WinInfo Short Takes: Week of May 29 - 26 May 2006

WinHEC was a busy, wonderful zoo. By this, I mean it's always great running into friends I don't see that often, whether they're from Microsoft or the press. It's kind of like a high school reunion. On the flip side, I still need to get real work done, and WinHEC is so busy it's next to impossible to do so. So I spent most of the week in "impending doom" mode and I jumped from place to place. Quite an experience.

I should have the second parts of my Windows Vista Beta 2 and Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2 review up by early next week, along with Part 1 of a Longhorn Server Beta 2 review I've been working on and some more Vista Feature Focus articles. I'm thinking about turning the Feature Focus articles into an eBook or something when they're all done; it should be a handy reference to all the new and improved stuff in Microsoft's next desktop OS, plus it could look great if it were done correctly.

Speaking of WinHEC, the surprise star of the show was Windows Server Virtualization, which will ship as a free add-on for Longhorn Server sometime in early 2008. This feature adds machine virtualization services to the OS and will be available free with all Longhorn Server editions. Think of it as a much higher-performing version of Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, but with low-level system hooks and a tiny footprint. Windows Server Virtualization will support hardware hot-swapping and 64-bit guest OSs as well. Very cool.

So I observed a guy in front of me on the plane watch an entire movie on his cell phone. It looked uncomfortable, but he did it. What's odd is this was an Alaska Airlines flight and he got one of those Digi-Player movie player things too. What's even odder is that his phone battery lasted as long as it did.

Last week, I asked if there were readers in four particular US states who wouldn't mind sending a postcard to my son's second-grade class. It would be criminal of me not to thank everyone who offered to help out: The response was overwhelming, and you guys are just the best. It's funny: I write this stuff in isolation and sometimes forget there are real people out there reading it. But someone always shows up when I ask for something, and I really appreciate it. Thank you so much. On a fun note, several people from outside the United States also wrote in and said they'd be happy to send postcards from their countries as well. So now Mark and his class will be getting a surprise bonus: Several postcards from around the world. They're going to be thrilled. Honestly, this kind of thing makes it all worthwhile.

SKU-o-Rama: Microsoft Adds Ultimate Edition to Office 2007

Excited by the response that the Ultimate edition of Vista is getting, Microsoft has decided to pursue a similar product edition, or SKU, for Office 2007. Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate Edition will include virtually every single Office 2007 client application in a single package for the bargain price of $679. It was created "in response to customer feedback," Microsoft says. If that's the case, then why can't you get Office Professional for $200? I'm pretty sure we've been asking for lower Office prices for some time as well.

Ballmer: Relax, Vista is Still On Schedule

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said this week that Vista was still on track for its January 2007 release to consumers after news reports suggested that he was hedging his bet on the release. "I said yesterday that Vista was on track to ship in ... January as we had said," Ballmer said. "But I also emphasized that the most important thing is getting quality right. I was asked an unusual question and I think my answer was fine, but I don't think it was interpreted correctly." In separate discussions at WinHEC this week, including one with Microsoft Co-President Jim Allchin, various Microsoft executives reiterated to me that the plan hasn't changed: Microsoft will finalize Vista by October and ship it to consumers in January. However, these executives also feel that quality is more important than hitting an arbitrary date. If problems arise, they're willing to slip again to get it right. Clearly, this is the right decision.

Actually, Vista Will Support New BIOS ... Eventually

At WinHEC 2006 this week, Microsoft revealed that it will indeed support the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) BIOS replacement in Vista. It's just that the hardware won't be supported in the initial Vista release. "UEFI support should be present in a subsequent Windows Vista release," said Microsoft development manager Andrew Ritz. "Think Service Pack 1, something that coincides with, or will be very close to, the launch of Windows Server Longhorn." Indeed, Microsoft is planning to ship Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) concurrently with Longhorn Server, so that the two releases will then be on the same code base. Longhorn Server (and SP1) are both due in the second half of 2007.

