An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including sewer technology, a "grudging" Microsoft, a possible antitrust investigation of Google/Yahoo!, Ballmer pontificating on a number of topics, Mundie pontificating on the future, and more...
This week's drama involved an overflowed toilet that was actually the result of a blockage in the town sewer, out under the street. Ten towels and untold damage later--the cellar flooded with sewer water, wrecking DVDs, a TV, the carpet, and the ceiling down there--we got an interesting demonstration of technology applied to day-to-day life: The plumber had a mechanical snake that could travel down the pipes out to the street, complete with high-resolution camera, and we could watch its progress in real time on a screen. The quality was amazing, and not a little bit like a colonoscopy video, or, for that matter, a scene from an "Alien" movie. But it proved that the problems were with the town, and not our house. So they can expect a hefty bill from us in the near future, along with a DVD proving it's their fault. Good stuff.
Leo and I are recording this week's episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this evening (that is, Friday evening) so it should be available on the normal schedule. Last week, a server outage over a TWIT delayed the publication of the previous episode, which I don't think went live until Monday or Tuesday. I think everything's all set now though.
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US Regulators: Microsoft Could Be Less "Grudging"
At a regularly scheduled antitrust status meeting this week, federal and state regulators agreed that Microsoft has made some progress on its court-required interoperability documentation in recent months. But the work would be completed in a timelier manner if Microsoft would simply approach it with a less "grudging" attitude. "I have to express my concern with this attitude that they're behaving," said Jay Himes, who represents the New York attorney general's office. "It fosters this sort of grudging commitment to get the system documents done." He said that a technical committee has wasted over 150 hours on meetings about just the templates used to create the documents, a process that has seen it "spoon feed the world's biggest PC company;" "something that just isn't right." Microsoft adopted its normal defensive posture. "We understand that is a requirement," a Microsoft attorney said. "The delays have not been as a result of Microsoft taking a lackadaisical attitude." Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly displayed little patience with Microsoft and said the work had to be completed by November 2009, when the consent decree expires. I'm pretty sure that's exactly how long this documentation will take.
US Antitrust Regulators Meet with Google, Yahoo, Competitors
And speaking of antitrust fun here at home, this week antitrust regulators from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) met with officials from Google, Yahoo!, and their competitors to discus Google and Yahoo!'s online advertising deal. Rivals say the deal is anticompetitive. Google and Yahoo! say that's not the case. So far, there's no hint from the DOJ about its plans, but the agency did recently hear from 10 members of Congress who expressed concerns about the deal. And Canada has hired a famous antitrust expert to give it feedback as well. "Since our plan and intent is to increase our search-advertising share over time--not cede any of it to Google--this deal will make us a stronger competitor in search and display advertising," Yahoo! vice president David Hartman noted this week in a letter to representative Steve Chabot of Ohio.
Ballmer: Bad Economy No Problem for Microsoft
And heck, given the performance of Microsoft stock over the years, he should know. While at an industry event in Silicon Valley this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said he was confident that his company and the wider tech industry would weather the current economic crisis just fine. "Our industry is not immune to what goes on in the global economy, yet given the current circumstances people still see a buoyancy in the market," he said. People that I talk to in our business are feeling better than you would feel if all you did was watch \[business news TV network\] CNBC all day."
Ballmer: Microsoft Transitioning Away from Packaged Software
Ballmer also noted that Microsoft was moving away from boxed, packaged software to a model where software and services are deployed and maintained via the Internet cloud. The company has a lot of work to do to catch up to Google in Web search, he admitted--a process that will take several years and "a lot of money," he said--but Microsoft "isn't afraid" of embracing a new business model. Ballmer says he's willing to spend 5 to 10 percent of Microsoft's annual income on research and development to get it there, too, and the company will spend $8.5 billion in this fiscal year alone on R&D. "If you are the Number Two guy you are going to have to at least ante up," Ballmer, ever the card player, added.
Ballmer: Apple Still a "Blip" on the Radar
Ballmer also touched on industry darling Apple. He said that while Apple continues to make strong gains in the US consumer market, the Cupertino company wasn't welcome in the business market. "If we do our jobs right there is no reason Apple should get a real footprint in the enterprise side," he said. "Apple's just a 'blip on the radar' \[in the business market\]." A loud and obnoxious blip. But a blip.
Mundie: The Future is Spatial
Microsoft chief research and strategy offer Craig Mundie outlined his ideas for the future of computing this week at an MIT conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He said that we are moving to a "special computing" model defined by many-core processors, parallel programming, seamlessly connectivity, contextual awareness, personalization, 3D and immersive environments, and utilizing speech, vision and gestures. Microsoft is investing heavily in this future and the company will soon begin testing virtual receptionists at its Redmond, WA campus, he said. The system utilizes a software avatar that can schedule intra-building bus rides as well as voice and visual recognition. It will actually scan you visually and make assumptions about you based on your dress and other factors. (People who dress up at the Microsoft campus are more likely to be visitors than employees, for example.)
Microsoft Doesn't Owe Alcatel-Lucent $1.5 Billion
A panel of federal judges ruled this week that Microsoft does not have to pay Alcatel-Lucent $1.5 billion in damages related to a long-running digital music patent lawsuit. Microsoft was found in February to have infringed on two patents related to the MP3 audio format, though a judge later found that Microsoft had not, in fact, infringed on one of the two patents. The remaining patent in question is jointly owned by Germany's Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, a company that is widely credited for inventing the MP3 format. But since Microsoft had paid Fraunhofer Gesellschaft $16 million for the right to use the technology, and Fraunhofer did not participate in the lawsuit, the panel ruled that Microsoft was not responsible for damages. The original lawsuit was filed back in 2003, and included PC makers Dell and Gateway as well.
Transmeta Looking for a Buyer
Wait, Transmeta is still in business? Really? This week, microprocessor maker wannabe Transmeta hired Piper Jaffray to find a buyer for the company. As it turns out--and yes, I did have to look this up--Transmeta stopped making processors a long time ago. What it's been doing, apparently, is living off of technology licensing revenues for the past several years. One of its biggest benefactors is industry giant Intel, which will pay Transmeta $90 million this year to license its intellectual property. (Intel was forced to pay Transmeta $250 million over time as part of a patent infringement settlement.) Other companies licensing Transmeta technologies include AMD, Fujitsu, IBM, NEC, and Toshiba, or, to put that another way, virtually every company that makes microprocessors. Maybe Transmeta was on to something after all.