WinInfo Short Takes: Week of November 12 - 09 Nov 2001

Gates to Push Tablet PC at COMDEX Once Again
During his COMDEX keynote Sunday night, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will push the company's forthcoming Tablet PC--which will run a new version of Windows XP--logically named Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. This is the second straight year that Gates has talked about the product during Fall COMDEX, which must mean it's really, really, really going to come out soon. But the Tablet PC isn't due until late 2002, so if we're lucky, we can hear all about it at next year's keynote, too. The company is hosting a cool post-keynote Tablet PC reception, so we'll have the full details in Monday's COMDEX coverage.

Gates: Oh, and We Invented Open Source, Too
And speaking of Bill Gates, everyone's favorite orator used this week's annual shareholders meeting to remind fans of some of the company's less-well-known innovations--you know, such as open source software (OSS). Gates, whose company is essentially committed to crushing OSS, said, "The reason that you see open source there at all is because we came in and said there should be a platform that's identical with millions and millions of machines, and the BIOS of that should be open to everybody to use, and all the extensibility should be there." The sad part is that Gates didn't get the history right. The IBM PC didn't "open up" until Compaq's clean-room scientists created a functional duplicate of the original BIOS, which was most decidedly closed.

Windows XP "Flying" Off the Shelves
Microsoft just can't rid itself of that original "now you're flying" theme for Windows XP advertising, even though Microsoft replaced that ad campaign with "yes you can" in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The company announced this week that XP is "flying off the shelves," a reference to the product's TV ads, in which people are flying overhead while others work and play on XP machines. It's weird that we haven't heard any concrete sales numbers yet, however; the company mentions only that XP sales are "exceeding initial sales of Windows 95 and Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) and keeping pace with initial sales of Windows 98." Other reports contain more concrete data: According to sales-tracking firm NPD Intelect, XP sold 300,000 units at retail in its first 3 days of availability. This compares to 400,000 units for Win98 and 200,000 units for Windows Me. I found another interesting statistic we can compare XP to at the end of the year: An October 17, 1995, press release about Win95 noted that that product had sold more than 7 million copies in retail sales and with new PCs within 2 months of its launch.

Win2K SP3 Beta Test Begins
Thanks to all the testers who wrote to me about the beta for Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3), which began this week. The fixed bug list is several hundred items long, although a quick perusal doesn't reveal anything interesting. Win2K SP3 could very well include new Add or Remove Programs functionality for various Microsoft middleware components such as MSN Messenger, Internet Explorer (IE), and Outlook Express, however, so don't be surprised to see that feature surface eventually.

And We Thought Microsoft's Bugs Were Bad
Imagine, if you will, the uproar and class-action lawsuits that would occur if a minor update to Windows Media Player (WMP) erased Windows users' hard disks. That's exactly what happened last week to Mac OS X users who upgraded to the initial release of iTunes 2.0, an upgrade to Apple's free MP3 player. Mac OS X users with multiple partitions who upgraded to the free download soon found themselves sans data, a scary proposition at best. Apple pulled the free download, offered suggestions about using recovery tools, and then eventually decided to reimburse anyone who had to purchase a new recovery tool. A day later, the company uploaded a new version of iTunes, one that apparently lacks the automatic-format feature.

Brazil Wants Microsoft Fined
Brazil's finance ministry recommended this week that the Brazilian government fine Microsoft for violating a law that protects competition in that country. The ministry says that the company monopolizes sales of software to the Brazilian government by letting only one reseller handle all of the transactions. This action resulted in the kinds of government price gouging that we're used to here in the United States, with some pieces of Microsoft software selling for four times their normal price. If the government finds Microsoft guilty, it can charge the company 1 percent to 30 percent of its annual earnings in Brazil. I recommend that the country quadruple that charge, if just for the irony.

Microsoft: Xbox? We've Got Games
Microsoft announced this week that a wide range of games will accompany the November launch of the Xbox, including such exclusive titles as Fuzion Frenzy, Halo, Oddworld: Munch's Odyssey, NFL Fever 2002, and Project Gotham Racing. "There's never been a better time to be a gamer," said Ed Fries, vice president of Microsoft Game Studios. "Whether you love sports, racing, or action games, Xbox will deliver an awesome experience. Come November 15 (the Xbox launch date), gamers will be blown away!" Anyone know why the Xbox costs less than Apple's iPod, a handheld MP3 player?

Linux: Told You So
A WinInfo Daily UPDATE story last week about Linux adoptions triggered a large number of responses from the pro-Linux crowd, thanks to links to the story on various Linux news sites. But aside from my feelings about the OSS solution (I've maintained at least one current Linux installation since October 1995, incidentally), many people seemed to misunderstand the intention of the article. If you frequent the technical news sites as I do, you'll read a lot about "Linux wins" in the enterprise, but I've always felt that these statements were a bit exaggerated. And, apparently, they are: According to Goldman Sachs, which released an IT-spending report this week, virtually every large company has indeed considered Linux. But "areas like ... Linux servers rank near the bottom of spending priorities \[for large companies\]," the report reads, "with Linux ... virtually not registering on our survey." The top priorities, however, included Windows 2000 Professional and Windows XP, security software, and UNIX servers. The report says that 65 percent of respondents had no plans to use Linux at all, 24 percent said they would use Linux only in addition to Windows, and only 3 percent said that they would eventually use Linux as their primary enterprise server system.

