Tuesday, May 20, 2008

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 www.hp.com 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 CNET.com. 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