An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Microsoft and Oracle, Sitting in a Tree ...
If you had to think of the most unlikely candidate for a partnership with Microsoft, you'd probably think about Sun Microsystems. But because that partnership already exists, let's move on to our second choice--Oracle. And sure enough, this week, Microsoft and Oracle announced a partnership in which the two companies will work together to make Oracle's database products work better on Windows. Microsoft is clearly working hard on its reputation, and part of that job is talking with companies that have been, well, a bit antagonistic toward the software giant in recent years. Certainly, Oracle is one of the companies that tops that list.
Gates: It's All About the R&D
At the annual Microsoft CEO Summit in Redmond this week, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates told more than 100 corporate CEOs that his company will spend $40 billion on R&D during the next 6 years in a bid to "rewire the economy" following the dot-com era. "The fundamental technology that lets companies connect together is called Web services," Gates said. "The foundation has been laid over the past few years, and you'll see it accelerate in a pretty dramatic way. The work we're doing at Microsoft is building software delivering on a dream of seamless computing where your information is there when you want it and all systems are connected together with no manual effort."
Gates: Blogging = Business Tool. Thurrott: Blogging = Only Partial Solution.
In sharp contrast to technology that will actually help businesses in the future, at the CEO Summit this week Gates also talked up blogging, the recent equivalent of the pale-gray personal Web sites and all-too-personal journals that people first started creating in 1996. Today, blogs are a force of nature--if you talk to anyone who has one or feels strongly about blogging. But the reality is that very few people read blogs, and even fewer people have effectively used blogs as platforms from which to make major industry changes. No matter. Microsoft has blog fever, and if anything, Gates's mention of the subject at the CEO Summit was a nice little introduction to a modern trend for people who, quite frankly, aren't exactly hip about technology. Hey, CEOs: There's this thing called the Web; you really should start thinking about it.
Google to Deliver Desktop Search Tool
And speaking of Web-based trends that aren't as big as some people think they are, Google announced this week that it will soon release a file search tool that will bring the company's Web-based search tools to the Windows desktop. Code-named Puffin, the search tool will tackle one of Windows' weakest features--its search functionality. And perhaps most importantly, it will do so at least 2 years before Microsoft ships Longhorn, the next major Windows version, which will allegedly fix this problem. As many a Microsoft representative has remarked to me recently, "Why does it take forever for Windows to find a file that I know is on my hard disk but Google can find anything on the Web in seconds?" That's a good question, however rhetorically it's delivered.
Comcast to Deploy Microsoft TV to 5 Million Customers
In a rare deployment win, Microsoft can tout the fact that cable giant Comcast will roll out Microsoft TV Foundation Edition software to the set-top boxes of 5 million of the company's 21 million customers. The deal represents the first major rollout of the technology, which features an onscreen program guide and support for interactive services such as Video on Demand (VoD) and digital video recording (DVR).
Yes, U of Virginia, There Is a Tablet PC
Microsoft and the University of Virginia (U.Va.) are working on a pilot program that will link students and teachers through wireless and wired connections and unique Tablet PC-based learning solutions. The pilot program, which will launch in the fall, will involve 400 U.Va. biochemistry, psychology, and statistics students, all of whom will use Microsoft Office OneNote 2003-equipped Tablet PCs running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. The students will use this unique hardware/software combination to save lecture notes electronically and access online exercises live from the classroom.
Office Has a Few More Flies to Swat
Inexplicably, two new office-productivity contenders entered the limelight this week, both hoping to displace Microsoft's dominant Office suite. Good luck. Although Microsoft has spent years embroiled in court cases related to the monopoly power of its Windows platform, the company's true market power comes from Office, which holds an even more commanding lead in its market than Windows does. If you're looking for an upset, I have bad news. The pretenders, er ah, contenders--Evermore's EIOffice 2004 and Gobe Software's GoBeProductive--are as hopeless as they sound, although I give Evermore at least a little credit for taking the somewhat obvious step of making its suite look almost exactly like Office, which should make migrations simpler. But how these suites can succeed when long-term efforts such as Corel's WordPerfect Office and Sun's StarOffice have continually failed is unclear. If the past 2 years are any clue, these new Office alternatives don't stand a chance.
