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

Confusion Over When/How Windows Phone 7 Will Be Updated in 2011

I'm starting to get a bad vibe from the Windows Phone guys, and while it's nothing like the sheer ineptitude that the Windows Mobile guys emitted—at least not yet—it's still troubling. These guys seem to be unable or unwilling to say a single coherent word about what its pending Windows Phone 7 updates will look like or when they'll be delivered. So, we've got rumors. There was the bozo who claimed that a January update would be so massive that it would look like "Windows Phone 8," but he was quickly shouted down by people with better access to the company who claimed the January update would in fact be tiny and possibly only include the afore-promised "copy and paste" update. Then, rumors of a second February update emerged, though some people figured that the February update was really just the January update, but with a more realistic release date. And now Mary Jo Foley is reporting that Microsoft is planning a massive "Mango" update for later in 2011 that could in fact be marketed as Windows Phone 7.5 when it ships. What's the truth? I have no idea. Really.

Microsoft: Google Instant Is Pointless. So We're Copying It.

This week, Microsoft rolled out some interesting new Bing functionality, but the bit that really caught my eye was an upcoming feature called Instant Previews, which appears to be a pretty obvious copy of Google Instant. That's all well and good, but didn't Microsoft rip on Google Instant when that feature was released a few months ago? And why am I asking you when I can just look it up? "We think speed to task completion is better than speed to results," Microsoft Senior Vice President Satya Nadella said at the time. "It probably gets in the way." By "it," of course, he means "Google Instant," and not "Bing Instant Previews," which most assuredly don't get in the way. I'm so glad Microsoft invented that.

Microsoft Adds More Active Views to Hotmail

Microsoft this week announced two new partners that are enhancing Hotmail via its Active Views extensibility functionality, providing users with ways to accomplish more directly in email messages without having to navigate to other websites. This week's new entries include Orbitz and Monster.com. Here's how it works: Let's say you book flights on Orbitz, and of course Orbitz sends you a confirmation email message. But then you realize you need to book a hotel or rental car for the same trip. Thanks to Active Views, you'll be able to do that directly from within the confirmation message, which provides a portal of sorts to the full Orbitz functionality. So you won't need to manually visit Orbitz, look up your reservation, and go from there. Whether this is useful or merely frivolous is a matter of debate, but there's more coming soon, so you'd better just get used to it.

Microsoft: HTML 5 Video Is So Awesome on IE 9 That We're Giving It to the Competition, Too

This one is kind of curious. Microsoft this week announced a new plug-in for the Mozilla Firefox web browser that will let the software giant's closest browser competitor play H.264-encoded HTML 5 video, at least when running on Windows 7. The plug-in is basically a way to surface native Windows 7 video capabilities in Firefox, if I'm reading this correctly, and it's useful because Mozilla, to date, has refused to support H.264, despite its industry standardness, if you will, and its ubiquitous use online. So, why would Microsoft help the competition? I'm sure from the software giant's standpoint it's simply helping Windows customers. But there's a fine line there, I think, given the importance of the web platform these days.

Microsoft Announces Hardware for Businesses

Microsoft has long made nice hardware—mouse devices and keyboards, especially, but also web cams and other devices—and this week the company announced an expansion of these devices into the business market. Which is to say, Microsoft isn't making new hardware just for businesses. Instead, it's offering volume discounts on existing products so that businesses can buy them in bulk. This is actually a pretty smart move when you think about it. Given Microsoft's business leanings, I'm surprised it took the company so long.

RIM Profits Surge as BlackBerry Beats iPhone in Quarter

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) had an unexpectedly strong quarter, with its flagship product barely beating back Apple's surging iPhone, thanks to strong international sales. RIM posted a 45 percent jump in earnings and shipped 14.2 million BlackBerry devices in the three months ending November 27—itself a 40 percent jump year over year, and strong enough to beat Apple, which sold 14.1 million iPhones in its most recent quarter. RIM now claims a subscriber base of 55 million users, and said that much of its recent growth has been thanks to strong sales of the BlackBerry 9800 Torch. All isn't well for RIM, however: US sales of BlackBerry devices have slowed dramatically, with international sales taking up the slack. And while sales overall are up, so are sales for the competition. So, RIM controlled only 14.8 of worldwide smartphone sales in the quarter ending September 30, compared with 21 percent a year earlier. And it's pretty clear that the iPhone will soon surpass BlackBerry, perhaps by the end of the year.

Google Catalogs 5.2 Million Books Spanning over 500 Years of Human Evolution

And now the online giant is letting scientists and researchers have at the data via a cool online tool, which will lead to a much better explanation about how language has evolved over this time. (The catalog includes books published in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish, between 1500 and 2008.) As a preview of what's coming, check out the study that was just published in the journal Science today, which provides "insights about fields as diverse as lexicography, the evolution of grammar, collective memory, the adoption of technology, the pursuit of fame, censorship, and historical epidemiology." Google is a lot of things, some negative, but this is actually pretty amazing.

EU Expands Investigation of Google

Speaking of Google, it's worth remembering that this company doesn't always follow its tired "Don't Be Evil" mantra. Antitrust regulators in the European Union (EU) this week announced that they're broadening their investigation of Google to include complaints by two German companies. Google, you may recall, is being accused of shutting out competitors online by specially curating search results to exclude them. Google says it will work with the EU. "There's always going to be room for improvement, so we are working to address any concerns," a Google spokesperson said. Indeed.

Apple Continues to Dominate the Online Music World, Killing Music as We Know It

According to NPD, Apple continues to dominate online sales of music, with its share rising to 66.2 percent from 63.2 percent (year over year) in the most recent quarter. Meanwhile, the number-two player also saw strong gains, though it controls just a small slice of the market: Amazon jumped from 11 percent of the market to 13.3 percent in the same time period. Other businesses—Microsoft, with Zune, and so on—make up the remaining 20 percent or so of the market, NPD says. As always, the big problem with digital music is that it can't make up for CD sales shortfalls. In 2010, individual music track sales are up just 0.3 percent over last year (with more than 1 billion tracks sold), and digital album sales are up 13 percent, to 75 million units. But CD sales continue to plummet, and digital music sales could soon surpass those of the physical discs. Put simply, few artists are making money actually selling music. This phenomenon might explain why much of today's "music" doesn't resemble music in any meaningful way.

This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast

Tom Merritt and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on schedule this week, with Leo again missing the show because of other responsibilities. The new episode should become available by the weekend on the Zune Marketplace, in iTunes, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.

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