WinInfo Short Takes: Week of September 3

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including our first week home, a debate about continued Microsoft oversight, Vista SP1, an Eolas settlement, a WHS delay, a RIM rumor, Open XML silliness, WGA controversy, and much, much more...

WinInfo Blog

Home at last
. Naturally, I spent much of the week in a sleep deprivation coma, which was helped along by Microsoft's announcements mid-week about Windows Vista SP1, Windows XP SP3, and Windows Server 2008 RTM. We arrived home late Tuesday night and Microsoft announced this stuff on Wednesday, a day I was, quite frankly, counting on to catch up on sleep. (I'll try to avoid any conspiracy theories here, but it's hard.) Let's just say that my eyes were literally in pain that day and leave it at that. Which reminds me, I need to re-read that Vista SP1 article on the SuperSite. It's probably gibberish. Well, hopefully not.

The kids did spectacularly on the plane ride home, which was wonderful and increasingly expected. They're turning into amazing travelers, which is nice. As I think I noted previously, four straight weeks might have been a bit too much to ask, though Kelly did mention last night that she missed the "famous places and excellent restaurants" in Paris, which I found amusing. (Mostly because we didn't take the kids to any particularly excellent restaurants, as we focused primarily on tourist-centric cafes and the like.) Of course, this was the kid who pointed out that she missed her bed and toys about two and a half weeks into the trip, so the word "fickle" was bandied about during this discussion as well.

I sort of mentioned off the cuff last week that we were thinking about a two-week home swap in Ireland for next summer. We've gone back and forth on this a lot, actually, and while we're open to other places, it's increasingly likely that that's where we'll end up. I was amused to get a few requests for other countries after that mention, but what the heck. I've actually made a few friends in France this way (including one we home swapped with a year ago), so you never know.

Aside from sleeplessness, this week was dominated by reacquainting ourselves with those things we were already starting to miss at home, such as the beach we frequent in the next town over, the local Chinese food restaurant, and of course the hilarious neighbors across the street who generally choose to argue with each other on their front lawn as their mostly naked kids run around and play with the hose. I was sitting in my kitchen observing this familiar routine the other morning over a cup of coffee and thought, well, we're home at last.

The other wake-up call, so to speak, was the nearly three-foot-tall pile of mail that was waiting for us at the post office. As our intrepid postal employee Buddie asked, "How long were you guys gone, a year?" Not quite, and thankfully most of it was magazines and a few newspapers, which caused my wife and I to reconsider some of these subscriptions. They had to give us one of those white mail bins to carry it all.

And finally, Leo and I recorded a rather epic episode of Windows Weekly this week. I think we're all caught up now, though we'll unfortunately be off again next week as Leo is traveling to Canada again. I hope the new episode will be up soon.

Short Takes

States Looking for More Microsoft Oversight; DOJ Wants Out

Microsoft 's antitrust oversight in the United States is scheduled to end in November, but the two parties engaged in this oversight--the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and several US states--can't seem to agree on whether it should continue past the November expiration. The DOJ believes that the past five years have dramatically altered the competitive landscape and benefited consumers in innumerable ways. But the states say that Microsoft is still a monopolist that must be monitored on an ongoing basis. And they're still unsure about the antitrust implications of Windows Vista. So... what's going to happen? My guess is that the two sides are going to have some debating to do, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Microsoft's oversight timeline extended a bit, if only to pacify the states and give them time to do absolutely nothing about Vista, the first version of Windows ever to be developed under the heavy onus of government oversight. Frankly, I think Microsoft has caved in a bit too readily on various Vista features, and if that isn't a sign that the settlement actually worked, I don't know what is.

Vista SP1 Proves Microsoft's Claims About Vista

I find it amusing that so many people from various parts of the Windows food chain were so excited about Vista's first service pack. Whether you're a diehard Windows enthusiast who can't stand the thought of running anything but beta, pre-production code on your system or a conservative system administrator who won't install a new OS until it's updated with at least one service pack, Vista SP1 was the great red herring of 2007. The truth about SP1 is so simple and so boring it almost hurts: Vista SP1 is a single collection of bug fixes, security fixes, and other small changes aimed at performance, reliability, and compatibility. It is, in other words, a traditional Microsoft service pack, like the ones everyone's been clamoring for. It will not include any major new features, like a new Media Center version, though that was certainly a possibility for a while. And its feature set, such as it is, has completely verified what Microsoft's been saying all along about Vista: Just deploy it now, as SP1 won't really change anything. Well, that's certainly the case.

