Well, Microsoft finally launched Windows Vista. The launch event was sort of a letdown over all. There were two main events: A luncheon (read: press conference) at Cipriani's  (home of the "Bellini" drink, which I renamed the "Vistini") and a celebration event at the Nikon Theater in Times Square. The luncheon was boring, although the food and drinks were excellent, and I got to catch up with some friends, including Bob Stein from ActiveWin. The celebration event was overly loud, and my ears were burning for hours afterwards, despite having worn earplugs. I wonder how many people suffered permanent hearing damage from this all-too-obvious attempt to be cool.

Anyway, I will say one thing: The swag bag Microsoft handed out at the celebration was pretty sweet. The company gave out full retail versions of Vista Ultimate and Microsoft Office 2007 Home and Student, two games for Windows (I got "LEGO Star Wars II" and "Flight Simulator X Deluxe"), a Belkin Easy Transfer Cable, an Xbox 360 Controller for Windows (the old wired kind), a 2GB USB memory key, and some other stuff. I can't say that the swag bag made the trip worthwhile for me, but I bet it was enough for a lot of people.

Struck by the makeup of the crowd at the launch event, I started asking around about where people were from. (Normally, I recognize most people at these industry events, but this time it seemed as if there were many people I'd never seen before.) It's unclear how Microsoft determined who got into the launch event, but I decided that perceptions are funny. I've seen Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates speak a hundred times, and he doesn't do much for me. But at least one person there (a small PC business owner) thought it was the best presentation he had ever seen. Yikes.

I'm hoping that the latest episode of my Windows Weekly podcast will be up today: Leo and I--along with my "Windows Vista Secrets" coauthor Brian Livingston--recorded it in a restaurant across the street from the Vista launch event on Monday. I haven't heard the podcast yet, but it no doubt has an atmospheric effect about it, thanks to the background noise of people talking and dishes clacking around.

Speaking of Brian, he tested the method I first revealed about using the Upgrade versions of Vista to perform a clean installation. You can read the results of his test on his Web site.

Finally, I'd like to point out two bizarre inaccuracies that Microsoft's top executives are foisting upon us. First, at the Vista launch event on Monday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said once again that Microsoft has no plans for a Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), let alone any idea what such a release might contain. (He said the same thing at the business launch event back in November 2006.) That's hogwash. Microsoft has been planning Vista SP1 for more than a year now: Vista SP1 (code-named Fiji) will bring the Vista kernel up to speed with the kernel in Longhorn Server and will be released at the same time. Second, Gates has repeatedly said in TV interviews that Vista is "the first operating system" to include parental controls. That's news to the millions of Macintosh OS X Tiger users, who have been using that OS's parental-controls feature since April 2005. It's no wonder Mac users often look upon Microsoft and its users with disdain. Heads up, Microsoft. If you're going to let your executives out in public, make sure they have their facts straight. This stuff is embarrassing and unnecessary.

OK, one more thing, and this is something I'd like everyone on both sides of the Mac/Windows divide to really think about. Which is worse: A company executive making a mistake in public or a corporation making a bald-faced lie in a press release? This week, Apple announced the release of new iPod shuffle devices that come in five different colors. (Previously, only a single gray model has been available.) In the press release, the company notes that it pioneered the shuffle feature that's been present on every MP3 hardware and software player ever made, including those that shipped before the original iPod, iTunes Store, and iPod shuffle. If Apple wasn't among the first to offer shuffling, then it couldn't have pioneered this feature. I know I'm being nitpicky, but remember that the victors write history, and Apple's press release will one day be looked back on as an article of fact by future researchers. Apple, in short, is rewriting history. And let's be honest, Apple does this type of thing a lot.

Zune Executive Leaves Microsoft

Imagine what this guy would have had to do if he were a samurai. This week, Microsoft announced that Bryan Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft's entertainment business, was leaving the company for "personal reasons." As in, "I'm personally humiliated by the Zune launch"? (Absolutely not, Microsoft said.) Lee led the business development and marketing efforts for the Zune--a situation that I believe speaks for itself. Hipper-than-thou Microsoft Corporate Vice President J Allard will take over Lee's Zune-related duties, which should add only about 45 minutes to Allard's schedule each week. My 5-year-old daughter could have come up with a better Zune marketing plan than Microsoft did.

Microsoft Admits to, Downplays, Vista Voice-Recognition Bug

This week, Microsoft admitted that a problem with Vista's voice-recognition feature could be used to hijack a PC, but the company downplayed the problem because of the unlikely event of an actual attack. "While it is technically possible, there are some things that should be considered when trying to determine the threat of exposure to your Windows Vista system," a Microsoft Security Response Center blog posting reads. Among the factors to be considered: Voice recognition would need to be enabled, and the PC would need to have speakers and a microphone enabled. Also, the feature can't be used to bypass Vista's User Account Control (UAC), thus making an attack even less likely. Frankly, I think it says something about the state of computer technology that we're at the point at which someone can send an audio file across the Internet to infiltrate a PC. I'm not sure it's a good thing, but it's something.

Dell Accused of Kickbacks

You know, I have a hard time believing that one huge corporation would provide another huge corporation with kickbacks to maintain a special business relationship. Oh wait. This week, investors accused Dell of inflating profits by not properly accounting for quarterly rebates it was getting from microprocessor giant Intel. The complaint, which arrived in the form of a class-action lawsuit, charges Dell with getting as much as $1 billion per year in "secret and likely illegal" kickbacks from Intel aimed at ensuring that Dell didn't offer processors from Intel rival AMD. Dell was a long-time AMD holdout, which struck me as odd at the time, since AMD's chips surpassed Intel's a few years ago. (Things have since reversed, and Intel's processors are once again superior to those of AMD.) The suit, perhaps coincidentally, was filed on Wednesday, right around the same time that Dell CEO Kevin Rollins stepped down. Rollins and founder Michael Dell are among the 16 Dell executives named in the suit.

Apple Ships Vista Upgrade for iTunes Songs

This week, Apple shipped its iTunes Repair Tool for Vista 1.0, a utility that helps Vista users access their purchased songs from within the new OS. I'm not sure why this tool is necessary because my purchased iTunes content has always worked fine in Vista. (That said, I don't buy music from Apple.) But apparently some people were having problems. You can find the tool on the Apple Web site.

Jim Allchin Has Left the Building

No Microsoft executive had more of a direct impact on Vista than Jim Allchin. Sadly, however, Allchin has now retired: His last day was Wednesday, January 31. "Microsoft is an absolutely amazing company--full of such incredible people," Allchin wrote in a goodbye note to his coworkers and friends. "In fact, when I came to Microsoft, one of the things that struck me the most was just how many smart people there were. I had been around smart people at school and work before, but never so many of them. Not only were they smart though, they had incredible passion for technology, for learning, for improving, and most of all for changing the world using technology to improve people's lives." I'm going to miss Allchin a lot, actually. He's a class act and a great guy who really cared about Windows and the community that grew up around it. Fortunately, he's going out on a high note: Vista is quite a legacy and should fuel the next decade of computing.

Search Called Off for Missing Microsoft Researcher

On a serious note, it's with much sadness that I must report that Microsoft Researcher Jim Gray, an amazing and inspirational man who did much to turn SQL Server into a serious enterprise product, is missing and presumed dead. An experienced sailor, Gray was on a solo sailing trip near San Francisco when he disappeared. Days of searching have proven to be fruitless, unfortunately. Gray was one of the good guys, and my heart goes out to his family, friends, and coworkers. Everyone he met was touched in a very positive way.