Saturday, May 31, 2008

WinInfo Short Takes: Week of June 2, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a short week with absolutely no Windows 7 news, Dell gains, Media Center vs. NBC, the iCabal, Google's Android demos, Norway will be Microsoft's Viet-Nam, Sysinternals Live, and more...

WinInfo Blog

Last weekend was awesome in ways that aren't usually possible in New England, with three straight days of perfect temperatures in the mid-70s and not a cloud in the sky. I kept waiting for the inevitable and Biblical comeuppance (this is New England, after all), but it just continued all week, and I had the surreal experience of spending yesterday afternoon on a near-empty beach, relaxing while the kids fished and played. May is usually a pretty month, but this is crazy. It's about time Global Warming finally paid off. Thank you, Exxon.

Just kidding. Naturally, I appreciated the long weekend a bit more than usual thanks to the completion of the writing phase of the second edition of "Windows Vista Secrets," which took dramatically longer than expected. As a revision to an existing book, I had scheduled 7 weeks for the project, but ended up taking 12 weeks, just a wee bit longer than hoped. Ahem. It ended in typically spastic fashion as well: I was convinced I'd finish the book Friday night, but after killing myself over this until about 12:30 that evening, I gave up and spend a fitful five and a half hours of sleep. Rising at the crack of 6 am that day (and believe me, I am no morning person) I proceeded to amaze and frighten my children (Mark: "Is something wrong? Why are you up?") and just plugged away until it was done in the early afternoon. Then I took a three hour nap.

Leo and I recorded another episode of the Windows Weekly podcast with Mary Jo Foley this week, focused almost exclusively on the recent Windows 7 news. It should be available before the end of the weekend as usual.

Short Takes

Microsoft Says Nothing New About Windows 7 and the Crowd Goes Wild

If you actually believed that excitement about Windows has somehow ebbed in the wake of Windows Vista, think again. This week, Microsoft showed off a single new Windows 7 feature--multi-touch--and the tech world acted like it had received the Word of God. The thing is, aside from a few cute demos--which, by the way, don't even represent actual Windows 7 applications--this week's news wasn't really news. This multi-touch feature was actually first revealed back in December, so while the demo was somewhat interesting, the feature was previously known. And that was literally all that Microsoft revealed this week, unless you consider repeating information about the ship date new information. So the next time someone tells you that Apple gets all the press, remember this: Two years before it ships the next version of Windows, Microsoft can show you absolutely nothing and the world just goes nuts. I think this suggests that the age of Windows isn't over quite yet.

Dell Posts Massive Notebook Gains as Sales Surge

I can't help but think that if this were Apple, the headlines would be seen 'round the world. But in reality, Dell's gains this quarter are all the more impressive than anything Apple can accomplish with the Mac because Dell sells dramatically more computers than does Apple, making such huge quarterly gains all the more difficult. This week, Dell posted income of $7894 million on revenues of $16.1 billion for the quarter ending May 2, better than analyst expectations. But the big news was that Dell's notebook sales surged 43 percent year-over-year; overall, product shipments were up 22 percent for the company (much higher than the industry average). Though the world's second largest PC maker--first when measured by revenues--Dell has had its share of troubles lately. These results suggest that things, finally, are starting to turn around.

Microsoft, NBC Point Fingers (at Each Other) as Media Center Refuses to Record TV Show

This is a mini-controversy at best given the fact that maybe 17 people actually use Windows Vista's Media Center software to record TV and watch shows, but what the heck. Earlier this month, people attempting to record "American Gladiators" (latest sign yet of the fall of America) with Vista's Media Center were met with an error messaging stating that the copyright holder--in this case, NBC--had blocked recording. NBC and other networks can do this via broadcast flag and related protection technology, though it's rarely outside of paid networks, like HBO. However, NBC says it never blocked the show, so Media Center should have had no issues recording it. The iCabal crowd--you know, the anything-but-Microsoft jokers who try to make a federal case out of anything Microsoft does, good or bad--were quick to spastically hop up and down over Microsoft's support of digital restrictions. But it's still unclear what really happened. Maybe Peter Guttman can write another overly-long and completely fantastical paper describing what when wrong. Or Apple could make a "Switcher" ad in which they gloss over the fact that they don't actually offer a DVR solution of their own. You know, anything to make Vista look bad. Pull out all the stops.

EU to 'Consider' Microsoft's Adoption of Open Formats

And speaking of the iCabal, EU regulators said this week that they would "consider" Microsoft's decision to open up Microsoft Office to competing and open document formats. "In its ongoing antitrust investigation concerning interoperability with Microsoft Office, the commission will investigate whether the announced support of ODF in Office leads to better interoperability," an EU spokesperson said Tuesday. Whew. I bet that's a huge relief in the Redmond, because it should be obvious to anyone who can read a press release that Microsoft's announced support of ODF (and other document standards) very obviously will lead to better interoperability. Seriously, can't we just complain about the things Microsoft does wrong instead of misrepresenting what they do right as well?

Google Shows Off Android at Developer Show

Google this week provided a slew of demonstrations of its upcoming Android smart phone platform on what appeared to be near-final hardware. The demos came during the company's Google I/O conference for developers and garnered more than a few hearty ovations. The coolest demo, possibly, involved Google Maps and the new "street view": The demonstrator moved in a circle, causing the on-screen street view to rotate with him, always keeping the on-phone display aligned with the direction he was really facing. Google also showed off an innovative swipe-based logon screen, some nice UI bits and, what the heck, a Pac-man game. The first Android devices are expected late this year.

Microsoft's Norwegian Acquisition Not as Clean as Hoped

In January, Microsoft announced its intention to purchase Norwegian search technology firm Fast Search & Transfer for $1.23 billion, but it now appears that the software giant may have made a terrible error: It turns out that Fast Search & Transfer has violated Norway's accounting laws, and various accounting irregularities have handed it an investigation by Norway's financial supervisory authority, Kredittilsynet. (Go ahead, say that one three times fast, I dare you.) Once hailed as the "Google of Norway," Fast Search & Transfer may in fact just be the latest in a long line of overly-expensive Microsoft purchases that amount to nothing fast.

