WinInfo Short Takes: Week of October 6, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the arrival of Paul's new book, Steve Ballmer's leaky ship, Microsoft's search desperation, Red Hat's cheaper HPC solution, Amazon's cloud services, Xbox 360 sales in Japan and much more...

WinInfo Blog

My new book arrived this week. Imaginatively dubbed Windows Vista Secrets SP1 Edition, this second edition of "Vista Secrets" has is over 250 pages longer than the previous edition. But that doesn't really speak to the level of change that's occurred this time around, as I've thoroughly overhauled every single chapter and brought the whole thing as up-to-date as possible. I'll be supporting the book over on the SuperSite for Windows ( new section for the book will be up this weekend--and you can pre-order it now on Amazon for 37 percent off. The sponsored link to do so is:

Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this week on schedule, so it should be available by the end of the weekend as expected.

But wait, there more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed and the SuperSite Blog.

Short Takes

Sometimes a Ship Leaks from the Top
I get this feeling from Microsoft that they'd like to keep CEO Steve Ballmer locked in a box sometimes, because when you put this guy in front of a microphone, he just can't shut up. In a recent trip to London, he babbled about some upcoming Microsoft secrets around their upcoming Windows Cloud OS--which was to have originally been unveiled late this month at PDC. He spilled the beans on a new version of Office Live that will include Web versions of Office applications, another announcement planned for PDC. And he also said that his company's Zune software would soon end up on Windows Mobile devices, verifying a long-time rumor. Maybe it's time for one of those Hannibal Lector-style face masks. Or at least a 30 second delay.

Desperate But Not Serious: Microsoft Continues Paying for Search Clicks
Microsoft this week announced yet another effort to increase usage of its Live Search engine by paying people use the service. The latest effort, dubbed SearchPerks, is sort of like a frequent flyer program, except that you must use Internet Explorer and Live Search instead of a real airplane. For every search completed with this dubious software tandem, users get a "ticket" that can be used towards airline miles (of course) or other prizes. You're limited to 25 tickets per day and there's a 500-ticket sign-up bogus, er ah, bonus. For more information, check out the SearchPerks Web site, which looks curiously like an ad for dishwashing soap. (Make sure you use IE.)

Microsoft to Open 3 European Labs
And speaking of Web search, Microsoft said this week that it would open three research centers in Europe devoted to its Internet Search efforts. The "centers of excellence," as they're called, will be located in Britain, France, and Germany, and will require a major financial investment. (And let's face it, it's not like Microsoft is ever going get that investment back.) But the company says it's a vote of confidence in the European economy, which is likely just a cute way of saying that it may collapse a full 8 days after the US economy does.

Red Hat: Actually, We Have a Cheaper HPC Solution, Thank You Very Much
Burned by Microsoft's claims this week that its new Windows HPC Server 2008 product is the cheapest way to build high performance server clusters, Linux vendor Red Hat (yes, they're still around) has released a Linux cluster that is says is even less expensive. Red Hat's HPC Solution combines Red Hat Enterprise Linux with Platform Open Cluster Stack 5 and the company charges $249 per server node per year. This compares to a one-time fee of $475 per node for the Microsoft solution. So I guess Red Hat is cheaper if you only use the cluster for one year. This kind of advertising is similar to Apple's claims that the iPhone 3G is less expensive than the previous version when in fact, over the life of the required two-year contract, it's actually more expensive than its predecessor. Maybe it's time for some sort of oversight of this kind of marketing double-speak. Just a thought.

Amazon to Offer Access to Microsoft Servers Via Its Cloud
Amazon this week began notifying users of its EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) service that they will soon have access to a wide range of Microsoft server solutions. These include hosted versions of Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, and others, as well as competing server products such as Oracle's database line. EC2 is one of the first commercially-available pure cloud computing services in the world, and the availability of Microsoft solutions sort of pushes it over the top, providing customers with rentable access to the software giant's commercial software. Previously, EC2 mostly offered access to just open source solutions.

Xbox 360 Outsells PS3 in Japan, Again
Microsoft's poorly-performing Xbox 360 video game console somehow managed to outsell its Japanese rival, the Sony PlayStation 3, in Japan for a second month this year. Microsoft sold 53,547 Xbox 360 consoles there in September, compared to 33,071 for the PS3. (And 109,548 for market leader Nintendo Wii.) What's odd about this is that Microsoft's consoles have historically done very poorly in Japan, whereas the PS3, which was once the laughing stock of the video game industry, had outsold the 360 6 out of the first 8 months so far this year. So why would the Xbox 360 suddenly make such a turnaround in the PS3's home field? Part of it is pricing, as the 360 now undercuts the expensive PS3 significantly thanks to recent price cuts. Part of it is form factor: The PS3 is enormous and not well-suited to the smaller living spaces that are common in Japan. And part of it is software: An Xbox 360 RPG called "Infinite Undiscovery" has proven quite popular in Japan recently.

Nintendo Promises More Wii For You
After two holiday seasons in a row in which its popular Wii console was almost completely unavailable to consumers because of supply problems, Nintendo promises that this year will be different. The company is dramatically increasing shipments of the Wii to retail stores in an effort to meet demand this year, though Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime says he can't actually make any promises. Maybe things won't be so different after all. On a related note, Nintendo this week began selling an updated version of its DS portable video game system, the DSi, which features two cameras, SD memory compatibility, and digital music playback functionality. It's only available in Japan this year, and will ship to the US and elsewhere in 2009.

China Spying on Skype Users
No big surprise here, but it turns out the government of China is running a massive surveillance system aimed specifically at intercepting online phone calls made over the Skype system. Analysts estimate that the country, which engages in unique levels of Internet censorship, has over 30,000 "Internet police" in employ, all of whom are charged with shutting down access to political dissidents and anyone else bold enough to suggest that all isn't well within the country. The Skype policing is interesting: China has intercepted over one million messages sent over the services, analyzed them for key terms like "democracy," "earthquake," and "milk powder," and then blocking the transmissions of those users they consider dangerous. If we can find some humor to this story, it's that China didn't properly secure the servers where they store this information, so human rights activists were able to break in and discover the activity. Sometimes the hunter does become the hunted, I guess.

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