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

Heads Up: We Already Knew Smaller Windows 8/Windows RT Tablets Were Coming This Year

An update to the Windows 8 certification rules, detailed in Microsoft’s Windows Certification Newsletter, has the blogosphere abuzz because it supposedly suggests that smaller, roughly 7" tablets are on the way. Of course, we already knew that, so I’m not sure what all the excitement is about. But let me tell you about something you actually didn’t know before: Microsoft will indeed be shipping a third, smaller Surface tablet model this year, and while it won’t feature a precisely 7" screen (think a tad bigger), you get the idea. Sounds like something that could be announced at Build 2013.

Microsoft Office Could Be Getting a Lot More Agnostic

Mary Jo Foley reported this week that Microsoft’s plans to improve Office over the coming year—courtesy of an initiative code-named “Gemini”—will include new Metro-style versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. But the broader news, in some ways, is that Office is now seen as far less dependent on Windows than it was in the past, and it seems that the organization is realigning itself as one that builds apps and services that run on multiple, heterogeneous platforms, and not on Windows primarily. This fundamental shift means that future Office versions will likely see huge functional bumps on emerging platforms like iOS (iPhone/iPad), Android, and the web, and that growth in these new markets will help the business generate new revenue streams that are today unavailable to it. You can see the start of the strategy in the mobile apps that the Office team (and, more broadly, Microsoft) already makes—for OneNote, Lync, SharePoint, and SkyDrive, among others—and I think it’s pretty clear that 2013 is going to be the tipping point for the big Office apps. Hang on to your butts! We’re going in!

With Patents, Microsoft Can Stave Off Surface Keyboard Accessory Ripoffs

When Microsoft announced its lineup of Surface tablets last year, the most interesting aspect of the products, in some ways, was the associated keyboard accessories, the Touch Keyboard Cover and the Type Keyboard Cover. You know them from the satisfying “click” sound they make when attached—thanks to the endlessly playing commercials that highlight this sound—but that’s not really the big technical achievement there. And I remember thinking during the announcement that it’s only a matter of time before Apple and other companies rip off the idea for their own iPad accessories. But this week, Microsoft was found to have been granted three patents related to this coupling design. And maybe that means that others won’t be able to steal the idea so easily. Kudos to Engadget for digging this one up. (For more about the Type and Touch covers, see "Review: Microsoft Surface Windows 8 Pro.")

Microsoft Publishes List of 41,000 Patents

Speaking of patents, Microsoft this week published a list of the nearly 41,000 patents it now owns on the web, allowing anyone to search through them and discover the many ways in which they're infringing on the firm’s intellectual property. Or, as Microsoft puts it, “Transparency regarding patent ownership is an important part of a well-functioning patent system.” You can use the Microsoft Patent Tracker—is that tool patented, one wonders?—to search by patent number, patent title, country, and whether the patent is held by Microsoft or a subsidiary, or obtain an Excel-friendly CSV file (also patented) so you can search offline (which, yes, is likely patented too). I wonder how many patented technologies are in Excel? If only there were a way to find out.

When Nerds Attack

I didn’t cover this as a news story this week, but you might have heard about the crazy kerfuffle that occurred when Spamhaus, which “tracks the Internet’s worst Spammers, known Spam Gangs, and Spam Support Services,” placed Russian Internet service providers (ISPs) on its blacklist and then suffered from what is now described as “the largest ever publicly disclosed cyberattack in the history of the Internet.” According to a spokesperson for the attackers, Spamhaus was arbitrarily blocking online content that it didn’t approve of, and wasn’t really preventing spam. So the attackers retaliated by using what is now thought to be a DNS reflection attack, which basically flooded Spamhaus with, well, electronic spam—a 300Gbps torrent of traffic—which overwhelmed not only the firm’s web presence but pretty much the wider Internet as well. Netflix was down for many, for crying out loud. How dare they interrupt “House of Cards”! How dare they! Anyway, maybe it’s time to fix DNS so that this kind of thing can’t happen anymore. It just doesn’t make sense that such a thing can still happen. It’s not 2000 anymore, people. Figure it out.

Amazon Buys Book Reviewer Website

As Amazon grows bigger and more powerful, the complaints multiply. One of the weird issues the firm got into last year was that its online product reviews, written by users, were found to have often been fabricated by representatives of the makers of those products. For example, many book reviews were found to be completely spurious, with authors and publishers bumping up the scores while dumping on competing books. Amazon finally responded by deleting some known-to-be-questionable reviews late last year, but the questions remain, and you do have to exercise a bit of common sense when evaluating any customer-written reviews. But this week, Amazon might have found a solution, at least for book reviews, and it’s even more controversial than its previous decision to silently delete reviews: It has purchased Goodreads, which until this week was the number-one independent source of trusted book reviews. The purchase has quite a few fans up in arms, as you might expect, and to be fair their concerns are certainly justified. It will be interesting to see how independent Goodreads remains going forward.

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