An often irreverent look at this shortened week's other news, including a 4th of July break, an unwelcome new feature in Windows 8.1, Surface Pro 256 GB hits the US, Windows 8 and IE usage share, questions of leadership at Xbox, Nokia’s Plan B, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 successes, Sony’s 15 minutes of relevancy, and a hack at game maker Ubisoft.

Yep, more time off

Yes, I had a reasonably relaxing weekend off after Build in San Francisco last week. But this Thursday is the Fourth of July in the United States, so Penton is taking the rest of this week off to be all patriotic and stuff. No worries, as I’ll be working normally through the weekend, so stay tuned to the SuperSite for Windows for a regular series of updates going forward. Remember: Nothing is more patriotic than getting it done.

Worst new Windows 8.1 feature? More ads

Back in November, I wrote that Microsoft was cheapening Windows 8 by including advertising in its flagship operating system. I also warned that such an inclusion in Windows was a slippery slope, questioning how it could possibly not get worse over time. Well, as Julie Larson-Green noted at Build, look how much they accomplished in just 8 months: In Windows 8.1, Microsoft is now adding advertising to Windows Search, the built-in search feature in Windows 8/RT that will now return Bing search results too. You wanted the best of the web, did you? Well, you’re getting the worst of the web, too. And unlike in a web browser, there’s no utility that will turn off that crap. I’m sure Microsoft will put a positive spin on this change, so let’s check in and see what they have to say. “We want to get advertisers one click closer to consumers,” Microsoft general manager David Pann told Forbes this week. Folks, this kind of thing is why I’m a “glass half empty” guy.

Surface expansion to resellers results in availability of 256 GB version in the US

This week’s news about Microsoft expanding the sale of Surface tablets to authorized resellers has resulted in at least one positive change: The 256 GB version of the Surface Pro, which was previously made available only in Japan for some reason, can now be purchased in the United States. The catch is that you have to do so through a partner and not directly from Microsoft. CDW, for example, lists the Surface Pro 256 GB for $1200, a $200 premium over the 128 GB version, in-line with the pricing we see in Japan. Honestly, anyone interested in such a device should wait for a “Haswell”-based version of Surface Pro, which should get considerably better battery life and, perhaps, a thinner form factor.

#WINNING! Windows 8 usage share surpasses that of Windows Vista

It took over 8 months, but usage share in Windows 8 has finally surpassed that of the reviled Windows Vista, according to the latest stats from NetApplications. As of the end of June, Windows 8 accounted for 5.10 percent of all PC usage, compared to 44.37 percent for Windows 7, 37.17 percent for Windows XP and just 3.14 percent for the most popular Mac OS, Mac OS X 10.8. Overall, Windows of course continues to dominate on traditional PCs with 91.51 percent share, compared to 7.17 percent for the Mac and 1.21 percent for Linux. The firm also notes great success for Internet Explorer: Microsoft’s web browser controlled 56.15 percent of all browser usage in June, compared to 19.15 percent for Firefox and 17.17 percent for Chrome. So much for the death knell: IE usage has steadily grown for over 10 months now while Firefox and Chrome usage has fallen. Weird how no one ever mentions that inconvenient truth.

Now who runs the Xbox business?

With submarine fan Don Mattrick out of Microsoft in a curiously speedy move to Zynga, the question naturally falls to this: Who is going to run Microsoft’s high-profile Xbox business in this most crucial build-up to the launch of the Xbox One? Why, CEO Steve Ballmer of course. In that letter to employees I quoted from in the previously linked article, Ballmer said that all of Mattrick’s former direct reports would now report to him, and a Microsoft representative has refused to discuss whether the firm was looking for a successor. (For Mattrick not Ballmer.) I’m honestly a bit surprised we haven’t seen a Yusuf Mehdi or Marc Whitten promoted in the wake of the Mattrick exit.

If the iPhone continues to fail, Apple has no Plan B

Did that headline catch your attention? Neat. Because it is a rewording of a headline I saw that actually reads as If Windows Phone continues to fail, Nokia has no Plan B. What’s interesting about this headline is that few would probably have thought twice about it, but I’m curious why it’s OK to make this declaration about Nokia. Why would Nokia need a Plan B? For the record, Windows Phone continues to grow market share, albeit slowly, and now controls 5.6 percent of the US market for smart phones, up 1.8 percentage points (from 3.8 percent) year over year. The big loser here, actually, is Blackberry: its market share fell from 5.3 percent a year ago to 0.7 percent this year. Maybe the headline should have read: If Blackberry 10 continues to fail, Blackberry has no Plan 11. Just a thought.

Samsung sells 20 million Galaxy S4 handsets

Samsung has sold over 20 million Galaxy S4 smart phones since the device went on sale in late April, a torrid launch pace of 10 million units per month. That’s 1.7 times faster than the sales pace of the Galaxy S3 and on par with Apple’s best-every iPhone sales period. More important, it refutes reports that Galaxy S4 sales had dropped off significantly after the first month, in which Samsung did indeed sell 10 million units. So much for that imagined disappointment.

Is Sony’s moment in the sun over?

In the wake of Microsoft’s stunning 180-degree change in Xbox One policies, the tech world has been caught up in the drama coming out of Redmond. But the other half of this story is Sony, which of course so-briefly appeared to be riding high in the wake of its E3 victory. So how’s Sony doing? I think the words “in denial” sum it up nicely. “[E3] was day one of a ten-year battle,” Sony’s Jack Tretton told IGN. “Better late than never,” he said regarding Microsoft’s reversal. “I guess they got the message.” Indeed. But at least Microsoft had somewhere to turn, and it could certainly lower the price of the Xbox One in the near future as well. As for Sony, it’s stuck with its lackluster launch portfolio and the camera-less PS4 as-is. I’d say the first year of that ten-year battle is shaping up pretty nicely for Microsoft.

Ubisoft hack exposes customer data

Game maker Ubisoft (of “Far Cry” and “Assassin’s Creed” fame) revealed this week that its web site had been hacked, exposing customer data such as user names, email addresses and encrypted passwords to potential theft. The good news? No credit card data was stolen. The bad? Those encrypted passwords could be cracked. So you’re going to want to change your password on the site if you’re one of the 58 million people who have registered there for some reason.

Apple rumor of the week

I posted this earlier on Twitter, but what the heck: Why does everyone think iWatch is a watch? Couldn't it be a TV?

But Wait, There's More

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