Microsoft Ensures Republican Victory in '08

Microsoft will be the official "software and high-definition Web content" provider of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this year. Cue the blue screen jokes.

Microsoft Launches Web-Based Versions of Sysinternals Diagnostic Tools

Just in case you thought Microsoft's Sysinternals tools were already too hard to use, the company has found a way to make them even more inscrutable: Put them on the Web, organized by file name. Seriously, you have to see this one to believe it. It's called Sysinternals Live and you can see the site here: Now, to be fair to the technically-minded, the tools are designed to be run via the Start Menu's Run or Start Menu Search items: Just enter the name of a tool using syntax like\tools\tool-name, where tool-name is of course the name of the tool. (To run Process Explorer, use\tools\procexp.exe .). Um, right. If you have access to the Web anyway, how is this easier than just going to the normal Sysinternals Web site? And is there a Sysinternals user on earth that doesn't have at least a second PC nearby?

Dell to Enter UMPC Market This Year

PC giant Dell announced this week that it would enter the ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) market with a new "Mini Inspiron" (not its real name) that will compete with such products as the Asus Eee PC and the HP Mini-Note. A Dell spokesperson describes the upcoming device as "the perfect device for the next billion users," but didn't provide any details about the cute-looking mini-notebook computer. According to Dell's customer feedback site, IdeaStorm, customers have asked for a UMPC with 1 GB of RAM, a 60 GB hard drive, and Windows Vista. But we won't know what's really in there until Dell spills the beans. My guess is that the company will announce availability before the end of the summer.

Even TiVo is Doing Well

Say what you will about the economy, but when a perpetual underperformer like TiVo is able to post a profit, conventional wisdom doesn't amount to much. The DVR pioneer this week announced earnings of $3.6 million on revenues of $54.9 million for the quarter ending April 30, dramatically better than the $835,000 it earned in the same quarter a year ago. TiVo attributed the gains to cost cutting and, to be fair, the company actually saw its subscriber base shrink from 4.3 million users in 2007 to 3.8 million. You know, maybe the economy really is in the toilet.

Mozilla Shoots for World Record with Firefox 3

Mozilla Corporation announced this week that it will seek to break the Guinness Book of World Records, uh, record for most software downloads in 24 hours. They're going to go for it on the day that Mozilla Firefox 3 is released. Which could happen sometime in June, maybe. Or maybe July. They're not sure yet, but whenever it happens, they may set a record. Or not.

SuperSite Blog

Can't get enough? Be sure to check out the SuperSite Blog, which is updated daily. There's even an RSS feed for you browser-adverse people. Who loves you?

Microsoft Highlights First Unique Windows 7 Feature: Pervasive Multi-Touch
Microsoft Talks Windows 7 … But Doesn’t Say Anything

Friday, May 30, 2008

Yang, Ballmer Go Golfing; Merger No Longer a Priority

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang met last weekend over a round of golf, a setting the two hoped would be more casual and productive than previous meetings. Later, Yang said that it was clear that Microsoft was no longer interested in merging the two companies and was instead trying to negotiate a less sweeping arrangement.

"Microsoft is no longer interested in buying the company, and we are talking about other things," Yang said. "We definitely have to understand what they're proposing. They clearly have an interest in Yahoo, and we need to understand more."

Ballmer confirmed this information, but suggested that things could change. "We are not rebidding for the company," he said. "But we reserve the right to do so." Meanwhile, Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie said separately this week that buying Yahoo was "not a strategy onto itself." "Yahoo is an accelerator," he said. "We'd love to still discuss possibilities with Yahoo."

Sources close to the negotiations say that Microsoft is interested in purchasing Yahoo's search business and then taking a minority interest in what remains of Yahoo. Adding to the drama, Yahoo has discussed farming out part of its search business with Google and billionaire investor Carl Icahn has threatened a shareholder revolt if the company doesn't jumpstart talks with Microsoft.

Here We Go Again: Microsoft, Yahoo! in New Talks

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Microsoft Highlights First Unique Windows 7 Feature: Pervasive Multi-Touch</FONT>

Microsoft on Tuesday publicly demonstrated Windows 7 for the first time, showing off a new OS feature that will allow users of the upcoming system to control touch screen-based PCs with their fingers. A simplified version of this feature actually exists in Windows Vista today, but Windows 7 will take this functionality to the next level by providing multi-touch capabilities that will work everywhere in the system.

According to Microsoft, touch displays are just part of a movement to evolve how we interact with PCs. "Today almost all [PC] interaction is keyboard-mouse," Microsoft chairman Bill Gates says. "Over years to come, the role of speech, vision, ink--all of those--will be huge."

Demonstrating Windows 7's multi-touch controls, Microsoft corporate vice president Julie Larson-Green showed an electronic version of finger painting called Touchable as well as touch-enable photo organization and mapping applications. She also showed off a virtual piano that played music as she tapped the onscreen keys.

Microsoft isn't alone in its pursuit of multi-touch controls. Apple's vaunted but slow-selling iPhone utilizes multi-touch controls, and a selection of newer MacBook Pro laptops offers limited multi-touch capabilities in certain Mac OS X applications. For Microsoft, however, Windows 7 multi-touch is a chance to leapfrog the competition, and it builds on work the company pioneered in earlier versions of Windows and in its Surface smart table. And as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer notes, while Apple gets a lot of press for its work, that company plays in a much smaller market. "We'll sell 290 million PCs this year and Apple will sell 10 million PCs," he said in a "do the math" moment. "They're fantastically successful, but so are we."

Microsoft has been very careful to not reveal too much information about Windows 7 because of the debacle that occurred after it over-promised on Windows Vista and then repeatedly delayed the product, all while paring down the feature-set over time. Despite rumors, however, Vista continues to outsell its predecessors, both with consumers and businesses. Yesterday, Microsoft announced that it has sold over 150 million licenses to the OS since it first appeared in late November 2006.

You can get more information, photos, and a link to the multi-touch demo on the SuperSite.

Microsoft Talks Windows 7 … But Doesn’t Say Anything

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Windows Mobile Sales to Jump 50 Percent, Microsoft Says

Despite being caught flat-footed by the innovative iPhone, Microsoft says its own smart phone solution, Windows Mobile, will see healthy growth over the next two years. But the rationale for this prediction has nothing to do with advanced new features and everything to do with overall growth in the smart phone market.

