WinInfo Short Takes: Week of September 28, 2009

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news ...

WinInfo Blog

This week, summer returned with a vengeance, temperature-wise, and I'm always amused by how the people around me overreact to what is, in fact, a very normal occurrence. There's nothing odd about a couple of 80-degree days in September, when you think about it. But it brings to mind the interesting theory that people seem to remember the extremes better than the normal slog of average days. I think this explains the memories a lot of people have about winters when they were kids: They assume it snowed constantly because all they can remember is that one big year (1978, in this case) when we had three feet of snow and they could build forts that reached up to the top of the garage. Sorry, but that kind of thing wasn't normal then, either. But a couple of warm days in September? Absolutely normal. And you'll forget all about it in no time. Mark my words.

While everyone is twittering (the traditional kind, not "tweeting") this week about another minor Gmail problem, I awoke this morning to an even rarer and more disconcerting experience: My FIOS connection was, if not completely down, then at best barely available. We've had FIOS since the first day it was available in Dedham, literally (and back then it was just Internet), and I have to think this is maybe the second time this has ever happened, not counting a router failure. (So, maybe the third time, overall.) Confusion resulted, but we eventually discovered that there was a wider outage in my area and that they'd call when it was working properly. That's fantastic, but it kind of puts a crimp in my work-related plans for the day unless it comes back up soon.

I recorded this week's episode of the Windows Weekly podcast with Alex Lindsay instead of Leo, and it seemed to go quite well. (No one is actually clear how Leo got a day off, but it was on the schedule weeks ago.) Anyway, the episode should be up by the weekend, as always (I assume).

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

Short Takes

Microsoft Smart Phone Designs Leak, and I Have to Wonder What All the Fuss Is About
This week, two Microsoft prototype smart phone designs leaked, courtesy of the blogger sweatshop that is Gizmodo and, for some reason, it was the talk of the tech world for a few days. The phones are hugely derivative of other already-available devices, which is why I'm questioning the attention they're getting. One (code-named Turtle) looks almost exactly like the Palm Pre, and the other (code-named Pure), a more traditional horizontal model with a sliding keyboard, looks a heck of a lot like 10 or more current smart phones, including half the HTC line. My guess is that these designs are simply concept images created by the folks at Microsoft-owned Danger and are in no danger (ahem) of coming out anytime soon—if ever. The speculation, however, is rampant. Which has me again wondering why it is that no one is too busy not to speculate about absolutely nothing. Moving on ...

Non-News: No Windows 7 Restrictions on Netbooks? You Don't Say!
In keeping with the theme of tech bloggers and reporters not doing their homework and getting excited about nothing, a UK-based tech site (I won't embarrass it by name) "confirmed" that Microsoft is setting no restrictions on which version of Windows 7 PC makers can install on netbooks. Um, right. Forgetting for a moment that this information has been public for months, let's see how Microsoft communicated it. "\[PC makers\] have the choice to install any version of Windows on a netbook," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "\[But\] Starter is an entry version and doesn't have many of the consumer or business features." Right, but that's not the important bit, so here's what's really happening: To qualify for Window 7 Starter edition pricing (which is very low compared with other Windows 7 editions), the PC maker can install the software only on a machine with low-end specs (Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, 160GB hard drive, and 10.1" or smaller screen). However, that doesn't prevent the PC maker from installing any version of Windows 7 it wants on that machine. The company will just pay more if it's not Starter, and of course the resulting machine will likely be more expensive, as well. Obviously.

Some Windows 7-Based PCs to Hit a Little Earlier than Expected
Speaking of PCs running Windows 7, here's some actual news: Microsoft has told small PC builders (the so-called "white box" vendors) that they can begin selling Windows 7-based PCs to customers on October 13—about 10 days before the OS becomes generally available. This is a huge advantage over the world's biggest PC makers (e.g., Dell, HP), which have to wait until October 22 to begin shipping Windows 7-based systems.

Microsoft vs. Google in the Battle Over ... IE 6?
This story is kind of odd. As you might know, a curiously large percentage of people are still using Microsoft's aging (and insecure) Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6) browser, which debuted back in 2001. This week, Google released an interesting add-on for IE 6 called Chrome Frame, which replaces the dated IE rendering engine with the modern rendering engine from Chrome, Google's own browser. The new rendering engine allegedly speeds up IE nicely and adds support for a lot of new web technologies. But Microsoft, alas, isn't amused. "Running a browser within a browser doubles the potential attack surface in a way that we don't see is particularly helpful," says Microsoft IE General Manager Amy Bazdukas. "Chrome Frame is not a risk we would recommend our friends and families take." Hey, that's exactly what I say about IE 6 itself! But Chrome Frame also works with newer IE versions, such as IE 7 and IE 8, and I'm guessing that's where the real problem lies. On the good-news front, from Microsoft's perspective, is the fact that Google Chrome hasn't exactly taken off with users. It still represents less than 2 percent of all browsers used worldwide. So, it's unclear how successful Chrome Frame could ever be.

Microsoft Cracks Down on Maltervisers (Whatever Those Are)
Microsoft this week filed suit against five companies that hide scary malware (or "scareware") in the code for online advertisements. (Ahhh..."malvertisers." Nice.) "We are filing these cases to help uncover the people responsible and prevent them from continuing their exploits," Microsoft General Counsel Tim Cranton said. "We hope that \[these\] filings will help deter malvertising in the future, but meanwhile, adopting a few good habits can help you avoid online scams and ensure the safest computing experience possible." What he means is simple: Armed with a free AV solution and a dollop of common sense, there's no reason why any Windows user has to put up with malware, ever. Come on, people, you're your own worst enemy sometimes.

Microsoft: Sorry, Wall Street, We're Not Buying EA
A day after rumors of a Microsoft purchase of Electronic Arts (EA) sent the game maker's stock surging, Microsoft doused the excitement by announcing that it had no such plans. Hopefully, the company made it clear enough. "We have no plans to acquire EA," Microsoft Corporate Vice President Phil Spencer said Thursday. "They remain a very important partner to us. No acquisitions." Yeah, I guess that does it.

Google Book-Scanning Hearing Delayed Until October
A federal judge this week delayed a hearing on the proposed settlement between Google and several US-based book publishers so that it could win the support of the US Department of Justice. "The current settlement agreement raises significant concerns as demonstrated not only by the number of objections but also by the fact that the objectors include countries, states, nonprofit organizations, and prominent authors and law professors," US District Judge Denny Chin noted. "Clearly, fair concerns have been raised. On the other hand, the proposed settlement would offer many benefits to society as recognized by supporters of the settlement as well as the DOJ." Many benefits to society? Huh. I thought Google was scanning in copyrighted works and not paying the owners of those copyrights, but maybe I misunderstood. If Google cures cancer in the process, does that make it OK?

And You Thought My Reviews Were Long
Finally, I'd like to point readers to what must be the longest Windows 7 review that will ever be written. In fact, it sits somewhere between my own review of Windows 7—which is just over half complete and being published in stages—and my 1,000-page book "Windows 7 Secrets." OK, it's not that long, but at 70 whopping pages, you'll possibly spend more time reading this review than you spent on certain relationships. It comes courtesy of Andre De Cost over at Activewin, and ... well, I just don't know what else to say. It's huge. Read it if you dare.

And Finally ...
In the course of writing Short Takes over two hours, I've noticed two things. One, my FIOS connection is already back up and running, averting what could have been a national nightmare. (At least, in my mind.) And two, it's freezing outside. Absolutely frigid. So much for summer in late September. Now, to close that window and find some socks!

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