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

Microsoft Never Makes It Easy

Microsoft announced this week that it will launch Windows 8.1 in late October, as expected. But rather than provide the simplest of release date information—“It’s launching October 18, 2013!”—Microsoft chose to be ponderous about it. “Starting at 12:00 a.m. on October 18 in New Zealand (that’s 4:00 a.m. October 17 in Redmond), Windows 8.1 will begin rolling out worldwide as a free update for consumers on Windows 8 through the Windows Store. Windows 8.1 will also be available at retail and on new devices starting on October 18 by market. So mark your calendars!” Um. Mark our calendars? For what? For 12:00 a.m. New Zealand time on October 18? What the heck is that? I’m surprised the company didn’t publish a time grid for us to figure out. Guys, just pick a day and time and roll with it. Sheesh.

Outlook.com and SkyDrive Down for the Count for Hours on Wednesday

Microsoft’s consumer-focused Outlook.com (email, calendar, contacts) and SkyDrive (cloud storage, Office Web Apps) went dark for millions of users on Wednesday, and because this outage affected me it is now a news story. There’s no word yet what caused the problem, and the firm was able to restore access in what seemed like a very long seven hours or so. And some people are still reporting issues with mobile access to Outlook.com as of this writing.

Microsoft Offers Xbox Live Season Pass Guarantee to Ease Xbox 360 to Xbox One Transition

In a bid to ease gamers’ transition from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One, Microsoft will allow video game makers to extend Xbox 360-based Season Pass content between the consoles. Today, if you get a Season Pass for a game like Call of Duty, you gain access to all downloadable content for the duration of the pass (typically a year). But with Xbox One coming, many gamers might put off purchasing games because they don’t want to buy everything twice. (Certainly understandable.) With the Season Pass Guarantee, you will still need to buy a copy of the actual game for each console—say, Call of Duty: Ghosts—but you need to buy the Season Pass only once. You’ll get the content on both consoles.

Headline of the Year

For all the angst surrounding Microsoft these days, let’s give credit where credit is due: This supposedly slow-moving dinosaur has overhauled all of its classic software businesses into a set of lean and mean products that are delivered and updated like services, and it’s updating most of them at an impressive clip. But industry darling Apple still hasn’t gotten this memo, and while companies like Google and Microsoft are out-innovating Apple and beating it to market, Apple just sits there and does nothing. Its last “major” product releases—each a minor revision to previous products—all came last fall. But what’s really bizarre about the Apple fan base is that it’s kept the dream alive all year with an unremitting, non-stop series of rumor reports about what the next iPhones and iPads will be like. There have been spec leaks, photo leaks, product version leaks, and more, virtually every single day this year. So as the unofficial Apple hype machine pumps up the excitement to a crazy tizzy, we can only assume that Apple is going to knock our socks off when it delivers exciting new products that will justify the year-long delay and close the gap with the Android devices that are killing it off at an ever-alarming rate. Right? Wrong. And this headline in USA Today this week pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with Apple in these sad, declining years: "New Apple iPhone not expected to have many changes." Maybe next year?

Google: Gmail Users Should Simply Expect the Company to Violate Their Privacy

From the too-good-to-be-true department comes this amazing bombshell: Google has told a judge that users of its Gmail web-based email system have “no legitimate expectation of privacy.” This “stunning admission,” as Consumer Watchdog’s John Simpson accurately called it, came during a motion filed in a case in which Google is charged with the illegal interception of electronic communications without users' consent. Google, of course, does just that, and although the company likes to claim that other email services do something similar, the other services only do it to protect users and the network from spam; Google does it to sell advertising. What’s funny about this, to me, is that Google claims its actions are like “a letter recipient's assistant” opening a snail-mail letter. But as Mr. Simpson again so accurately points out, that analogy is “wrong-headed. Sending an email is like giving a letter to the Post Office. I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on the envelope. I don't expect the mail carrier to open my letter and read it.” Exactly.

Gartner: Smartphones Outsell “Dumb Phones" for the First Time

The industry analysts at Gartner say we’ve passed a major milestone: For the first time ever, smartphones have outsold so-called “dumb phones." (Remember, folks, there are no dumb phones, only dumb phone users.) According to the firm, hardware makers sold 435 million mobile phones in the second quarter of 2013 and fully 225 million of them, or 52 percent, were smartphones. Gartner’s numbers also confirm that Android has extended its lead over Apple (79 percent to 14 percent), and that Windows Phone has easily surpassed BlackBerry for the number three position (3.3 percent). With 7.9 million units sold in Q2, Windows Phone makers would only need to sell another 170 million units—in one quarter, mind you—to catch up to Android. Maybe in Q3.

And the Best-Selling Products for the World’s Biggest PC Maker Are …

As you might recall, Lenovo finally surpassed HP in the second quarter of 2013 to become the world’s biggest maker of PCs. And with this week’s financial results report—Lenovo is killing it, with a 23 percent rise in net profit and a 9.7 percent rise in revenue in its fiscal first quarter—an interesting statistic emerges: Lenovo sells more mobile devices—smartphones and tablets—than it does PCs. This is interesting for two reasons. One, Lenovo owns the reputable ThinkPad brand, and we should rightfully assume that these PCs sell quite well. And two, Lenovo barely sells any smartphones at the moment—it pretty much only sells them in China—so most of those mobile device sales are tablets. So would Lenovo consider buying BlackBerry to get a jump on the smartphone market? Lenovo Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Yang Yuanqing told The Wall Street Journal this week that if such a deal were consistent with Lenovo’s strategy, it would take the opportunity. “We believe that the PC industry and the mobile phone industry will continue to consolidate,” he said. “So Lenovo is definitely in a good position to become an important player.”

Roku More Frequently Used than Apple TV, Report Says

Since I’ve used both devices pretty heavily, I’m not surprised to discover that an independent study conducted by Parks Associates has concluded that Roku’s media streaming devices are more frequently used than the Apple TV. According to the study, 37 percent of US households with a streaming media device use a Roku primarily, while 24 percent use Apple TV. Of course, this study didn’t examine non-dedicated devices such as the Xbox 360, and if you look at the associated data, what you’ll see is that video game consoles like the Xbox 360 are used about four times as often as dedicated streaming devices (and, in the case of the Xbox 360, over 50 percent of that usage is entertainment- and not video game-based). Even smart TVs and Blu-ray players currently outranked dedicated streaming devices.

But Wait, There's More

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