Microsoft Releases New Office for Mac
And speaking of Office, this week, everyone's favorite software giant unleashed a new version of its popular office-productivity suite for the Macintosh. Office 2004 for Mac has borrowed more than a few features from the Windows suite. For example, a new Word 2004 for Mac feature apes the note-taking functionality in OneNote 2003 for Windows--and offers only a couple of unique Mac features that, quite frankly, will likely be more interesting to the consumer/creative Mac crowd than they would be to the business users who typically use the Windows version of Office. For example, a new feature in the Microsoft Entourage personal information manager (PIM) called Project Manager helps users organize files and email into logical projects that they can manage as a group. I'll be looking at Office 2004 for Mac in more detail soon but my initial assessment is that, as usual, the Mac version is still a surprisingly bland subset of the Windows version, which is a shame.
Apple Seeks Patent for Translucent Windows
And speaking of Apple Computer, everyone's favorite little OS imitator--excuse me, innovator--this week made an interesting patent bid that could have ramifications for Longhorn. Apple wants a patent for applying transparency to "information-bearing windows whose contents remain unchanged for a predetermined period of time." In other words, these unused windows fade away over time unless they're activated. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Longhorn will feature translucent windows and various window-transparency effects, so this patent attempt could possibly affect Longhorn. Or not. Patent applications take years to culminate, and in the end Apple might not even be awarded a patent. More to the point, by the time Longhorn ships, Apple likely will have discontinued active computer OS development, anyway, so that the company can concentrate on the consumer-electronics market.
Gateway Irrelevant? Not According to Its CEO
And speaking of being irrelevant, Gateway President and CEO Wayne Inouye, who came to the company from eMachines, denied reports that the PC maker has become irrelevant because of shrinking sales and an inability to right itself financially. "I hope they just keep saying that," he said during his first annual shareholders meeting. "I like to be ignored for as long as possible." Gateway, indeed, has suffered some hard times: The company has racked up 13 money-losing quarters out of the last 14, has closed all its retail stores, has cut its workforce from 24,600 to 7400 employees, and has stopped manufacturing its own computer products. I find it hilarious that Gateway still has a bigger market share (3.8 percent in the United States) than Apple does (3.5 percent in the United States), and you know how uppity people get when we refer to Apple as "beleaguered." Maybe we could start measuring Apple compared with Gateway, in which case Apple's market share could be expressed as 0.92 Gateways.
In a Rare Move, Microsoft Allows Development of Nintendo DS Titles
Microsoft is going to let one of its game-making subsidiaries, Rare, develop software titles for Nintendo's upcoming Nintendo DS handheld, a dual-screen system that Nintendo will release later this year. The move is a, ahem, rare one for Microsoft, which competes with Nintendo in the hotly contested video game market. But look at the situation another way: Microsoft doesn't offer a handheld system, so developing games for the Nintendo DS can't really hurt too much. More importantly, perhaps, the move can hurt Microsoft's chief rival, Sony, which will launch its own handheld game system, the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP), in early 2005.
Transmeta Signs On for NX Security Feature, Intel Arrives in June
Microprocessor-maker Transmeta announced this week that it will support the security-oriented No eXecute (NX) technology that, working with Windows, can thwart the vast majority of common buffer-overrun hacks. The problem with NX is that so few microprocessors support the technology. AMD led the way with its 64-bit chips, and Intel will adopt NX this year in its EM64T-based Pentium 4 chips, which offer both 32-bit and 64-bit capabilities. And now Transmeta says that its Efficeon processors will support NX as well. Microsoft will add NX support to Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2).
PC Shipments to Jump Dramatically in 2004
Gartner said this week that PC users will upgrade more than 100 million PCs to new machines in 2004, setting the stage for dramatic growth in the PC industry this year. Gartner is now predicting that PC makers will sell 186.4 million PC units in 2004, an increase of 13.6 percent over 2003. Gartner based its estimates on first-quarter PC sales, which were much higher than previously anticipated, and on the fact that more than 30 percent of installed PCs were at least 3 years old. Microsoft's XP Reloaded marketing campaign seems to be happening just in time.