"Fifty percent growth is the minimum [over the next two fiscal years ending in June 2010]," Microsoft managing director Eddie Wu told Reuters on Tuesday. "We're actually still seeing very good growth in [mature] markets like Europe and the United States."

Microsoft now expects to sell 20 million copies of its Windows Mobile software to customers via device makers in its 2007 fiscal year, which ends on June 30. Given at least 50 percent growth per fiscal year, that suggests Microsoft will sell 30 million units between 2008 and 2009 and 45 million units between 2009 and 2010. Microsoft sold just over 11 million units of its Windows Mobile software in the previous fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2007.

Smart phone sales are slowing in mature markets, but Microsoft says emerging markets like the Pacific Rim, the Middle East, Brazil, India, and Russia are more than making up the slack.

Globally, smart phone sales hit 12 million units in calendar year 2007, representing growth of 53 percent year over year. Analysts at Gartner say strong growth will continue through 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile, Apple says that it is on track to sell 10 million units of its popular iPhone device by the end of June, and Google's open Android smart phone platform should debut in new devices by the end of the year.

WinInfo Short Takes: Week of May 19, 2008
Microsoft Talks Windows 7 … But Doesn’t Say Anything

Microsoft Talks Windows 7 ... But Doesn't Say Anything

Microsoft has been very cagey about Windows 7, the successor to Windows Vista that is set for a 2010 release. Theories about the company's silence on Windows 7 are numerous, but most point directly to Microsoft senior vice president Steven Sinofsky, the man most directly responsible for Windows development. That's because Sinofsky is close-lipped and calculated, in direct contrast to his predecessor, Jim Allchin. This week, however, Sinofsky and company opened the doors and offered a brief peek at Windows 7 for the first time. A very brief peek.

In fact, if I understand the company's motives, what Microsoft really wanted to do was communicate the fact that it's getting ready to communicate about Windows 7. "We're focused today on how we're going to communicate things," Sinofksy told CNET, during a lengthy and sometimes contentious interview in which he quite specifically didn't say anything concrete about Windows 7 at all.

In fact, Sinofsky arguably muddied the waters, as did Microsoft's Chris Flores in a not-so-coincidentally timed post to the Windows Vista Blog. Both men claimed that Windows 7 would be a "major" or "significant" version of Windows, but both then went to great lengths to describe how the technical underpinnings of the system of Windows 7 are based on Windows Vista and will thus not incur any additional compatibility headaches. That, dear reader, is how Microsoft typically defines a minor, or R2 ("release 2") version of Windows.

Beyond this semantic nightmare, Microsoft is offering nothing of substance. The company noted yet again that Windows 7 is still due three years after the general availability of Windows Vista, which still puts the release date in very early 2010. That's been common knowledge for quite some time now.

I've blogged about the Sinofsky and Flores "revelations" on the SuperSite Blog, but to be honest, once you parse out the actual bits of information what you'll discover is that there's not much "there" there.

And the Windows 7 information deluge begins

And the Windows 7 information deluge begins (Part 2)

Here We Go Again: Microsoft, Yahoo! in New Talks
Microsoft Opens Up the Heavens

Friday, May 23, 2008

WinInfo Short Takes: Week of May 26, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a much-needed long weekend, some Ballmer backpedaling, some Google hypocrisy, the General Lee, Microsoft Research, an egg on Ballmer's face, some Forrester silliness, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

Ah, Memorial Day, that most American of holidays. Well, aside from the Fourth of July. And Veterans Day. Well, Thanksgiving too, I guess. Never mind. The point is, we have a wonderful long weekend to enjoy and I intend to do just that, given that within the next 24 hours I should have (finally) completed the main writing phase of "Windows Vista Secrets 2nd edition," or whatever Wiley deigns to name it. After approximately 20 books over 15 years, you'd think I'd be better at this, but the truth is, this took over twice as long as I'd expected. The good news, however, is that I've added a ton of content. So I'm pretty happy with it, and now that I'm working on it solo, I've been able to establish a much closer relationship between the book and my SuperSite for Windows Web site, where I can provide ongoing updates going forward. It's been a marathon, but I can finally see the finish line.

Speaking of the book, I had to ask Leo to delay recording of the next episode of the Windows Weekly podcast from Thursday to later today, but we should be all set today and I'd imagine the next episode will be up sometime over the weekend as usual. I was in a freak-out yesterday between the book and some work-related stuff yesterday and it would have made for a painful recording.

Also, I'd like to once again direct readers to my SuperSite Blog, which is stealing some thunder from Short Takes on a regular basis now because I can update it every day. I used to save some of the funnier, weirder, or slightly off-topic stuff for Short Takes, but it's hard to ignore this stuff when I have a 24/7 outlet.

Short Takes

Backpedal on the Ballmer Express

I really enjoy Steve Ballmer. He's an honest, in-your-face kind of guy, and I find that refreshing compared to many overly-groomed CEOs and other so-called industry leaders. But Ballmer engaged in a bit of history rewriting this week when he claimed that his bid to purchase Yahoo earlier this year was never strategic. "Yahoo was never the strategy we were pursuing," he said during a stop in Moscow during an extended international trip. "You can do a whole lot of things with $50 billion." Given the fervor with which Ballmer pursued--and is arguably still pursuing--Yahoo, this seems a bit disingenuous. Also, I'd point out that Ballmer initially claimed that Microsoft needed Yahoo in order to quickly "scale" to meet the competitive challenge from Google. It's unclear why that's no longer the case, and certainly this week's Microsoft advertising event did little to suggest that the company could indeed quickly scale on its own. Put simply, it's pretty clear that Microsoft wanted (and still wants) to buy Yahoo for purely strategic reasons. How else could you explain the mad dash to sudden throw $50 billion at a problem?