Microsoft Nails Interactive TV Deal
Charter Communications, a cable company that Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen also founded, has signed a deal with Microsoft to bring the software giant's Interactive TV services to its upcoming set-top boxes. I'm sure the (ahem) cozy relationship between the heads of the two companies (cough) has absolutely nothing to do with the deal. Seriously.

CNET Seizes Victory from Mac OS X in OS Deathmatch
When CNET controversially chose Mac OS X over Windows XP in an "OS deathmatch" a month ago, Macintosh news sites proudly trumpeted the news as validation for everything that is right with their world. Too bad, then, that the site recently reversed the decision, declaring the face-off a tie, because of the fact that OS X, like XP, is restricted to use on one PC. "Although it is true that OS X lacks a feature like Windows XP's product activation that would bar you from installing it on more than on system, it is still a violation of Apple's End User License Agreement (EULA) to install the upgrade on multiple systems," CNET noted. "We regret any misleading information in the initial version, which has now been updated to clarify this issue." For my take on the OS X versus XP debate, see my review of OS X 10.1 on the Connected Home Online Web site.

A Sobering Thought
So I agree with Ralph Nader; I guess I can live with that. America's favorite consumer advocate this week asked Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to reject Microsoft's settlement with the government and "send this unchastened monopoly juggernaut a sterner message." Mirroring my own complaints, Nader notes that it's "astonishing that the agreement fails to provide any penalty for Microsoft's past misdeeds, creating both the sense that Microsoft is escaping punishment because of its extraordinary political and economic power and undermining the value of antitrust penalties as a deterrent." Go get 'em, Ralph.

Another Sobering Thought
But wait, there's more. John Wilke, who covers technology for The Wall Street Journal, noted a similar problem with the proposed settlement in an article this week. Wilke correctly noted that "the settlement leaves Microsoft's personal-computer software monopoly largely intact and is unlikely to hinder its march into such new markets as online services, music distribution, and telecommunications." I don't mean to beat this subject to death, but come on. The court found Microsoft guilty of illegally using its monopoly to harm competitors, partners, and customers. Shouldn't the remedy do something about that fact?

Presumably, He's Bad to the Bone
Sony released another high-tech robot, and like the first one, this version is also a dog. That is, it's a robot dog, an update to the first Aibo model that went on sale 2 years ago. Although the potential market for small, robotic dogs is unclear, Sony says that the new model is "a little more macho" but still "friendly and lovable." It's only a matter of time before one of these things attacks its owner and Sony begins building Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" into future models.

COMDEX: Laptops Yes, Bags No
The people behind COMDEX clarified their "no laptop" rule this week after reports surfaced that the trade show, to be held next week in Las Vegas, won't let attendees bring laptops onto the show floor. It turns out that laptops are just fine, but you can't bring bags onto the floor. So if you want to bring a laptop, you'll have to carry it sans bag. Something tells me that the security this year will more than offset the pleasing effects of lower attendance.

Microsoft Offers Low-Cost Office XP for Students, Teachers
Microsoft is selling a low-cost version of Office XP that's designed exclusively for students and teachers. The logically named Office XP for Students and Teachers, which includes Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint, retails for about $150 and is available for noncommercial use only by students and teachers. According to the documentation, "in a household, only the students are eligible to use the software, however parents can use the software when assisting students." Nice.

Taco Bell and Xbox: Two Great Tastes That Go Together
There's something about the combination of Taco Bell and Microsoft's Xbox gaming system that doesn't make sense to me. But it makes sense to Jared Tait of Gilbert, Arizona, who recently won a free Xbox thanks to Taco Bell's Xbox promotion. Sadly, to win you have to eat at a Taco Bell, but the odds aren't bad. Taco Bell plans to give away an Xbox at every one of its restaurants.

Palm CEO Resigns
Palm CEO Carl Yankowski left the company this week after Palm's market share and stock prices plummeted. Palm shares are down 97 percent this year and are trading in the $2 to $3 range after hitting $65 a year ago. And with competition from the Pocket PC finally eroding the company's market share, Palm might not survive, let alone continue to dominate. According to company insiders, Palm will soon split the company into two units, one that focuses on the Palm OS software and one that sells the hardware devices. I thought that's what Handspring was, the hardware people bought to run the Palm OS.

Hewlett and Packard Disapprove of HP and Compaq Merger
Add the families of Hewlett-Packard (HP) cofounders William Hewlett and David Packard to the long list of people who don't think the HP and Compaq merger should be consummated. Representatives for the two founders' families revealed this week that they are fighting HP CEO Carly Fiorina's attempt to merge the company with Compaq, stating that they'll use their voting power and influence to reverse the merger plans. My prediction: This merger will never happen.

Microsoft: Seriously, Dude, We Get Security   
Maybe if Microsoft talks enough about how tough the company is about security, we'll start believing it. This week, Microsoft announced that it will work with other companies to jointly develop and refine security-flaw disclosure rules in a bid to prevent Web sites from publishing hacks and other programs that bypass software-security vulnerabilities until well after they're fixed. This announcement comes just weeks after Microsoft Security Manager Scott Culp asked bug-tracking sites to stop publishing information about security loopholes because they're simply giving hackers blueprints for harming users. I suspect the Big Brother approach is going to backfire, however; most critics will simply ask why the products are so buggy in the first place. It's a valid question.

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