WinInfo Short Takes: Week of May 12, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the Microsoft/Facebook rumors, Microsoft's board nominees head home, Office 2007 SP1, Best Buy (and Steph) in Europe, Zune copy protection silliness, iPhone in Italy, and much, much more...

WinInfo Blog

Terms like "hell in a hand basket" are tossed about idly these days, but when my wife took off for France to visit some friends this week, let's just say that my adventures at home with the kids--while juggling my normal 80 hour a week work schedule and trying to finalize the revision to "Windows Vista Secrets"--has been a bit more exciting than anything she'll likely encounter in Toulouse. Thrill as Paul is the only male within 300 yards of his daughter's dance recital rehearsal. Laugh as the kids innately sense impending doom and simply get ready for school on their own for the first time in their lives. Shake your head at the sad sight of someone struggling with what his wife does, casually, silently, and without complaint, day after day after day. One of her friends noted to me at the school bus stop this morning, "I assume you'll appreciate her more now." OK, let's not get crazy here. I'm kidding, of course. My kids could never successfully get ready for school on their own. But they did try.

Due to a scheduling mishap--something about a perfect storm involving a car repair and a daughter's recital rehearsal--Leo and I were unable to record a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday as usual. However, we're going to try again this afternoon, so pending any surprise call from the local school system, we should have something in the can by the weekend.

Short Takes

Fortune: Microsoft/Facebook Rumors Untrue
This is sort of stunning, when you think about it. A reporter for "Fortune Magazine" has accused "The Wall Street Journal" of fabricating a report that Microsoft had sent out acquisition feelers to social networking service Facebook, and did so solely "to keep the news coming when there wasn't much left to say." But the rumor's not true, Fortune senior writer David Kirkpatrick asserts. His reason? "Good sources" at Microsoft. Well, there you go. More problematic, in my opinion, Kirkpatrick then goes out of his way to waffle around his argument, and then provides this bit of complete turnaround: "Long-term, Microsoft will probably look to buy Facebook or up its stake in order to bolster its own search business." So... I'm confused. Are you refuting the WSJ report or not? And what leads you to the following bit of conjecture? "\[I'd\] imagine Microsoft making a move for MySpace - when it's finally ready." No offense, but this seems like an attempt "to keep the news coming when there wasn't much left to say." More so than, say, the WSJ report. Geesh.

Microsoft Disbands Yahoo! Board Nominees
And if you were hoping (or at least expecting) to see Microsoft return for another pass at Yahoo!, that seems increasingly unlikely. Late this week, Microsoft disbanded the proposed slate of nominees it had created to replace Yahoo!'s board in the event of a hostile takeover bid of the company. Microsoft had apparently put together 10 nominees--which I sort of imagine included luminaries like Count Chocula, Speed Racer, Bob Dole, and Dr. Zaius--whose chief purpose in life was to rubber stamp the software giant's eventual takeover of Yahoo!. "The market may wish that the Yahoo! deal come back, but Microsoft at least at this point assumes it's over," Microsoft chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie said.

Office 2007 SP1 Heads to Auto Updates
Microsoft reports this week via its exciting Office Sustained Engineering blog that that it will push the first Office 2007 service pack to Automatic Updates beginning "around June 16." Microsoft released Office 2007 SP1 late last year, but had made it available as an optional update. Five months and "10's of millions of downloads" later, Microsoft is ready to make Office 2007 a required upgrade. But no worries: Office 2007 is a very traditional service pack and shouldn't create any upgrade issues.

Best Buy Heads to Europe
US electronics giant will get its first taste of Europe soon thanks to a $2.1 billion investment in the Carphone Warehouse Group, the largest cellphone retailer in the continent. This investment, which gives Best Buy a 50 percent stake in Carphone, allows the company to begin opening Best Buy retail locations in Europe for the first time. Given the differences between the US and European markets and the current economic climate, it's unclear how quickly these stores will appear, but Best Buy says it's considering a variety of store sizes depending on location and will compete aggressively on pricing regardless. As a huge fan of Best Buy on one hand, but a fan of the individuality of various European locales on the other, I'm not sure how to feel about this one. Is this better or worse than seeing a McDonalds on the Champs-Élysées?

Facebook Protects the Kids
Social networking service Facebook has agreed to institute a broad set of policies aimed at protecting young users from online predators and offensive content. The change, which comes at the request of 49 US state attorneys, will require a bit of behavioral technology to weed out those who really are 18 years old from those who are clearly 49 years old. Yeah, it sounds far-fetched. But I have a more important question about this story. Which state, exactly, didn't participate in this initiative? Is there really a single US state out there that couldn't get involved in helping to protect kids online?

NYT Blogger Caught in the Copyright Protection Crossfire
Earlier this week, usually-reliable "New York Times" blogger Saul Hansell reported that Microsoft had agreed to build filters into its Zune platform would remove pirated movies and videos. This was done at the bequest of the TV and movie industry, of course, and was allegedly a key reason why NBC had agreed to sell its content via Zune Marketplace rather than Apple's far more popular iTunes. There's just one problem: Microsoft has no plans or agreement to do any such thing, and the company said as much publicly via a Zune blog after the Hansell blog post appeared. Rather than back off the spurious charges, Hansell contacted his source again and updated the post, noting that "Microsoft \[had\] committed to explore filtering; he didn't say it committed to implementing those filters." I think it's time to walk away from this one: Clearly, Microsoft is not interested in developing technology that would seek out non-purchased copies of videos and then delete them automatically. I mean, can you imagine the outrage?

Apple Takes iPhone Multi-Carrier in Europe
Just so we're clear, if Apple ever opened up its iPhone to rival cell phone networks in the US, AT&T would lose about 99 percent of its iPhone customers overnight, and that number is artificially low because the final one percent would leave eventually. But that's because AT&T Wireless is, perhaps, the worst wireless carrier in existence. In the EU, the situation is different. This week, Apple announced that it would offer its iPhone via two different carriers in Italy, the first time it's veered from its one-country/one-carrier policy. "This is different from how we are doing it in the US," an Apple spokesperson said, just in case some clarification was necessary. So how about it, Apple? Any interest in walking away from the iPhone's real Achilles Heel in the US, AT&T? Please?

RealNetworks Spins Off Video Game Unit
I know. I was thinking the same thing: RealNetworks is still around? No, wait. I mean: RealNetworks sells ... video games? Confused about this development, I actually took the time to research this issue--it's called "suffering for your art"--and I discovered that RealNetworks, in fact, has its hands in a number of pies. They have a service called RealArcade that provides casual and classic games to PC users, a GamePass subscription service, and even a mobile game initiative for cell phones. What's next, Real, a home decoration channel on basic cable? The last time I checked, RealNetworks had received a $761 million antitrust settlement from Microsoft. Is this really how they spent that money? On Bejeweled and Zuma for cell phones?

It's Official: Id Software Working on DOOM 4
And speaking of video games, I'm somewhat excited to note that Id Software this week revealed that it has begun production on DOOM 4, the follow-up to the technically excellent but tepidly-received DOOM 3. What's interesting about this is that Id is developing the title in-house rather than farming it out to a third party as they often do for sequels. In fact, Id is looking to hire people to work on the project. I'm perfectly OK with this as long as there are no plans to sell a cell phone version of the game through RealArcade.

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