Page: Google/Yahoo is Fine; Microsoft/Yahoo Not So Much

And speaking of unbelievable world views, Google cofounder Larry Page was in Washington D.C. this week to discuss the use of so-called TV white space to deliver broadband Internet access. But the really interesting thing about his visit was that he claimed that while a potential Microsoft/Yahoo matchup was an antitrust high crime, any pairing of Google--which completely dominates the online market--with Yahoo would be just fine. His rationale for this self-serving statement is classic: A combined Microsoft/Yahoo would own "90 percent of communications" (because you know how important the critical and money making instant messaging market is to the economy) while a combined Google/Yahoo would be no problem because, you know, in Page's words, Google does "have a large advertising share and so on." Um, right. Sorry, but I'm calling bull@#$% on this one, Mr. Page. A combined Microsoft/Yahoo would actually control about 70 percent of the IM/email market in the US, and about 77 percent worldwide (not "90 percent"); this market generates about $19 a year in revenues thanks to this one guy in North Dakota who actually pays for a Hotmail Plus account. Meanwhile, Google and Yahoo together control about 82 percent of the US search advertising market, and this generates significant revenues: Google alone owns over half of the $55 billion generated by online advertising each year. Now explain to me again why Microsoft/Yahoo is anticompetitive but that any combination of Google/Yahoo is just fine, please.

Former EU Judge Surprised by Microsoft Fine

I mention this only because I enjoy his name so much. Former EU judge Bo "Duke" Vesterdorf, who oversaw Microsoft's antitrust case there through last year before retiring, said this week that he was surprised by the size of the fine the EU eventually lobbed at Microsoft. The European Commission in February fined Microsoft $1.4 billion for failing, again, to comply with the 2004 EU antitrust ruling. Vesterdorf, riding into town in an orange 1969 Dodge Charger with welded doors and a confederate flag painted on the roof, claims he had "no concrete knowledge" of the fine before it was imposed. Cooter, allegedly, was surprised by the fine as well.

Microsoft Points to Research Strength; See, We're Still Viable!

The topic of innovation is a tough one for Microsoft, which tries to tout the fact that it is innovative without actually having a single innovative product to point to as proof. This week, Microsoft was at it again, pointing to its research work in search and privacy as the latest example that innovation is alive and well at the company and driving future growth. Microsoft currently employees over 2500 researchers, most of whom work out of the company's Silicon Valley offices, and not in and around Redmond (where, presumably, most of the employees are merely human). But it's unclear how R&D has dramatically improved things for the company. I'd point to Live Search, whose underpinnings and search algorithms are largely the byproduct of Microsoft Research. Good technology doesn't always translate into success (and vice versa). Likewise, sometimes the best research is simply figuring out what people want and then delivering on it. Now that would be innovative.

Ballmer Egged in Hungary; But Seriously, Where Was Security?

As part of a lengthy international trip this past week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made a stop in Hungary, where he was egged, literally, by a student during a talk at a university in Budapest. OK cue up the egg jokes, I guess. But seriously, the most striking thing about this event is that the student wasn't immediately tazered or otherwise assaulted by security guards. Indeed, the guy was able to walk calmly out of the room of his own volition. Ballmer handled himself appropriately, ducking behind the podium to keep his suit clean, but I have to wonder about whatever group was responsible for security there. That's the real embarrassment here. (Side thought: If Apple CEO Steve Jobs was ever attacked in this manner, would the assailant think to use organic eggs? I think he might.)

Microsoft to Make Changes to Xbox Live

Microsoft said this week that it would begin trimming some of the poorer-selling games out of its Xbox Live Arcade service for Xbox 360 users, making it easier for gamers to find high quality downloadable titles. Additionally, the company is raising the size limit on XBLA games to 350 MB, up from 150 MB, which should open up the service to a wider range of games. Finally, Microsoft announced that it will not ship a Spring 2008 dashboard update as it has in the past. Instead, the company will focus on shoring up the backbone server farm.

Forrester Analysts Jump the Shark with Apple Predictions

This one is so epically stupid, I don't even know where to start. Basically what we've got is Forrester Research making unnecessary predictions about the types of products it thinks Apple will be selling five years down the road, in 2013. Which is silly enough. But then we've also got virtually every single tech news organization on earth actually treating this thing like it was noteworthy in some way. It's not, and not only are Forrester's ideas ridiculous, they're not bold enough. Apple is many things, but anyone who knows anything about the company knows that it will move in unprecedented new directions in the years ahead, as it's always done, and not just ape its past successes in obvious ways. The products Forrester predicts--photo frames with iPhone-like finger-swiping capabilities, for example--are exactly the kinds of things that non-innovative, copy-cat companies will produce, in the same way that so many companies today use Apple as a free R&D house for their own wares. (Witness the explosion in touch-screen phones this year as an obvious example.) Apple? As long as Steve Jobs is at the helm, Forrester's predictions are pure claptrap. Because the place they're going is one no one has even imagined yet. Obviously.

Microsoft Completes Kidaro Purchase

Microsoft this week completed its purchase of Kidaro, a company that makes a virtualization solution that allows corporations to deploy Virtual PC-based virtualized applications to desktop PCs. The big innovation here is that this allows customers to completely bypass any application incompatibility issues presented by new Windows versions, and when you combine it with other Microsoft virtualization technologies, like the SoftGrid-based Application Virtualization product, you see the makings of how Microsoft is going to handle backwards compatibility in future versions of Windows. In fact, I could see something happen as early as the Windows 7 time frame, in 2010, meaning that application compatibility issues could soon be a thing of the past. Stay tuned: This is going to be an interesting space to watch in the years ahead.

Hyper-V Hits RC1

And speaking of virtualization, Microsoft this week shipped the release candidate 1 (RC1) version of its Hyper-V virtualization technologies for Windows Server 2008, a near-final look at the final missing piece of this platform. Hyper-V RC1 adds guest OS support for Windows 2000 Server and minor tweaks across the board, and it's pretty clear that the technology is just about ready for primetime. Windows Server 2008 users interested in installing Hyper-V RC1 can visit the Microsoft Web site for a free download, but be warned that this version (unlike RC0) is incompatible with the current beta of System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008, Microsoft's virtualization management tool.