Microsoft Settles with Eolas

Instead of burying a hatchet in Eolas, as I had hoped to see, Microsoft is instead burying the proverbial hatchet and settling with the company that owns a highly dubious Web browser patent. But don't take this as recognition that Eolas' patent is valid; indeed, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is currently reevaluating that very claim. I think this proves that in the highly warped legal part of our society, it's simply cheaper to settle than to battle bogus patent claims. That this system needs to be fixed should be obvious to anyone. In the meantime, Microsoft and Eolas are settling for an undisclosed sum. I assume it is less than the $521 million jury verdict against Microsoft in the case; though I should note that that reward was later reversed.

Microsoft Delays Windows Home Server

After Microsoft completed development of Windows Home Server in July, the rumor sites flared up with reports that the system would be available via new home server hardware and in software form sometime in August. That was never going to happen, and given that I'm writing this on the last day of August, I think we can safely say that rumor has been put to bed. Obviously, part of the wait is that Windows Home Server will generally be made available via new home server hardware by companies such as HP and Dell. But there was apparently another reason for this wait: It turns out Windows Home Server isn't actually done yet. Instead, Microsoft is working on a major product update that will "enhance the usability and improve the out-of-the-box experience of home server solutions." This update is so important, in fact, that HP won't ship its Windows Home Server hardware until it's complete, hopefully sometime very soon.

Latest Microsoft Rumor: A Purchase of RIM?

This one is unsubstantiated, but let's face it, that's what makes it fun: Microsoft is allegedly considering purchasing Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM). RIM, of course, trails Windows Mobile in the smart phone space, but is widely known for its thumbpad-based devices, which have captured the imaginations of users and rival device makers as well. It's unclear what RIM could give Microsoft per se, other than a bit of market share, since Microsoft already does pretty much everything RIM does and does so, in many cases, in a more integrated and sophisticated fashion. But heck, there's something to be said for removing a huge slice of the competition and bolstering your market position.

Microsoft Embroiled in Document Standards Controversy

Microsoft's pursuit of ISO certification for its Open XML document formats has been, shall we say, controversial at best. Although the company was able to fairly quickly establish Open XML as an open standard through ECMA, its efforts with ISO have been less satisfactory. Part of the problem, of course, is that various entities in the open source community have been lobbying quite strenuously against the Microsoft formats, which they see as a direct attack on the rival Open Document Format (ODF). And let's face it, these guys don't exactly like Microsoft very much. But Microsoft hasn't been helping its cause very much either: The software giant has been promising payoffs to partners around the world that join standards bodies and lobby on its behalf. These "Microsoft yes men" have been clogging standards bodies around the world, trying to push Open XML through the ISO process. Microsoft admits that it's offered companies "product support" and "additional Microsoft resources," which sounds like it's pretty much verified the claims. The question, of course, is whether these actions are typical and acceptable during a standardization process, or whether they cross some ethical or legal line. Looks like we're going to find out.

Microsoft Blames WGA 'Outage' on Human Error

My guess is it was the guy doing the demo with Bill Gates when Windows bluescreened at CES back in 1998. Microsoft this week claimed that last week's already infamous Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) "outage" was, in fact, not an outage at all, affected "just" 12,000 systems, and was caused by human error. Well, now that that's been cleared up, let's see what this really means. According to Microsoft, a human employee, being imperfect despite allegedly being made in God's Own True Image (tm), inadvertently sent "pre-production code to production servers," triggering the outage, which was really just a big misunderstanding, and not an outage at all. The result: "servers declined activation and validation requests that should have passed." Microsoft says it fixed the problem in an astonishing 30 minutes, once again reaffirming the widely held believe that only humans can fix what humans put wrong, but that rolling back the changes took several hours. (Again, not their fault; computers, being made by man, are imperfect.) Microsoft's technical description of why this wasn't an outage is hilarious, good natured fun, but too long to reprint here. Suffice to say it was all a big mistake and the company is very sorry about it. So stop complaining. It was only 12,000 people after all, more than the number of people who typically attend a professional soccer match in the United States. And we all know that's an insignificant number of people, hardly worth worrying about. I'm not even sure why I wrote about this in the first place. I apologize to Microsoft and to WGA itself, which I have unfairly maligned as being anything other than The Right Thing To Do. My mistake. After all, I'm only human.

No WinInfo on Monday

Monday is Labor Day here in the United States, so there will be no WinInfo. We'll be back on Tuesday with another edition.

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