WinInfo Short Takes: Week of May 14

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Microsoft's latest and seemingly never-ending virtualization disappointments, Katmai, Dell, technophobia, Microsoft/Yahoo talks, Steve Ballmer, Google, Wii silliness, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog
Leo and recorded another live episode of Windows Weekly on Talk Shoe this week. A recording is available now on that site, but we should have the traditional podcast version available in the regular places in the next day or so.

Short Takes

Again, Microsoft Dulls Its Virtualization Future
Let's play a little game. I'll toss out a scenario and you tell me what year it is and what product I'm talking about. Here it is: After making sweeping promises over a long period of time, Microsoft has decided to cut back the feature-set of a core technology and delay the release of this technology yet again. Sound familiar? No, I'm not talking about Windows 2000, Windows Vista, or WinFS. This time, the technology du jour is Windows Server Virtualization, codenamed Viridian, the Longhorn Server feature that became a Longhorn Server add-on that is now a WinFS-like "we'll get there eventually" kind of thing. This type of backtracking makes me feel funny inside, like I've eaten some bad sushi, and in this case it's even more personal because Viridian, of course, was at the heart of my "Debacle in Denver" a few weeks back. (I can still hear Michelle in the back of my head; "It'll be fine, it'll be fine.") Anyway, you may recall that Virtualization was originally going to be a role in Longhorn Server. Then, it was going to ship in beta form in April 2007, with the final release expected within 180 days of Longhorn's final release. Now, the beta won't ship until Longhorn Server is complete (in Q4 2007), though Microsoft still claims it can ship Viridian within 180 days of Longhorn (in 2008). How can it do this, you ask? Easy: By dropping important, core features that customers were truly excited about. Now, Viridian will not support hot-add storage, networking, memory, or processors. It won't support live migrations. And it will support only 16 processor cores (down from 32). If you're thinking these are major losses, then you're keeping an accurate score. I used to give the Windows Server guys a pass on the delay stuff because they were so reasonable about schedules, but this is ridiculous. And allow me to be the first to say so: Congratulations, guys. You've just pulled a Vista. And not the good kind.

Microsoft Previews SQL Server "Katmai"
Now that we've got that out of the way, we can turn our attention to another Microsoft server release that's due in 2008: SQL Server "Katmai". And hey, it's not like Microsoft has ever delayed a SQL Server release. (Cough, cough.) This week, Microsoft showed off some Katmai functionality publicly for the first time, giving its customers a heads-up about what to expect for the next version. Because it did so at a Business Intelligence (BI) conference, however, most of what we saw was BI related. So Katmai is going to integrate with Microsoft Office in new ways, of course, allowing IT workers to utilize familiar tools to examine server-based data, much of which won't be relational. If that doesn't sound particularly exciting, hey, I'm with you.

Dell Signs Up for Microsoft/Novell Deal with the Devil
Dell this week announced that it will purchase SUSE Linux Enterprise Server certificates from Microsoft as part of the Microsoft/Novell technology interchange deal that was announced late last year. I had joked at the time that Microsoft would probably use the certificates to wallpaper one of its on-campus cafeterias, but apparently they've sold 40,000 of the things--though it's unclear how many to which companies--so some of them at least will be decorating the hallways of Dell offices in and around Austin, Texas. But why would Dell want these things? Didn't they just agree to ship Ubuntu Linux on some consumer-oriented PCs in the US? Obviously, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is aimed at a different part of the market, and Dell says that the two enterprise platforms of the future are Linux and Windows, and they want to help ensure the two systems work well together for customers. The problem is, many in the open source world aren't exactly fans of the Novell/Microsoft alliance, and by essentially endorsing the deal, Dell is setting itself up as a company many won't want to work with. I'm curious to see how this all works out in the end, but the notion of the Microsoft and Linux camps exchanging High Tea and olive branches is a bit far-fetched at this point.

Go Figure, But Technology No Panacea
I was alternatively amused and disturbed to read about a Pew Internet and American Life Project study this week that found that Americans can be divided into three groups when it comes to technology: Those who are frequent users of multiple technologies (31 percent), those who are moderate users (20 percent), and the near majority, which have little or no interest in or access to technologies like the Internet or cell phones. Here's the thing: As a technology reviewer and pundit of sorts, you'd be correct in assuming that I fall into the first category. But as I get older, I also find myself pining more and more for a future in which technology is minimized as much as possible. Here's a typical example that should explain my increasing aversion to always-on, always-there technology access: While writing this article, Outlook popped and beeped to remind me about my upcoming appointment at the gym. Google Calendar alerted me of the event, too, this time via email. My Gmail Notifier, on the Mac, pinged with a pop-up alert for the same event. And over in the dining room, I can hear the incessant beeping of my Windows Mobile smart phone. It won't shut up until I get up and address the notification, which, yes, is about that same gym appointment. It's possible to be too connected, and I've clearly crossed some line in recent days. Oddly enough, the Pew study addresses my situation as well: Of the people who are technology-connected, some are "omnivores" (technology embracers), some are "connectors" (users of cell phones and the Internet), some are "productivity enhancers" (work-related only), and some, like me, increasingly, are "lackluster veterans." These are the guys who use technology because they have to, but they're over it. Obviously, I still love technology, but more and more it seems like there needs to be some balance. Yet another thing to work on, I guess.