OLPC Previews Innovative Second-Gen XO Laptop

And finally, with the promise of sun, sand, hotdogs, and beer ahead of me, I present a quick preview of OLPC's second generation XO laptop, which like its predecessor will be aimed at children in emerging markets. OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte appeared at the organization's Global Country Workshop this week in Cambridge, Massachusetts and provided a video preview of XO-2, which is even smaller than its predecessor and will allegedly come with an innovative double-screen design, where the inside of both panels of the laptop-like design are made of glass. In normal laptop-like use, the bottom screen will look and act like a keyboard. But you can hold the device vertically and read it like a book. Or flatten it out and sit across from someone else and play games across the two screens (like chess or pong). The thing just looks cool, and while I realize the final result will likely be pared back quite a bit, I still get a hugely positive vibe from what they're doing. LAPTOP magazine has a nice video showing off the Negroponte discussion about this upcoming device if you want to know more.

Here We Go Again: Microsoft, Yahoo! in New Talks
Details Emerge in New Microsoft/Yahoo!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

EU, Microsoft Foes Wary of Microsoft's Open Document Format Support

Less than a day after Microsoft announced sweeping support for open document formats in its dominant Office suite, antitrust regulators in the European Union (EU) announced they would "investigate" the move. (The EU is already investigating whether Microsoft has limited consumer choice by pushing its own document formats over that of rivals.) Additionally, Microsoft's foes have issued predictable if nonsensical critiques of the software giant's announcement.

In a statement, the European Commission said it had "taken note" of Microsoft's announcement and would "investigate whether the announced support of ODF in Office leads to better interoperability and allows consumers to process and exchange their documents with the software product of their choice."

Too, Microsoft's opponents found ways, incredibly, to criticize this week's announcement, which will make standards-based, open document formats like PDF and ODF first-class document types in Office alongside Microsoft's own formats. The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), a trade group comprised solely of Microsoft rivals, said the change was "not nearly enough." "Microsoft is still playing for time to further consolidate its super-dominant position, and continued antitrust vigilance will be necessary," an ECIS spokesperson claimed Wednesday.

The Free Software Foundation issued a similar statement which reads, "it's a step in the right direction but we are skeptical about how open Microsoft will be." The Open Document Format Alliance also used the word "skeptical" in its own reaction to Microsoft's move. "The proof will be whether and when Microsoft's promised support for ODF is on par with its support for its own formats," ODF Alliance managing director Marino Marcich told the BBC. "Governments will be looking for actual results, not promises in press releases."

These people are out of touch with reality. The truth is that not only is Microsoft supporting ODF and other open document formats in its dominant line of Office products, but it is doing so well before it supports the standards-based version of its own document format, Open XML. Microsoft will add native support for Open Document Format (ODF) 1.1, Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.5 and PDF/A, and the XML Paper Specification (XPS) to Office in early 2009 as part of Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2). But it won't support ISO/IEC JTC 1 version of Open XML until Office 14, the next major version of Office. (The Office 14 ship date has yet to be announced but is expected to happen in early 2010.)

Rather than complain that Microsoft isn't doing enough or is moving too slowly, these insular anti-Microsoft groups might take a moment to understand what it is that the software giant is really doing: opening up its support for document formats to meet the needs of customers and competing instead at the application level. And you don't have to look too hard at "competing" Office products like, IBM's Lotus SmartSuite, and Google Docs to realize that the Microsoft solution is dramatically superior. In the end, that is, I believe, what really rankles these anti-Microsoft shills: They're not interested in true competition, or even in the real-world needs of the governmental customers who called for these changes, but rather in regulatory action aimed solely at hobbling Microsoft and pushing "anything but Microsoft" solutions on users. Microsoft has been involved in many controversial issues, but its support of open document formats is hard to criticize.

Microsoft Opens Up Office to New Document Formats
Here We Go Again: Microsoft, Yahoo! in New Talks

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

With Yahoo! Deal Uncertain, Microsoft Tries to Show Off Advertising Prowess

It may be an also-ran in the online ad business that made Google its billions, but Microsoft is intent on proving that it can play in this market after all. And at a special event this week at its Redmond campus, the software did just that, showing off its recent investments in Web, mobile, and gaming advertisements. Microsoft claims it now offers a "one-stop shop" for advertisers, with a compelling mix of offerings that is unrivaled by the competition.

"Microsoft Advertising is the new brand identity we have chosen to unify all of the tools and solutions we offer advertisers, agencies and publishers," says Microsoft senior vice president of advertiser and publisher solutions Brian McAndrews. "It's designed to let customers know that we're committed to making sense out of a complex environment, and that we have everything they need, all under one roof."

At the advance08 Advertising Leadership Forum this week in Redmond, Microsoft offered up evidence of its advertising work over the past year. New and upcoming advertising-related offerings from the software giant include:

Engagement mapping service. This service gives advertisers insight into consumers' online buying habits by providing more information than just which ad was clicked.

Mobile advertising. Microsoft is working on "rich media ads" that will target current- and next-generation smart phones. These ads will typically be delivered via mobile Web sites, but the company also showed off ads displayed via its Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Homtail clients. Additional, Microsoft showed a prototype advertising system aimed at the Zune portable media player.

In-game advertising. While video games have long featured product placement similar to that used in the TV industry, Microsoft is working with advertisers on integrating game player experiences with advertising in ways that won't annoying gamers. The company pointed to a recent contest in which it asked developers to create a Doritos-themed game. It received thousands of entries.

Additionally, Microsoft hopes to jumpstart its lagging Live Search by paying people to use the service. This isn't the first time the company has tried such a tack, as it launched a similar program three years ago. Now, users who make purchases by using Live Search to find certain products--in the US only, sorry--will receive a small refund as part of a new program called Live Search Cashback. Microsoft is using technology acquired with the purchase of last year to power this program.

What Microsoft didn't mention explicitly at its advance08 confab was Yahoo!, though it's not hard to imagine that the suddenly reignited talks with the struggling Internet giant hung like a dark cloud over the proceedings. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who has been traveling this week, said from Israel that the recent talks with Yahoo! are quite different from his original takeover bid. "We are not bidding to buy Yahoo!," he said. "We are trying to have discussions about deals with Yahoo! that might create value, but not a whole acquisition of the company."

