nano.)

Microsoft Lowered Vista PC Requirements to Please Intel
There are two things I've been complaining about with Vista since, well, forever: The arbitrary demarcation of the unnecessarily huge product lineup, and the silliness of its supposed minimum system requirements. (Actual quote from my Vista review: "Microsoft's official minimum requirements for Windows Vista are so ludicrous I won't even mention them here.") Well, it turns out they were at least partially made so ludicrous in order to meet the needs of its hardware partners. According to an internal email that was unearthed as part of the "Vista Capable" class action lawsuit, Microsoft lowered Vista's minimum hardware requirements to include Intel's 915 chipset, even though the chipset wasn't capable of displaying Vista's Aero graphics mode. An email war or words ensued at Microsoft, with one executive complaining that they were "caving to Intel" and "allowing Intel to drive our consumer experience." Now, Microsoft is in legal hot water over the move, because while Intel 915-based systems meet the "Vista Capable" guidelines, they can't show off the system's best features. This whole thing is silly and should have been avoidable.

Microsoft Owns Up to Hotmail Outage this Week
I guess you really do get what you pay for. Microsoft's Hotmail Web-based email service apparently suffered massive outages this week. (Though, to be fair, my account never went down from what I can tell.) After days of silence on the issue, Microsoft finally owned up to it. "The issue is purely impacting the log-in process for customers and largely does not impact customers who were already logged in," the company wrote in a statement. "We have made significant progress in decreasing the number of customers currently affected since initial reports, but the issue has not yet been completely resolved. Microsoft is working quickly and aggressively to resolve the issue and expects to restore normal operation to all customers shortly." I'm curious about their definitions of "significant progress" and "quickly and aggressively," but I'm sure they're super serious about getting that back up and running. In the meantime, if I could draw your attention to this Gmail thing I've been using for a few years now...

Microsoft to Demo Windows Live Dev Tools Next Week
At MIX'08 next week, Microsoft will demonstrate various developer-oriented tools aimed at getting programmers to take advantage of unique features of its Windows Live platform. Some of these tools are already out, including the recently released Windows Live Library, which provides ways to integrate Windows Live Messenger into Web sites, and the Windows Live Contacts API, which provides an interface to Microsoft's contacts system. There's a lot more, but since I'll be heading to the show next week, you can expect a full write-up in the coming days.

Public IE 8 Beta Won't Hit Until as Late as June, Microsoft Says
And speaking of MIX'08, so much for the IE 8 excitement that was expected for next week. While Microsoft will indeed show off IE 8 at the show next week and apparently issue a private beta to testers, the company doesn't plan to ship a public beta of the product until the second quarter of 2008. Stay tuned.

The Benchmarks are in: Vista SP1 as fast as XP!
No, really. OK, maybe. Well, hmm... So depending on how cynical you are, this might not be considered "evidence" in the strictest sense. A company called Principled Technologies was recently commissioned by Microsoft to prove that, er ah, determine whether the performance of Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 (SP1) finally achieved the levels of performance that were possible with Vista's predecessor, XP. I know you're waiting on the edge of your seat to find out the results, so let me just quote the report: "Overall, Windows Vista SP1 and Windows XP performed comparably on most test operations." See? They're the same! And you thought all those complaints about Vista performance were real. Shame on you.

It's February 29, 2008: Where's the iPhone SDK?
So Steve Jobs and Apple are infamous for promising products at certain times and then not delivering. But when the company announced a February 2008 iPhone SDK release last fall, I figured there was no way they'd miss this one. After all, they had almost six months to make it happen. And best of all, this year is a leap year, so February even has an extra day. It was like they built extra padding right into the schedule. What could go wrong? Ahem. I'm sure it will be out soon. Using Apple Math (tm), my guess is they'll talk up the SDK by mid-March and actually deliver something to developers in, say, April at the earliest. Then, we'll see a truly usable SDK just in time for this summer's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where the company will no doubt unveil a 3G-based iPhone 2.0 that, of course, will be the actual target of the iPhone SDK and will, in effect, immediately obsolete the 8 million or so iPhones that have sold in the interim. I'm only kind of kidding. This is how Apple swings, people.

And you thought Microsoft was Evil: Apple Uses Secret APIs in Mac OS X
Ah, yes. You may have heard Apple's PR silliness about its Safari Web browser being 10,000 times faster than every other Web browser on earth. Well, it turns out that Apple actually uses undocumented APIs in Mac OS X to artificially boost the performance of Safari on that platform, a fact that was uncovered by a Mozilla developer. He was curious why Firefox 3 was working better on OS X, given the performance improvements they'd made to the product. Turns out Apple is up to some sneaky tricks, the kind of thing that would cost Microsoft big bucks in EU fines, not to mention some seriously horrific PR. "It's just an unfortunate cutting of corners that is way too easy for a company that's not fully open to do," Vladimir Vukicevic writes in a blog post describing his findings. He was able to find a workaround and, no surprise, boosted Firefox 3 performance big time on the Mac.

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