WinInfo Short Takes: Week of November 12 - 09 Nov 2007

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including my last big trip of the year (I think), Ballmer vs. Google, Microsoft CIO suspicions, WL Calendar, Nigeria vs. Microsoft, ActiveX and IE 7, Xbox 360 parental controls, and so much more...

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I spent the previous week in Redmond at a Windows Server 2008 reviewer's workshop, a long but worthwhile event that will no doubt trigger dozens of articles and reviews in the weeks and months ahead. The best part of these events, of course, is being able to meet up with friends from around the world that I don't get to see all that often, both within and outside of Microsoft. I don't want to forget anyone, so let's just leave it at that: It was great seeing everyone, and being able to spend time with old friends and make new ones. A great time.

That said, I still managed to get sick in what is becoming a regular ritual of these trips, though this time it wasn't cold or flu related. On my last night in Redmond, I was out having dinner with friends when I suddenly became unusually full, which was bad timing given that a steak was on the way at the time. I didn't take a bite of it, and indeed couldn't stand the smell of it, and that full feeling turned into just a weird overall feeling. Suffice to say, this culminated in me hugging a toilet briefly back at my friend's house, after which time I felt spectacular. It was all very odd. But at least I kept my streak going. And the flight home was absolutely fine, even productive from a writing standpoint.

One thing that wasn't productive yesterday, however, was my email. I ended up not getting online when I got home because our new TV had arrived, and well, you know how that goes. Now I have over 200 emails to rifle through this morning, so it might be a while. I mean, it's 1080p, sorry. I've got Blu-Ray and HD DVD, and FIOS TV is on the way. How can a boy resist?

Sadly, Leo and I had to take a second week off from the Windows Weekly podcast because of my return trip Thursday, when we usually record, and an unrelated trip of Leo's that began Friday. We'll be back next week. No, really.

Short Takes

Ballmer Scoffs at Google Lead
In Tokyo this week for the Windows Live suite launch, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that while Internet search and advertising giant may be beating his company in Internet search, which is pretty much the only area where it is leading. "Google is not ahead of us," he asserted. Granted, he was there to discuss Windows Live, which is competing head-to-head with many of Google's services. Ballmer also had a cute comment about Google's Android smart phone initiative. When queried about whether Android would steal share from Windows Mobile, he said that Android was "just words on paper" at this point. I wish this guy would come out of his shell a bit.

Microsoft CIO Ousted Under Suspicious Circumstances
And speaking of Microsoft executives, this week the company's CIO was summarily fired after engaging in some office hanky-panky, according to numerous sources both in and close to the company. Microsoft isn't talking specifics, but according to what I was told this week, ex-CIO Stuart Scott engaged in a relationship with a direct hire and then proceeded to up her pay scale and job position in ways that were gratuitous and unfair. There are other tales that are more on the hearsay side, but let's just say that the company's official reason went a bit farther than the more typical "leaving for personal reasons." "Stuart Scott's employment with Microsoft has been terminated after an investigation for violation of company policies," a company spokesperson noted this week. The point here is that he was ousted, and didn't leave under his own terms. I'm curious if they even gave him that option.

Windows Live Calendar Beta Goes Live
Amidst all the excitement over the final release of the Windows Live suite and the availability of email addresses, Microsoft quietly unveiled the beta version of Windows Live Calendar, its standards-based calendaring service, and the final piece of the puzzle for Live-based information management. Unlike the rest of Hotmail, which also includes email and contacts management, Windows Live Calendar is still very much in beta and is an opt-in choice for users at this point. It looks decent, but is missing key calendaring features like the ability to easily publish to and synchronize via ICS. I'm sure they'll get there. If you're interested in testing the new beta, head on over to

Nigeria Flip-flops Back to Mandriva Linux
You may recall the big news from last week where Microsoft and swooped in and stolen a bit Mandriva Linux contract in Nigeria. Well, this week, the government of Nigeria announced that it has overruled a decision by the contract's supplier to replace Mandriva Linux on 11,000 PCs with Windows and Office. Now, those PCs will continue to use Linux as planned. The deal is a huge one, as Nigeria will eventually order as many as 100,000 of the laptops in question, and Microsoft claims that the contract is still in play: The company points to a statement by the Nigerian supplier stating that the country still preferred Windows over Linux. Looks like this one may not be over yet.

ActiveX Controls in IE 7 to Become Less Irritating Again
In early 2008, Microsoft will switch Internet Explorer 7 back to its original behavior of dealing with ActiveX controls, removing the silly current behavior, which requires users to click once on the controls before they are activated. This behavior was required by a ruling against the software giant in the long-running Eolas patent infringement case. But since Microsoft and Eolas have settled that case, Microsoft is now able to free up ActiveX controls again. Why it's taking so long--Microsoft says the behavior will change back in April 2008--is unclear. But at least it's happening. And you know who we have to thank for this, of course. That's right. Frank Stallone.

Microsoft Bolster's Xbox 360 Parental Controls
Microsoft this week announced that it would add a semi-obvious new parental control feature to its Xbox 306 video game console: A way for parents to limit the amount of time their kids spend playing video games. The control, which works like a similar feature in Windows Vista, allows parents to block off time in a weekly grid that specifies when children can and cannot play games. It's called the Family Timer, and you can find out more on the Xbox 360 Web site.

Fun with Headlines
CNET: Microsoft's Bach not afraid of Google's Android
Paul: Why would he be? It's just yet another competitor he can fail against.

Sony: Next-Gen Disc Formats in 'Stalemate'
Surprise: They're both pretty good. Sony CEO Howard Stringer this week admitted that his company's next-generation HD disc format, Blu-Ray, was locked in a stalemate with competitor HD DVD. "It's a difficult fight," he said, in a rare admission. "We were trying to win on the merits, which we were doing for a while, until \[movie studio\] Paramount changed sides \[to HD DVD\]." Methinks that's not the only issue for Blu-Ray: Last week, a number of online and brick and mortar retailers were selling Toshiba's HD DVD player for just $99, a temporary situation yes, but one that places the units far below the $500+ asking price for most Blu-Ray players. Indeed, even without special sales, HD DVD players are about half the cost of a comparable Blu-Ray player and let's face the facts: Storage size notwithstanding, HD DVD and Blu-Ray movies are equally gorgeous looking. (As I rediscovered just last night, actually.)

From the Big Surprise Department: Microsoft Delays Surface
Looks like Microsoft's futurist Surface table computer is still futuristic: Despite claiming earlier this year that the table would be in hotels, restaurants, and casinos by the end of November, Microsoft is now saying that they're delaying the release until sometime in 2008. "What we have found out is this is not a one-size-fits-all solution," says Microsoft Director Mark Bolger. Here's what I recommend. You guys need Microsoft Surface Living Room Edition 2008, Microsoft Surface Nightstand Edition 2008, Microsoft Surface Home Office Edition 2008, and Microsoft Surface Kitchen Table Edition 2008 for this year, and then maybe next year you could expand beyond that. I'm thinking TV stands, counters, and, what the heck, bidets. Blue screens will never be so unexpected.

Here Comes the Zune
Microsoft will unleash new Zune hardware, software, and services next Tuesday, November 13. In irritatingly typical fashion, the company will deliver this stuff to me at the last minute, but I should at least have screenshots, photos, and some first impressions that day. Expect a full review of the second Zune generation in the coming days as well.

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