Here We Go Again: Microsoft, Yahoo! in New Talks
Details Emerge in New Microsoft/Yahoo!

Microsoft Opens Up Office to New Document Formats

In the strongest sign yet that Microsoft has given up its stranglehold on office productivity document formats, the software giant today announced that it will enhance Microsoft Office with native support for competing formats. The change will first arrive in Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2), due in early 2009, and will be implemented directly into the next major Office version, currently codenamed Office 14. Additionally, Microsoft has pledged to become more active in relevant document format standards bodies and working groups.

With regards to compatibility, Microsoft will add native support for Open Document Format (ODF) 1.1, Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.5 and PDF/A, and the XML Paper Specification (XPS). These formats will be treated as first class formats beginning with Office 2007 and can be configured as the default document format used in applicable Office applications.

"We are committed to providing Office users with greater choice among document formats and enhanced interoperability between those formats and the applications that implement them," said Microsoft senior vice president Chris Capossela. "By increasing the openness of our products and participating actively in the development and maintenance of document format standards, we believe we can help create opportunities for developers and competitors, including members of the open source communities, to innovate and deliver new value for customers."

Microsoft currently offers an Open XML-ODF translator via and will continue supporting that so that user of older Office suites--Office 2000, XP, and 2003--can access and use ODF documents. The company also says it will join the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) technical committee to help guide the direction of future versions of ODF and will participate in the ISO/IEC working groups for ODF, Open XML, and document interoperability.

Microsoft's Office document formats were once seen as one of the company's "crown jewels," but in a recent briefing with the company, I was told that Microsoft now considers its Office applications, and not the document formats, as the place to innovate in this space. "We're opening up innovation at the application level," Doug Mahugh, a senior product manager for Microsoft Office, told me. "The value of the discussion is not the formats; it's in the tools that are solving problems for customers."

With Yahoo! Deal Uncertain, Microsoft Tries to Show Off Advertising Prowess
Here We Go Again: Microsoft, Yahoo! in New Talks

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Details Emerge in New Microsoft/Yahoo!

Microsoft's renewed interest in Yahoo! this week appears to have been driven by Yahoo!'s discussions with market leader Google. In order to stave off a possible Google/Yahoo! alliance, Microsoft has reportedly bid to purchase Yahoo!'s search business, a move that would effectively split Yahoo! into two smaller companies.

Purchasing just Yahoo! Search makes a lot more sense than purchasing Yahoo! outright and is likely the primary reason Microsoft pursued Yahoo! in the first place. According to sources close to the negotiations, Microsoft would like to purchase Yahoo! Search and then make a minority investment in what remains of Yahoo! after Search is split out. As part of the deal, Yahoo! would also sell off its Asian assets, including its stakes in Yahoo! Japan and China-based Alibaba Group.

Microsoft has yet to place a value on Yahoo! Search, though it would presumably be a significant percentage of the $47.5 billion the company originally offered for all of Yahoo!. A combination of Microsoft and Yahoo! search efforts would create a stronger new number two player in that market: Google currently controls about 60 percent of the search market compared to about 30 percent for a combined Microsoft and Yahoo!.

Microsoft's unexpected new attempt at a Yahoo! alliance comes in the wake of financial maneuvers by billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who threatened to launch a proxy battle for Yahoo!'s board of directors if the company didn't restart its Microsoft merger talks. Yahoo! reacted negatively to Icahn's offer, but admitted over the weekend that it was indeed now talking to Microsoft again.

Details aside, it's unlikely that Yahoo!'s board will agree to spinning off its most valuable asset. Microsoft's immediate goal, however, is to simply prevent Yahoo! from consummating its proposed alliance with Google. If that deal goes through, Yahoo! would outsource part of its Web advertising efforts to Google, a move that would raise antitrust concerns but also diminish the value of Yahoo!'s own technologies.

From a broader perspective, Microsoft's recent assertions that it has "moved on" in the wake of its aborted Yahoo! takeover are clearly untrue. It appears that Microsoft's Plan B is lot more like Plan A than originally thought.

Here We Go Again: Microsoft, Yahoo! in New Talks
Yahoo! May Face a Proxy Battle After All

WinInfo Short Takes: Week of May 19, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including OLPC and Windows XP, the XP SP3 constant reboot issue, Yahoo! vs. Icahn, 10 million Xbox 360s in North America, April video game stats, Microsoft innovation, CBS and CNET, and much more...

WinInfo Blog

My mother in law actually called me yesterday to find out if I was going to the opening of the Boston Apple Store, a question that left me speechless for a few uncomfortable seconds while I pondered a reply. Mentioning this to my wife later, she noted that she was surprised I didn't go. When pressed by what she meant by that, she said, and I quote, "you enjoy that nerdy carnival atmosphere." Hmm. "You go to Best Buy at 6:00 in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving, and you don't even need to buy anything," she added unhelpfully. Hmm.

Certainly, I've gone to my share of Apple events, standing in line a like a goof and interacting with the local Mac population. And yeah, I've done similar line stints for events like the launch of Halo 3 and the Wii. They're usually a good time and a chance to interact with people who are passionate about technology but not overly aggressive like the fanboys you run into online. Still, I have this vague notion that waiting in line for a retail store to open for the first time is one of many small steps down the road to the collapse of Western civilization, and for this reason the whole thing makes me uneasy.

Leo and I did record a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday, but thanks to some technical difficulties, it was a bit shorter than usual. As always, it will be up by the weekend and we'll back next week in an unprecedented run for back-to-back shows.

Short Takes

OLPC, Microsoft Set to Deliver XP on XO Laptop

Unable to sell Linux-based laptops to developing nations, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has formed an alliance with Microsoft to sell XO laptops with Windows XP and Microsoft Office. OLCP, which has championed its so-called $100 laptop (despite actually selling for closer to $200) for a few years now, has found few sales. The reason, says founder Nicholas Negroponte, is that potential customers--typically national and local governments--invariably ask why they can't get Windows on the devices. So OLPC and Microsoft will launch limited testing of XP-based XO laptops next month and begin selling them broadly by the end of the year. To run XP, the underpowered XO needs to be upgraded with additional memory, which could come courtesy of an SD-based memory card. XP-based XOs will cost only $10 more than the Linux-based version, OLPC says, and will allow users to dual-boot between XP and Linux. Looks like we can put off that "year of desktop Linux" baloney yet again.

