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

Longhorn Was Steve Ballmer's Biggest Regret

If you haven't yet, but sure to read Mary Jo Foley's definitive exit interview of outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in Fortune, and of course her many follow-ups in All About Microsoft. There are many fascinating tidbits in this profile of a largely misunderstood guy who is quite a bit more complex and credible than the silly "monkey boy" persona that the clueless have latched on to. My favorite bit is about his biggest regret, which is the Longhorn debacle, which I consider to be the key moment of Microsoft's recent history. "'Longhorn becomes Vista' was the single biggest mistake I made," he told Foley. "The product wasn't a great product, but [also] it took us five or six years to ship it. Then we had to sort of fix it. That was what I might call Windows 7 ... We did not make progress in eight years, and there were other things those people could have been working on, (like) phones." Left unsaid, however—and I do think this is just as important—is that this period of stupidity (2002-2009ish) just happened to coincide with the rise of both Apple and Google, which is that kind of historically bad timing that I already view as the turning point in Microsoft's fortunes. You just couldn’t have screwed that up more if you tried.

Microsoft Joins Group Seeking to End the Era of Passwords

Anyone who has enabled a PIN or Picture Password on Windows 8, used their thumb to sign in to their iPhone 5S, or watched as the Xbox One's Kinect camera magically recognized them and simply signed them in automatically has seen a glimpse of the future. And that is a future in which the requirement for users to make, memorize, and manage multiple complex passwords has finally passed. To help make this future happen, Microsoft has joined an industry group called the FIDO Alliance, where FIDO stands for "Fast IDentity Online." The group's goal is to reduce the industry reliance on passwords, which have long been regarded as the weakest link in tech security. As President Skroob noted in Spaceballs, "1-2-3-4-5? That's amazing! I've got the same combination on my luggage!"

New Candidate Emerges in Microsoft CEO Search: Qualcomm COO Steve Mollenkopf

And no, I'd never heard of this guy either. But since we're obsessed with the Microsoft CEO search, any news on this front is by nature interesting. A credible set of reports from both Bloomberg and Reuters state that Qualcomm COO Steve Mollenkopf is now among the final candidates for the Microsoft CEO position. He's got a lot going for him: He's just 44 years old, he's an engineer, and he's obviously got the Silicon Valley street cred that so many think Microsoft needs. Very interesting. (Quick update: Qualcomm, perhaps not coincidentally, just announced that Mollenkopf would become its CEO in March. Even more interesting!)

Today in NSA News: Presidential Task Force Recommends Overhaul

Since we're also obsessed about government spying in general and the NSA specifically, I figured you'd be interested in this little news tidbit: A special task force has recommended to President Barack Obama that he institute sweeping reforms of the NSA that would shift control of the agency from the military to civilian leadership and severely limit its ability to gather and store information about Americans. This news comes ahead of the final release of the task force's recommendations, and it's possible that things could change or that the president will pursue a different course. But it's interesting to me that this political issue is so closely following what we see so often in the tech world: Generate enough outrage and you can institute real change. And speaking of the tech world, in my view the NSA is the governmental version of Google, and it needs to be regulated or just stopped, and for exactly the same reasons.

Xbox One Is the Fastest-Selling Console in November in the United States

Citing reliable NPD data, Microsoft reported this week that the Xbox One was the fastest-selling video game console in the United States in November, selling a curiously exact 909,132 units in the United States. The firm can't reveal how many PlayStation 4 units Sony sold in the month, but since the Xbox One figure is higher, and the console was available in the United States for only half the time of the PlayStation 4, that's obviously a huge win. Microsoft did say, however, that the Xbox One's sale pace of more than 101,000 units per day in the United States "significantly outpaced the nearest competitor." Which we can assume was Sony.

PlayStation 4 Is the Best-Selling Console in November in the United States

OK, got those Xbox One numbers memorized? Good. Now reconcile them with this: Also citing reliable NPD data, Sony is stating that the PlayStation 4 was the best-selling video game console in the United States in November ... but it won't say how many consoles it sold, making comparisons with the Xbox One more difficult. How does that work? Well, the PlayStation 4 shipped to consumers one week before the Xbox One, so it was in the market almost twice as long as Microsoft's console. So while Microsoft can claim that the Xbox One sold at a faster pace, the PlayStation 4 (by virtue of being available much longer) sold more units overall. How many more? Sony isn't saying. (My estimate is between 1 million and 1.6 million units.) Yes, it's early days. And yes, full holiday sales period comparisons will be more interesting. But what the heck.

BUILD 2014 Is in April

Microsoft briefly revealed this week that its next BUILD conference will be held much earlier than usual, April 2-4, 2014 in San Francisco. (The announcement was later pulled, but we can safely assume it's happening.) This timing is, I think, not coincidental, with Microsoft prepping major updates for all of its core platforms, including Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox One. So I would expect some Windows Phone 8.1, Windows 8.2, and "Threshold" news by the time of the conference. Previous to last year's June show, BUILD was always held in October, but the new date is obviously a reflection on how Microsoft's delivery schedule has changed to the so-called "rapid release cycle." I can't wait.

But Wait, There's More

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