Short Takes: March 22, 2013

Short Takes: March 22, 2013

An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...

Surface Available for Bulk Purchases by Businesses

After months of offering its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets for sale to individuals via online and retail stores, Microsoft this week began selling them in bulk to businesses as well. What’s unclear, however, is whether purchasers get volume discounts, although—yes—you'll need a volume licensing agreement with Microsoft in order to make such a purchase. Without having such an agreement, it’s hard to tell what’s different, but there is one obvious difference between the sales to individuals and businesses: Bulk purchasers can get a unique three-year warranty for the devices, whereas individuals can purchase only an additional one-year warranty. (Surface products come with a one-year warranty standard in most countries; the exceptions are those places that require a longer standard warranty.)

Microsoft Discloses Law Enforcement Requests

Microsoft this week revealed that it fielded 11,000 requests from US law enforcement officials in 2012 alone, mostly in the form of warrants from various US courts, and almost 71,000 globally. It also received more than 1,000 National Security Letters from the FBI and other US government officials last year, documents that contained demands for user data. These requests netted information from about 2,000 user accounts in the United States and an incredible 122,000 internationally, Microsoft says. Although this is the first time Microsoft has ever made a disclosure of this kind, it follows in the footsteps of a similar disclosure from Google, and we can expect such transparency regularly going forward (every 6 months, in Microsoft’s case). According to an interesting note from Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, only 2.1 percent of the requests resulted in the disclosure of customer content, about 18 percent of the requests (excluding Skype) resulted in the disclosure of no customer information in any form, and less than two one-hundredths of one percent (0.02 percent) of the company’s users were potentially affected by law enforcement requests. I believe that was meant to be reassuring.

Stephen Elop Throws an iPhone on Finnish TV

That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout! Nokia CEO Stephen Elop showed a bit of competitive fire this week when he grabbed a TV interviewer’s iPhone and threw it on the floor, an act that should momentarily stop the heart of any starry-eyed Apple fan. But then Elop can be excused for doing so: When the interviewer pulled his iPhone out, stating he didn’t want an iPhone anymore, Elop responded with, “Oh, how embarrassing.” And then he said he’d take care of it, grabbed the iPhone, and threw it. Elop then promised him a Nokia phone, though he wouldn’t say which one. (The interviewer had been asking, fruitlessly, about the rumored Nokia Lumia 928 that should ship on Verizon in April.) Sadly, the iPhone wasn’t thrown as hard as I’d like, but it’s still enjoyable to watch. Check out the video on YouTube, and have a little smile on a Friday.

Microsoft Confirms that Retailer Relationships Prevent It from Shipping Electronic Games for Xbox

If you’ve been hoping that the next Xbox console would magically offer first-tier games electronically on the day they launch, you can forget it: The reason Microsoft doesn’t do that now, and won’t do it with the next Xbox, is the reason we’ve always suspected: Its relationships with physical retailers is too important. “We have a lot of strong partnerships with retailers,” Microsoft Business Manager Erik Yeager said this week. “We really need them to do a lot for us. They're the ones out there selling the consoles, selling the peripherals and, at this time, we're trying to figure out how to fit that in to the whole digital landscape shift. We're just taking a bit of a measured pace with it.” So there will always be a lag time between a major game’s launch and its availability as an electronic download (vs. a physical disc). So with the next Xbox, you can expect Blu-ray discs instead of DVDs, as I previously reported, and (if we’re lucky) less of a lag between the disc and electronic availability of big games.

Microsoft Admits that “High-Profile” Xbox Accounts Were Hacked

Speaking of Xbox, Microsoft admitted this week that hackers broke into accounts for senior executives working on the console. “We are aware that a group of attackers are using several stringed social engineering techniques to compromise the accounts of a handful of high-profile Xbox LIVE accounts held by current and former Microsoft employees,” a Microsoft statement reads. “We are actively working with law enforcement and other affected companies to disable this current method of attack and prevent its further use.” Naturally, my mind wanders toward the less-high-profile Xbox LIVE accounts—you know, “users”—who might also be at risk. But Microsoft says it’s working to further secure the entire network as a result of the hacks. And it recommends that concerned users head to the Xbox LIVE account security site to learn what they can do proactively.

Google Buys Frommer’s, Burns Its Books

When Google announced that it was purchasing the Frommer’s travel guide series from Wiley last summer, the expectation was that the online advertising firm was doing so to prop up its travel search results. But what many didn’t expect, I think, was that Google was planning to kill off Frommer’s successful line of travel books, too. But this week, the boom fell, with Google stating it would still “publish” digital versions of the books and keep the Frommer’s website going. (You know, like it did with Google Reader.) The reason for this change is obvious: Google can’t sell ads in books. Or, as Google put it, [insert sound of cricket chirping]. And before anyone says that book sales have surely fallen over the years ... Yes, they have. But travel guide book sales, go figure, have stabilized and are going strong. Looks like Google just made a great decision … for Rick Steves and Lonely Planet.

Jeff Bezos Recovers Apollo 11 Rocket Engines from the Bottom of the Ocean

This one is just fun: An expedition organized by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has located and recovered the wreckage from two of the rocket engines that propelled Apollo 11 into space and to the moon. “We’ve seen an underwater wonderland—an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program,” Mr. Bezos wrote in his personal blog. “We photographed many beautiful objects in situ and have now recovered many prime pieces. Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible.” NASA reports that it's working with Mr. Bezos to correctly identify which rockets are which, and the pieces—which Bezos says will be restored—will be heading to various museums in the United States. Good stuff.

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