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!