Google Takes Microsoft's Spot on Dell PCs

Google has struck a lucrative deal with PC giant Dell that will see Google's desktop, toolbar, search engine, and home page added to all consumer and medium-sized business PCs shipped by Dell. "Windows lacks certain features, and Dell figured out a way to add them," says Google CEO Eric Schmidt. "Dell is the pioneer in this. They've figured out a way to work with other partners to essentially fill out the Windows platform." The Google-enhanced PCs will start shipping any day now, Dell says, and will actually include Microsoft's MSN Search tools as well. However, Google's will be enabled by default.

Microsoft Pushes Its Own Format for Photos

We need this like we need a PDF replacement. Oh, wait. Microsoft this week revealed a new photo file format that the software giant would like to see replace the venerable JPEG format. Dubbed Windows Media Photo (naturally), the new format offers much smaller file sizes than JPEG but much better image quality. The problem, of course, is support. Will anyone use this? Will anyone care? Or will Apple simply come along with its own format and blow Microsoft out of the water? Stay tuned.

Microsoft Claims its Open XML Format is Faster than OpenDocument

And speaking of Microsoft formats no one was asking for, the software giant this week claimed that its Open XML formats, used in the next version of Microsoft Office, offer better performance than the open-source OpenDocument format. Take that, Linux fanboys! "The Open XML format is designed for performance," said Microsoft General Manager Alan Yates. "XML is fundamentally slower than binary formats, so we have made sure that customers won't notice a big difference in performance. OpenDocument documents \[are\] slower to the point of not really being satisfactory." Naturally, the OpenDocument community is taking this accusation in stride. "There's simply no Open XML product on the market yet, to compare performance,' says Marino Marcich, the managing director of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) Alliance. I love the smell of a format war in the morning.

Live OneCare Gets Seal of Approval

Windows Live OneCare, which should begin shipping to the public in the weeks ahead, has received two important certifications this week. First, the ICSA Labs certification asserts that the subscription service is "an effective solution to combat viruses and other forms of malicious code." Second, the West Coast Labs’ Checkmark certification means that OneCare has met the lab's "criteria for protection against viruses and Trojans." One might think of these certifications as the tech equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, and if my own experience with OneCare is any indication, it's a great service (albeit with an annoying number of pop-ups that alert you to it being up-to-date).

Microsoft Ships Major Windows Live Local Update

This week, Microsoft shipped a major update to its Windows Live Local service (previously called Virtual Earth) that enhances the occasionally creepy bird's-eye view with new features such as live traffic flow and accident data, Windows Live Messenger and Outlook integration, and a new concept called Collections, whereby you can save a map view that includes a number of in-map shortcuts to favorite locations. This last feature will eventually be the center of a cool community push where users can share maps to favorite area attractions, restaurants, and other destinations around the world. And that is something, I think, that will help seriously differentiate Windows Live Local from competing services from Google and Yahoo.

Nintendo Wii to Cost Less than $250

Although Nintendo is still being coy about the price of its upcoming Wii video game console, the company is finally getting close to announcing something. As expected, the Nintendo Wii will cost significantly less than the Xbox 360 ($300 and up) or PlayStation 3 ($500 and up). But how much less? Nintendo says the Wii "will not exceed $250 in the United States." That's actually pretty amazing, and it could go a long way toward establishing Nintendo as a major player again. Good for Nintendo. It seems like people get too wrapped up in tech specs, while Nintendo is just focused on good games and innovative game play. Lowball prices can only help.

See, I Told You Apple Copies Microsoft

And finally, Microsoft had a surprise visitor at its WinHEC 2006 trade show this week in Seattle. Several representatives from Apple Computer were on hand to blatantly copy, er, see what Microsoft is up to. "I am attending WinHEC to keep tabs on what is happening in the industry and what Microsoft is looking to do over the next year," David Harrington, the manager of Apple's hardware technology group admitted when asked. He declined to make any further comment. I will say this: I do know that Microsoft employees also attend Apple's shows, including the World Wide Developer events. So clearly there's some cross-pollination going on here.

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