An often irreverent look at this week's other news ....
Controversy of the Week: Carrier IQ
This week, a security researcher named Trevor Eckhart brought to light an important new privacy concern for popular smartphones, which include software called Carrier IQ that, in many cases, monitors every action the user completes on the phone and transmits that data to phone manufacturers and wireless carriers. Apple and Google have admitted that the software is installed and silently doing its thing on the iPhone and virtually all Android-based phones, respectively, though Apple has said that the level of snooping that Carrier IQ performs on the iPhone is minimal. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Joe Belfiore publicly stated this week that the software giant does not include Carrier IQ in Windows Phone at all. But the scurrying around we're seeing in the wake of this revelation is, I think, both hilarious and sad. I suspect there will be more to say about this in the coming days.
Debating Microsoft's Windows 8 Plans for ARM
This week, a credible source at Microsoft told me that there was a healthy, ongoing debate within the Windows Division about how it should handle the ARM versions of Windows 8. There are two possibilities. First, these device-based versions of Windows could look and work like a device OS, as does iOS on the iPad, and offer only the new Start screen and Metro-style apps, with no Windows desktop. Or, it could simply mimic the x86 versions of Windows that run on traditional PCs and provide all Windows 8 features, including the desktop. He also told me that, for now at least, the decision had been made: ARM-based versions of Windows 8 will not include the desktop, he said. Immediately after discussing this topic on this week's Windows Weekly, however, I heard from another source, this one close to the software giant, who said that this wasn't his understanding at all, and that ARM-based Windows 8 versions would indeed include the Windows desktop too. So, I happen to trust both of these people, which further underscores the haziness of this issue. And thus, I can't say with any certainty what's going on. I will say two things, however. One, Microsoft should come clean earlier rather than later. And second, ARM-based Windows 8 devices should be devices, not PCs. And they should not include the Windows desktop.
Microsoft's Tablet Story: Strategy or Somnolence?
Depending on whom you ask, Microsoft's late entry into the market for so-called media tablets with Windows 8 next year is either too late or right on schedule. So let's debate this. Forrester this week reported that consumer interest in Windows 8 tablets has "plummeted" during the past nine months, suggesting that the window for Microsoft to enter this market was "shrinking." Meanwhile, PC World and others have seized this opportunity to explain why Windows 8 tablets are, in fact, not "dead in the water." So, which is it? I think both sides have a point. There's little doubt that Microsoft is late to the game—very late—and that given the paltry choices currently in the market, there's every reason to believe that consumer interest in Windows tablets is at an all-time low. But don't underestimate consumer demand for a good tablet, and when ARM- and x86-based Windows 8 tablets do appear next year, I think you're going to see consumers' ears perk up quite a bit and, more important, their wallets are going to open as well. Microsoft has done the come-back-from-behind thing a few times already with Windows, most recently with netbooks, and I think it can do it again with Windows 8, to a degree. Which is to say, Windows 8 won't dominate the tablet market and shut out the iPad, the Kindle Fire, and other devices. But it will be a healthy part of the big three tablet platforms.
Dueling Microsoft-Related Events Next Week: Is There a Tie-In Here?
December 6, 2011, is a big day for Microsoft fans. First, the company will roll out its long-awaited Fall 2011 Dashboard Update for the Xbox 360, providing users of that console with a variety of new live and streaming TV functionality as well as some interesting new apps, including Facebook, Hulu, and Twitter. But December 6 is also the day that Microsoft is holding a secretive Windows Store Preview event in San Francisco. And in this case, "Windows Store" doesn't mean retail store, it means the electronic store that's going to be included with Windows 8. My guess is that these events are, in fact, related, because all of Microsoft's online stores share a common back end, and that the opening of a beta version of the Microsoft Store will correspond with a major update on the Xbox side that facilitates the new apps availability on the console. We'll see, but that's what I'm thinking right now.
Misunderstanding Microsoft's Tablet Office
Rumors this week swirled that Microsoft was in fact actively working on a version of its dominant Office suite for Apple's iPad. And if you don't mind me saying so, it's pretty clear that I touched off these rumors, first with a plea for Microsoft to do this on last week's Monday episode of Windows Weekly, and then in a Tuesday editorial you might have read online. But patting myself on the back notwithstanding, I did hear from a source at Microsoft in the wake of these public pleas that, yes, Microsoft is working on Office for the iPad. Let the hand-wringing begin. Some claim that by offering inexpensive ($10 to $20) iPad apps, Microsoft will undercut its Office PC pricing. But these people don't get it. Microsoft already offers free versions of Office for the PC (Office 2010 Starter), on the web (Office Web Apps), and on Windows Phone (Office 2010 Mobile) and, when you think about it, that's exactly the level of functionality that Microsoft needs to provide on the iPad. That is, Office for iPad won't "compete" with the PC versions, it will instead be a companion product. It doesn't just make sense, it's overdue.
Microsoft Rolls Out Security Essentials 3 Beta
Microsoft this week released a public beta of the next version of its Security Essentials security utility, which provides antivirus and anti-malware capabilities to Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. There's a link to the beta version now on the Security Essentials website, and it appears that the new features include a simpler UI, better performance, and more effective and automatic virus detection and removal. What's not clear is whether this version of MSE is what's going to be included in Windows 8, whenever that version of Windows ships next year. Today, Windows users need to download MSE or third-party antivirus to fully protect their PCs. But in Windows 8, this will no longer be necessary as all of MSE's functionality will be built right into Windows Defender.
Silly Rumor of the Week: Is Microsoft Going to Bid for RIM?
RIM Opens Up to iOS and Android Device Management
In what can only be seen as an implicit capitulation, Research In Motion (RIM) this week announced that it would open up its mobile device management services, previously exclusive to BlackBerry, to include devices based on Apple's iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Google's Android. This will occur via a next-generation version of BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) called BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, the company says, and it will extend the functionality of that product to include the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and smartphones and tablets based on iOS and Android. Maybe I'm misunderstanding this announcement, but I've always considered BES to be the weak link in the BlackBerry story, because of its expense and complexity, and that not having to deal with BES is one of the big advantages of rolling out iOS and Android devices instead.
Chrome Surpasses Firefox, Becomes Number-Two Browser
Google's Chrome has been on the market for only three years, but it has already surpassed Mozilla Firefox to become the number-two most-often-used web browser after Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE). That's the word from the market researchers at StatCounter, at least, though it's only a matter of time before others who follow web-browser usage share report similar findings, of course. StatCounter says that Chrome accounted for 25.7 percent global usage share in November, compared with Firefox at 25.2 percent. A year ago, Chrome accounted for only 21 percent usage share, compared with Firefox's 32.2 percent. Chrome's rise isn't all that surprising, as it offers excellent performance, a highly customizable and stripped-down UI, and great compatibility with modern web standards and web apps. I've thought for a while that Firefox's days were numbered. And clearly they are.
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
Mary Jo, Leo, and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on the usual day and time (Thursday, 2pm ET), so the new episode should be available by the end of the weekend on iTunes, the Zune Marketplace, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.
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