Microsoft/Yahoo Talks Not So Recent, It Seems
News that Microsoft and Yahoo were talking once again about a possible merger in order to take on Google made a lot of headlines in the past few weeks, but the publication that started all this nonsense, "The Wall Street Journal," reported a day later that it was all a big mistake. Microsoft and Yahoo hadn't actually renewed merger talks, the WSJ said, but hey, sorry for getting everyone so excited. What's amazing is that articles about these supposed talks proceeded to appear for a full week after the WSJ had done the about-face. Yahoo even got a nice, if temporary, stock price jump as a result of the "news." Regardless of the status of these talks, I do think combining forces is a good idea, though both sides would have to shed a lot of good people, and products, to make it work.

But... Ballmer Hints that Big Deals are Possible
All that said, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer this week said it was "conceivable" that Microsoft would make a huge merger or corporate acquisition in order to fill product gaps or enter new markets but that the company would continue to make smaller deals as it has always done. "We are open to large acquisitions," he said. Ballmer didn't comment directly on the Yahoo acquisition rumors, which would cost Microsoft $40 billion to $50 billion. "Anything is conceivable," he said, vaguely. Frankly, I think something that big would be a nice move on Microsoft's part. The company has such a slow-moving image these days that something as radical and impactful as the Yahoo purchase could only help.

Google's Reaction to a Microsoft/Yahoo Marriage: Muffled Laughter
Meanwhile, executives at Internet giant Google are basically scoffing at the notion of a Microsoft/Yahoo alliance, which makes sense when you consider that Google is already killing both Microsoft and Yahoo in the market. "It wouldn't change our strategy," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said this week. "It would change the competitive dynamic, but it wouldn't cause us to do anything different." Google's Web site surpassed Microsoft in March as the number one most visited Web destination, and both Microsoft and Yahoo continue to lose share to Google, month after month.

It's Official: The Wii is a Joke
When it comes to the Nintendo Wii, I run contrary to the accepted wisdom. I think the Wii is a technological joke, and as for the so-called innovative game play, I find it annoying and decidedly boring. In conclusion, if you are a big video game fan, a so-called hard core video gamer, then the Wii is not for you. That said, the Wii is selling well, though I think we all understand that "best-selling" and "high quality" don't always go hand-in-hand. This week, Microsoft president Robbie Bach derided the Wii because it's graphics capabilities are less impressive than even the original Xbox, so Newsweek decided to follow up on that quip and see if it had any merit. Turns out Bach is right: According to Wii developers, the Nintendo console is essentially a warmed over GameCube with an ancient graphics architecture. It lacks high-end graphical features, like programmable shaders, either vertex shaders, and pixel shaders, that were present in the original Xbox. Put another way, the graphical capabilities of the Wii were present in mainstream PC graphics cards 7 years ago. One developer said that Nintendo went the cheap route because it values profits over technology, and the company does indeed offer a console that's cheaper to make than competitors like the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Which runs back to my original comments: If you care about games, the Xbox 360 and PS3 offer more impressive platforms onto which developers can put bigger and potentially better experiences. So while it's cute swinging at the screen in "Wii Sports" for, say, one night, if you're looking for a long-term commitment, look elsewhere. Obviously.

Xbox 360 Gets Pretty New Dashboard, New Features
And speaking of the Xbox 360, Microsoft this week shipped a major software update for the console, which adds an amazing array of new functionality. The two biggest changes, however, are Windows Live Messenger interoperability, so that Xbox 360 users can chat with Messenger contacts who are on Windows-based PCs or Windows Mobile-based smart phones. That's pretty cool, assuming you want to be in touch with your contacts no matter what you're doing, but as I noted above, that's not necessarily my cup of tea. The new update also adds an Xbox Live Marketplace blade to the Xbox Dashboard so that Microsoft's various game, movie, TV show, and video downloads are more easily accessed. I'll be reviewing this update on the SuperSite for Windows this weekend.

Next Week: WinHEC 2007
And speaking of my schedule, I'll be in Los Angeles next week for Microsoft's annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) show. WinHEC has historically providing some compelling information about upcoming Windows releases and other Microsoft products, so I should have some reports from the event next week. See you in LA.

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