An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Longhorn Build 4051 on the SuperSite
Later today, I'll post part one of my Longhorn build 4051 review, followed next week by part two. Part one puts this Longhorn developer preview in perspective by concentrating on the events that led up to the build's release and providing an overview of some of its new features. In part two, I'll continue my examination of the new features and discuss Longhorn's ramifications on the computer industry. Typically, I would have waited until I completed the review to post it, but readers have been impatiently asking when they'll see it, so I decided to split the review into two parts. Longhorn build 4051 is a complicated subject and worth far more than a quick "Look--I Installed It" review. With this exciting Windows version, Microsoft has raised the bar across the board.
MSDN Makes Longhorn Build 4051 Download Available
As I first reported before Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2003, Microsoft has made Longhorn build 4051 and a variety of related downloads available to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers through MSDN Subscriber Downloads. Dubbed the Longhorn Client Preview, the downloads include 64-bit and 32-bit versions of Longhorn build 4051 for the AMD64, Intel x86, and Intel Itanium platforms; the Longhorn software development kit (SDK); the Longhorn Driver Kit (LDK); and various Longhorn white papers and extras. Microsoft notes that this (incorrectly labeled prealpha) version isn't feature-complete and shouldn't be installed on production machines.
COMDEX Rises from the Ashes of Past Stupidity
COMDEX, once the largest US computer-industry trade show, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, although few people are celebrating. After topping the 200,000-attendee mark a few years ago, COMDEX attendance has fallen to just 50,000 this year (down from more than 120,000 last year). The company that owns the show is just coming out of bankruptcy and faces competition from a similar show that's held in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the same time as COMDEX. But COMDEX isn't down and out quite yet, thank you very much. This year, the show is returning to its business-computing roots, with an attendee list that's neatly culled of all the people who don't belong (only those actually involved with IT received attendee badges; others can pay $100 at the door to get in), and a show floor that no longer features a bevy of nonbusiness-computing companies. These changes mean no more teenagers posing as press and no more massage chair and car companies clogging the show floor. It also means the return of some companies that haven't been at COMDEX for a long time, including Siebel Systems and PC super-giant Dell. Can COMDEX return from the edge of destruction? From what I can tell, the possibility looks good. This year will be my ninth straight year at COMDEX, and although I had previously figured it would be my last, I guess you never know.
Microsoft Completes Defense in EU Antitrust Case
Microsoft completed its defense yesterday in the European Union (EU) antitrust trial, noting that it still hopes to reach a settlement with European regulators. A day and a half into the hearing, Microsoft ceded the floor to a group of competitors, who began another day and a half of arguments, this time centered around the hope that the EU will impose strict restrictions and fines on the company, which is accused of abusing its monopoly power. After all the parties have presented their arguments, a European Commission (EC) member will provide an opinion that will ultimately determine whether the EC charges Microsoft. Fun, fun, fun.
Microsoft Tries Familiar Tactic in EU Antitrust Case
Meanwhile, Microsoft legal followers will be interested to know that the company is trying a defense tactic that's eerily similar to the approach it used in its US antitrust case. You might recall that Microsoft angered Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson when it released a broken version of Windows after the judge ordered the company to reissue Windows 95 with Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) removed. This time, Microsoft is arguing to the Europeans that removing Windows Media Player (WMP) from Windows would have the same effect, and that if the EC gets its wish and forces the company to release a Windows version without WMP, that version would be horribly broken. Although this approach underscores the company's integration strategy, if true, it also reveals how badly coded Windows must be. WMP is a media player, guys, not the OS kernel. Surely a company with Microsoft's resources can find a way to separate low-level technologies such as media coder-decoders (codecs) from a media player's UI.
Windows Users Gird for Next Worm
And speaking of debatable programming techniques, we might be seeing a new Windows worm in the weeks ahead. Just a day after Microsoft posted its monthly set of security fixes, a hacker posted code that exploits one of the vulnerabilities. The last time this happened, we suffered through the embarrassing MSBlaster attack, despite that Microsoft and even the US Department of Homeland Security repeatedly warned that the attack was coming. This week's events mirror the events that led up to MSBlaster; I hope that administrators around the world learned their lesson the first time.
Shareholders Grill Microsoft Executives
This story hasn't received a lot of press for some reason, but Microsoft held its annual shareholders meeting earlier this week near Seattle, and company executives found themselves in the uncomfortable position of facing an angry crowd. The company's shareholders were upset because Microsoft's stock has spent 3 years in the toilet, despite a recent tech-stock boom that seems to have bolstered many other companies' fortunes. The meeting didn't produce any huge revolts (e.g., all the board members were re-elected), but shareholders--finally--had some serious questions. Chief among those questions was why the company needed to hold on to a cash horde of more than $50 billion, which might be better used for shareholder dividends or special shareholder payouts. The highly charged questioning finally unhinged Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who in recent years has been a bit too calm for my tastes. He responded to one shareholder by saying, "If somebody said, 'Look, you \[have\] to break Windows up into pieces,' the cost of that would be incredible ... and so we just think it \[wouldn't\] be prudent to take the steps with the cash until we know where we stand, particularly with the \[EU\]." If the company's financial picture doesn't improve soon, I suspect that next year's meeting will be even more uncomfortable for these executives. I think it's time for the company to justify exactly why it needs so much cash on hand.
Microsoft Smartphones to Dominate in 2004?
Microsoft hasn't exactly been ... what's the word? ... successful in the cell-phone arena, but the recent release of Windows Mobile-based Smartphones in the United States has analysts at Gartner agog at the possibilities. Speaking at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo this week, Gartner Vice President Nick Jones declared the Smartphone wars over, with Microsoft the winner. He said that Windows Mobile-based Smartphone devices will be the dominant Smartphone platform within a few years. Maybe Gartner's excitement isn't misplaced: According to a report in DigiTimes.com, Smartphone production is ramping up, and OEMs will offer 10 different Smartphone designs to cell-phone makers by next year. Could it be?
Dell Clobbers the Competition Again, Will Continue To Clobber the Competition
This week, Dell revealed that it squeaked by financial estimates, continued to gain market share, and saw its revenues jump 16 percent as the company posted net income of $677 million on sales of $10.62 billion last quarter. Dell's numbers are incredible. The company saw revenue from servers, workstations, and storage systems rise 28 percent in the quarter; it lowered operating costs from 9.9 percent to 9.7 percent; and it grew almost 20 percent in Europe (30 percent worldwide). Dell also expanded into new markets--including printers and consumer electronics--during the quarter, and analysts now expect the company to dominate or have a huge presence in those markets as well. Dell says it expects about $11.5 billion in sales for the current quarter.
Gateway Settles With the SEC, Former Executives Charged with Fraud
Struggling PC maker Gateway has settled a US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation that charged several former company executives with fraud. Apparently, former CEO Jeffrey Weitzen, former Senior Vice President and chief financial officer (CFO) John Todd, and former Controller Robert Manza admitted to the SEC that to meet financial expectations they cooked Gateway's books in 2000, opening the company to a mountain of debt. The scheme involved financing customers who had previously been denied financing because of credit problems and manipulating the company's financial statements. Gateway replaced its top management in early 2001, when founder Ted Waitt returned to the company helm, and the company recently restated its earnings for the period in question. Today, the bruised company is hoping a recent move into consumer electronics will revive its fortunes.