Microsoft Looking Beyond Low-Cost Laptops for Emerging Markets

In addition to its work with OLPC and other ultra-low-cost PC (ULCPC) makers, Microsoft is investigating other ways in which it can introduce computing to emerging markets. One such avenue, of course, is the cell phone, which has grown from its humble roots as a glorified pager into a powerful mobile computer in its own right. Cell phones can allow people in remote villages to stay in touch with the outside world and access financial services that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Some geographically diverse countries--like the island nation of Indonesia--are already using cell phone technologies to connect people with the government and with bill-paying and emergency services. Microsoft, of course, would like to see the world's cell phone users utilizing Windows Mobile technologies and, long term, moving up to traditional computing resources based on Windows, perhaps using TV-based interfaces as a mid-term step.

HP Working to Solve XP SP3 Rebooting Issue

A small number of users who upgraded their Windows XP-based PCs to Service Pack 3 (SP3) have run into a problem where their machines simply reboot endlessly and never return to the Windows desktop. HP announced this week that it is working with Microsoft on the problem, which is apparently isolated to PCs based on AMD microprocessors. "We are working diligently with Microsoft on a software update and will be proactively distributing a patch to customers this week through our automated HP Update service that will prevent this error from occurring," an HP spokesperson said. "Or, customers can visit and enter the patch name SP37394 in the search box to download the fix. When the update is available, the search results screen will list the update with instructions for downloading and installation." The cause of the problem is that HP and possibly other PC makers used XP install images that were designed for Intel-based systems, and not AMD chips. The endless rebooting is caused by the SP3 update looking for a non-existent Intel driver. HP has published a document explaining how to recover from the problem.

Yahoo! Fights Back Against Icahn

Not surprisingly, Yahoo!'s board of directors wasn't amused by news this week that billionaire investor Carl Icahn was attempting a proxy battle to unseat the board and replace it with one more amenable to a sale to Microsoft. The company published a letter it sent to Icahn, in which it essentially belittled the investor for having "a significant misunderstanding" of how the Microsoft/Yahoo! battle progressed. "Yahoo's ten-member board, comprised of nine independent directors along with Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, remains the best and most qualified group to maximize value for all Yahoo stockholders," the letter reads. "We have been and remain willing to consider any proposal from any party including Microsoft if it offers our stockholders full and certain value." That bit of self-congratulation out of the way, Yang and company could be looking for new jobs in a few weeks: Icahn is backed by a number of other billionaire investors, including Dallas Mavericks owner Marc Cuban, and they seem pretty serious about pushing Yahoo! back to the negotiating table. Yahoo!'s current board can say what they want, but they never appeared willing to deal under reasonable terms. The company certainly isn't worth what Microsoft originally offered for it, let alone more money.

Microsoft Sells 10 Million Xbox 360s in US ....

This week, Microsoft announced that it has sold over 10 million Xbox 360 video game consoles in the US since the device launched in late 2005. Globally, the Xbox 360 has sold over 19 million units. "History has shown us that the first company to reach 10 million in console sales wins the generation battle. We are uniquely positioned to set a new benchmark for the industry," Microsoft senior vice president Don Mattrick, apparently oblivious to the fact that the Xbox 360 will be lucky to come in second place in this generation of video game consoles. I will say this, however: The Xbox 360 has proved hugely successful in two areas. One is online: Microsoft's Xbox Live service currently has over 12 million users, though few are actually paying for the service. Second, the Xbox 360 has the highest attach rate of any of the current generation consoles and has more "platinum" (million-selling) games than the other consoles. So far, the 360 has registered 16 platinum game titles, compared to 8 for the Nintendo Wii and just 2 for the Sony PlayStation 3.

... And April Shows Some Interesting Stats for Xbox 360

All that said, the Xbox 360 continues to struggle against the dominant Wii and is even being routinely outsold by the lackluster PS3 around the world. In April, Nintendo sold 714,000 Wii units, compared to 188,000 for the Xbox 360 and 187,000 for the PS3, though those numbers are in North America only. The top five game titles, in order, were Grand Theft Auto 4 (Xbox 360), Mario Kart (Wii), Grand Theft Auto 4 (PS3), Wii Play (Wii), and Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii). GTA4, obviously, has been a huge hit: In addition to securing two of the top three spots on the list, the game has been purchased by 20 percent of all Xbox 360 and PS3 owners in just a few weeks on the market. (The Xbox 360 version sold twice as many copies as the PS3 version, however.)

Unintentional Hilarity: Innovation Should be Formal Process, Microsoft Exec Says

And really, who knows more about innovation than Microsoft? Joe Boggio, the director of innovation management solutions for Microsoft, was in Kansas this week to speak at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Innovation Conference, where he said that innovation, like accounting or human resources, should be a structured business practice. "Today, most people don't know where [innovation] fits in the organization or how to participate in it," he said, suggesting that companies create a job post called Chief Innovation Officer. Or... you could just stop copying what other companies are doing, stop milking your decades-old core businesses, and actually figure out what people want. Just a thought.


My friends and I often joke that the only reason we know about television shows on CBS is that we're forced to watch commercials for them during football games each fall. Now CBS is bringing its top-shelf entertainment and marketing paradigm to the Web--where, I imagine, the only way I'll know about CBS' Web sites is when I see them advertized on the sites I actually do visit--by purchasing tech entertainment Web property CNET Networks. Is this the kiss of death? I guess that depends on your perspective and which company you mean, but I see this deal damaging both CBS and CNET. Whatever happens, I'm just praying that CBS brings back "JAG" as a Web series on That will get the old folks to check out "that thing being done out on the Internet."

Yahoo! May Face a Proxy Battle After All

Monday, May 19, 2008

Yahoo! May Face a Proxy Battle After All

While Microsoft declined to confront Yahoo!'s board of directors with a proxy battle, billionaire investor Carl Icahn is preparing to do just that. And if the activist shareholder is successful in removing Yahoo!'s current board, those close to Mr. Icahn say he'll then attempt to restart merger talks with Microsoft.

