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

WinInfo Blog

I'm in Florida this week with the family for our February vacation, so I've been offline and online intermittently, depending on the day. I don't really ever stop working, per se, but I've had nice swaths of PC-less time this week, which has been both freeing and aggravating, because of course things come up regardless of whether you're trying to relax.

On the plus side, the downtime has given me the opportunity to study Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series presentation, and the more I see, the more I like: I don't think I've been this excited about a Microsoft product since the initial Longhorn revelations in late 2003. (Of course, that ended on a rather sour note.) I expect to be writing a lot about Windows Phones in the months ahead. This one is a game changer. You can read my three-part preview on the SuperSite for Windows.

Leo and I recorded the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday, as usual, so you can expect the new episode to be posted by the weekend.

But wait, there's more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed, and the SuperSite Blog.

Short Takes

Microsoft/Yahoo! Search Deal OK'd by US, EU Regulators
As expected, antitrust regulators in the United States and European Union (EU) approved Microsoft's proposed search deal with Yahoo!, clearing the way for the companies to create a partnership that can compete on semi-equal footing with market leader Google. The deal, which is currently scheduled to last 10 years, will see Yahoo! use Microsoft's Bing search engine as a foundation for its own search service, though Yahoo! is also free to customize the user experience and related features. Yahoo! also keeps most of the search revenue derived from its own sites. What Microsoft gets, of course, is market share and the ability to entice advertisers with a platform that generates a significant audience.

Stupid People Writing Stupid Stories About Stupid Non-issues
Surveying my so-called peers in the tech press can be depressing. This week is a typical example, with IDG News running a complete non-story FUD episode examining a so-called "Windows 7 issue," in which the new OS "maxes out" RAM usage at 86 percent—much higher than previous Windows versions. Attention, Joe Clueless. That's not a problem, it's a feature, and it's been around since Windows Vista. To speed performance, modern Windows versions preload applications you use frequently into memory. So, contrary to the claims in this article, the memory usage actually improves performance, not the reverse. And as for that "free" memory monitor in Resource Manager, that figure has nothing to do with "available" memory, and it doesn't mean that Windows 7 will be constantly paging to disk, as claimed. Put simply, this is a complete non-story. I'm tired of this kind of thing, and I don't understand how certain people can write about technical topics they very clearly don't understand. Consider me pushed over the edge. This kind of reporting is ridiculous and inexcusable, and the people writing about this nonsense are serial transgressors.

Yes, Microsoft Charges for Its Mobile OS. So Does Virtually Everyone Else.
I've watched the video of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series announcement presentation several times this week, and the dumbest moment in the whole thing comes right at the end, when a woman from a news agency that shall go unnamed asks how Microsoft could possibly continue charging for a mobile OS when most of its competitors give their products away for free. This would be an excellent question if the basic premise—that most of its competitors give their mobile OSs away for free—were true. But that, of course, is not the case. Yes, Google gives away Android, but then Google is the single most aggressive (and antitrust-bound) company to arise in the post-PC era. And yes, Nokia does now give away the aging and creaky Symbian thanks to massive market-share drops. (And let's face it, no one wants Symbian.) But all the major players today—Apple, Palm, and Research in Motion (RIM) among them—charge for mobile OSs, just as companies charge for PC-based OSs, or don't license them to others at any price because they sell their own devices (and don't give them away). Anyway, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had a classic response to this idiotic question. "If something is free, you should take a look and find out where the real cost is," he responded. "Our model is clean and simple. We build something, we sell that thing. \[Some competitors, such as Apple,\] sell devices. We sell software to people who make devices."

Microsoft Debuts Final Design of the Browser Ballot Page
This week, Microsoft showed off the final design for the browser ballot page that will appear in Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP in the EU starting in a few weeks. (It will be provided to users who configured Internet Explorer as their default browser, via Windows Update.) The final design doesn't differ much from the previous design, and it presents a list of browsers to choose from, sorted randomly so no one browser gets a more prominent position. "The design and operation of this choice screen was worked out in the course of extensive discussions with the European Commission (EC) and is reflected in the commitment that Microsoft made," a Microsoft statement reads. "Users who get the choice screen will be free to choose any browser or stick with the browser they have, as they prefer." Users in the UK, France, and Belgium will get a first look at the screen starting next week, followed by the rest of the EU in early March.

What's the Opposite of "Buzz"? Because That's What Google Is Generating with Buzz.
Google's belated second shot at social networking with the Gmail-based Buzz service was supposed to catapult the company into competition with Twitter and Facebook. But instead, it has created an amazing uproar among Gmail users who feel the service is invasive at best and privacy-adverse at worst. How this piece of junk escaped internal testing is unclear, given how poorly implemented it was at launch last week, as well as its complete lack of configuration. But with Google now facing a class-action lawsuit over the service, maybe it's time for the online giant to step back and ask itself what the heck just happened. For all the bad stuff Google has done over the years—working with the Chinese and scanning copyrighted books without asking permission, for starters—it's interesting to see that a silly and pointless service is what brought this clueless and insular high-flyer down to Earth. The issue here is simple, however, and although I wish I could take credit for this observation, it comes from my friend Fabrice: No one cared when Google was violating IP and copyright laws around the world by scanning books, because that was other people's data. But when Google opens up actual users to privacy invasion, it gets personal. I think Fabrice is right. Google is a smart company full of smart people. But this is one the dumbest things I've ever seen.

Two Chinese Schools Tied to Google Attack
People close to the investigation of the recent attacks on Google and other US-based high-tech companies say that the attacks most likely originated from two schools in China. And it looks as if the attacks began much earlier than previously thought, in April 2009 and not in June. It's still unclear how the schools—Shanghai Jiaotong University and Lanxiang Vocational School—are connected. But one source at a government contractor that was also hacked was able to trace the attack back to a specific computer-science class at the vocational school, taught by a Ukrainian professor. (And that school has strong military ties.) Meanwhile, Jiaotong is considered one of the top computer-science schools in the world. Students there recently beat Stanford in an IBM-sponsored international computer programming competition. If they're responsible for the Google attack, however, that's a much bigger achievement, of course.