Icahn has purchased 50 million Yahoo! shares since the Microsoft offer was rescinded and he will allegedly decide today whether to try and oust Yahoo!'s board. (The deadline for Yahoo! board nominations is tomorrow.) His stake in Yahoo! is now worth over $1 billion.

One problem, however, is that Microsoft has shown little interest in Yahoo! since abandoning its bid for the company. The software has no official comment about Icahn's emerging plans and points to Steve Ballmer's statement from last week explaining why it has given up on Yahoo!. And Icahn's recent overtures to Microsoft have apparently been ignored.

Without Microsoft's involvement, it's unclear what Icahn can hope to accomplish. Certainly, punishing Yahoo!'s current board for not more aggressively pursuing a Microsoft purchase would have a certain attraction. And there are still a number of large Yahoo! shareholders who desperately want to consummate the Microsoft deal.

"Unless Microsoft is willing to come back and discuss a deal, it is hard to see what additional directors or new directors would be able to accomplish on behalf of shareholders," says Bill Miller, the portfolio manager for Legg Mason, which owns 6 percent of Yahoo!. Legg Mason is among those Yahoo! shareholders that wished to see the company sold to Microsoft. However, the company also believes that it was Microsoft, and not Yahoo!, that was responsible for last week's talks breaking down.

Will he or won't he? We'll know soon enough.

Icahn and I Will: Investor Launches Yahoo! Proxy Battle
Here We Go Again: Microsoft, Yahoo! in New Talks

Microsoft Opens Up the Heavens

Microsoft on Tuesday released an inspiring new tool for investigating space using imagery from the best ground- and space-based observatories around the world. Dubbed WorldWide Telescope, this new tool is free and combines Web services with a local Windows application to provide an amazing experience.

"The WorldWide Telescope is a powerful tool for science and education that makes it possible for everyone to explore the universe," says Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. "By combining terabytes of incredible imagery and data with easy-to-use software for viewing and moving through all that information, the WorldWide Telescope opens the door to new ways to see and experience the wonders of space. Our hope is that it will inspire young people to explore astronomy and science, and help researchers in their quest to better understand the universe."

WorldWide Telescope makes it possible to pan and zoom around the known galaxy using high-resolution imagery. The software provides a realistic sense of the size and scope of outer space, so that when you switch from one celestial body to the next, the view pans and zooms accordingly. WorldWide Telescope includes views of constellations; planets in the solar system; images from the Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer telescopes; sky surveys, guided tours, and more.

WorldWide Telescope was started years ago by Microsoft senior researcher Jim Gray, who was sadly lost at sea last year. Microsoft says it has released WorldWide Telescope as a service free of charge to the astronomy and education communities "as a tribute to Gray with the hope that it will inspire and empower kids of all ages to explore and understand the universe in an unprecedented way."

WorldWide Telescope requires Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or Vista. For more information and the free download, please visit the WorldWide Telescope Web site.

Here We Go Again: Microsoft, Yahoo! in New Talks
Yahoo! May Face a Proxy Battle After All

Here We Go Again: Microsoft, Yahoo! in New Talks

Microsoft has proposed a new collaborative advertising deal with erstwhile merger partner Yahoo!. Though the new deal does not involve Microsoft buying Yahoo! outright, Microsoft has done another about-face and left that possibility open again as well.

"Microsoft is considering and has raised with Yahoo! an alternative that would involve a transaction with Yahoo! but not an acquisition of all of Yahoo!," a statement issued by Microsoft on Sunday reads. "Microsoft is not proposing to make a new bid to acquire all of Yahoo! at this time, but reserves the right to reconsider that alternative depending on future developments and discussions that may take place with Yahoo! or discussions with shareholders of Yahoo! or Microsoft or with other third parties."

According to sources close to the company, what Microsoft has proposed is combining the two company's online advertising efforts so that they can together compete against market leader Google. Yahoo!, of course, has been in talks recently to outsource part of its Web search technologies to Google, a move many have seen as business suicide. Presumably the new Microsoft deal is a bid by the software giant to prevent any Google/Yahoo! matchup.

Yahoo!, too, has seen its largest shareholders rebel against the company in the wake of its successful bid to stave of Microsoft's purchase. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn recently announced his intention to mount a proxy battle to replace Yahoo!'s board with one that would be more willing to deal with Microsoft. Icahn, however, has never formally talked with Microsoft about his plans.

Icahn and I Will: Investor Launches Yahoo! Proxy Battle

Icahn and I Will: Investor Launches Yahoo! Proxy Battle

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn confirmed that he will use the muscle behind his 59 million share stake in Yahoo! to trigger a proxy battle aimed at displacing the company's board of directors with one that is more amenable to a sale to Microsoft. Icahn sent a letter to Yahoo!'s board Wednesday demanding that the company re-open talks with Microsoft.

"It is clear to me that the board of directors of Yahoo has acted irrationally and lost the faith of shareholders and Microsoft," Icahn wrote in his letter to the Yahoo! board. "It is quite obvious that Microsoft's bid of $33 per share is a superior alternative to Yahoo's prospects on a standalone basis. It is unconscionable that you have not allowed your shareholders to choose to accept an offer that represented a 72 percent premium over Yahoo's closing price of $19.18 on the day before the initial Microsoft offer. "

"A number of shareholders have asked me to lead a proxy fight to attempt to remove the current board and to establish a new board which would attempt to negotiate a successful merger with Microsoft, something that in my opinion the current board has completely botched," the letter continues.

What Icahn is seeking is simple: Yahoo! should immediately contact the software giant and accept Microsoft's previous $47.5 billion, $33-per-share offer for the company. If it does not, Icahn has formed a 10-member rival board to replace Yahoo!'s current board of directors. Once in place, he says, this board will then restart talks with Microsoft.

Icahn has also sought regulatory clearance from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to purchase an additional $2.5 billion worth of Yahoo! stock. He has also contacted Microsoft about his plans, though the software giant has allegedly not responded. That, obviously, is a problem for Icahn: Without Microsoft's interest, it's unclear what the point is in trying to oust Yahoo!'s board.

Here We Go Again: Microsoft, Yahoo! in New Talks