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

CES: Ballmer's Jobs Moment

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer resisted a "one more thing" moment, but I'm surprised no one else pointed out that his 2011 CES keynote address this week was a distinctly Steve Jobs-influenced affair. It all started with the folksy thanking of the company's 1 billion customers, sure, but he extended his thanks to "all the folks here in the room, and on the webcast for taking the time today." I mean, spare me. What other CEO could mention "1 billion customers" in the same breath as implying he was humbled by a smattering of people taking the time to come see him on stage? Why, Steve Jobs. Of course.

CES: Microsoft and ARM, Sitting in a Tree, S-C-R-E-W-I-N-G-O-V-E-R-I-N-T-E-L

How desperate does Microsoft have to be to screw over its biggest and longest-time partner, Intel? This desperate: It announced its move to ARM-based system-on-a-chip (SOC) hardware at the same exact time that Intel was revealing its own SOC designs. So, yes, Windows 8 will run on Intel x86-based SOC hardware, too. But if it was so good, why bother with ARM as well? There's going to be  a lot of hemming and hawing over the next 18 months or so, but honestly, this announcement raises more questions than answers. And if I know Windows lead Steven Sinofsky like I think I do, the answers are going be few and far between. Get ready for months of silence.

CES: Where Was Microsoft's Tablet Response?

Another curious thing about Microsoft's CES keynote: Where was the tablet talk? Ballmer didn't utter the word "tablet" until his closing remarks, and the only brief glimpses we got of any 2011-era Windows 7-based tablets didn't come until just a few minutes before that. Is Microsoft crazy? Or crazy like a fox? Based on the voluminous (and venomous) nature of the email I received this week, the consensus is that Microsoft is crazy, but I'm not so sure. I just think that Windows 7 isn't what Microsoft or its partners need to take on the iPad, and if Microsoft's public statements about Windows 8 SOC being "2 to 3 years" off is correct (and/or truthful), Microsoft might in fact never have a viable iPad competitor. And that, dear reader, is crazy.

CES: Microsoft Finally Breaks the Silence on Windows Phone 7 Updates

After letting its Windows Phone 7 early adopters twist in the wind for two months, Microsoft finally went on record this week about a coming set of updates to the mobile OS. The first one, due within a month, will add copy-and-paste support, better app-loading performance, better marketplace search, and other fixes. And another update will enable CDMA support, allowing Sprint and Verizon to sell Windows Phone 7-based handsets by the end of the first half of 2011. Why Microsoft couldn't just explain this stuff previously is unclear, especially when you consider that Microsoft Corporate VP Joe Belfiore told reviewers the day after the Windows Phone 7 launch that Microsoft would be "shipping a compelling update very, very soon." Apparently, "very, very soon" means "four months later." Guys, I can't stress this enough: Transparency is key.

CES: New Surface Table Isn't Just a Table, It's Also a Lot Cheaper

How much cheaper? Well, it will retail for $7,600, according to Microsoft, or about five times the cost of my first car. So, it's still expensive, unless you're an Apple regular. But it's a lot cheaper than the previous model, which aside from being tank-like, also cost over $12,000. One other factoid many are missing: Whereas the original Surface essentially used its own OS, Surface 2.0 (as it's called) is actually just another version of Windows 7—an embedded version of 64-bit Windows 7 Professional, as it turns out—and the hardware features a lot of standard PC parts. I wonder if you could play Black Ops on that thing.

CES: Microsoft Introduces Its Own Tragic MacPad

I'm not sure why Microsoft didn't discuss this little device during its CES keynote, but the company this week also revealed plans to ship a multi-touch, gesture-supported mouse in mid-2011 that will work with Windows 7. If you think this thing sounds suspiciously like Apple's ridiculous Tragic MacPad—excuse me, "Magic TrackPad"—you're not alone. In fact, the only obvious difference between the Microsoft design and its Apple cousin is that the Microsoft Touch Mouse, as it's called, appears to have better ergonomics. And let's face it, that's not too difficult: The Tragic MacPad proves that Apple has learned nothing about pointing devices since its ill-conceived original iMac "hockey puck" mouse. Of course, Microsoft being Microsoft, it has saddled the Touch Mouse with a feature the Tragic MacPad lacks: yet another USB micro-receiver that users can lose. Revolution!

Microsoft: We Make Google Look Like the Luddite Pikers They Are

OK, that's not an exact quote, but that was pretty much the message this week from Microsoft Senior Director of Online Services Tom Rizzo, who spoke with PC Magazine. According to Rizzo, Google doesn't stand a chance in the online world. "We're leaps and bounds ahead of them in terms of comparing Office to their offering and SharePoint to their offering," he said. "We have a number of customers who went and either looked at Google, or even went with Google, who came back to us because they couldn't get the level of support and IT management that they wanted. \\[Google\\] doesn't even provide the basics there." Other fun quotes include:

  • "Google's support is lacking."
  • "Their partner ecosystem is immature."
  • "They don't have a lot of add-on solutions or partners who will come in and help the customers."
  • "Google is not well-known for respecting privacy."
  • "The majority of their users are on the free version of Google Apps, so they serve you ads."
  • "Google customers have to buy so many add-ons \\[from Google\\] to reach functionality that the cost savings they thought they were getting doesn't pan out when looking at full TCO (total cost of ownership)."
  • "Enterprises don't like surprises. Does Google really deliver the roadmap?"
  • "Google says that it releases new features every week. What we hear from our customers is, 'I don't want that'."

My goodness. That's gotta be the densest set of sound bites I've ever seen. Tom Rizzo, you are the man.

Hotmail? Maybe They Should Just Call it HotFAIL! Hardy-Har-Har!

In late December, Microsoft's popular Hotmail service lost all the data in about 17,000 user accounts, causing a spate of complaints in online forums and chortles from the iCabal crowd. (Never mind that 17,000 is a tiny percentage of Hotmail's 350+ million active user base, and that Microsoft recovered all the data within three days.) But this kind of thing always raises cloud computing concerns with the Chicken Littles of the world, as well as those lazy reporters who never tire of link-bait headlines. Here's the reality of the situation: Cloud computing did not fail us. As is so often the case, it was human error. Again. Someone had misconfigured a load-balancing server, and hilarity ensued. So as an exercise for the reader, go out, Google it, and find all the FUD stories about this that you can. And then ignore the people who wrote those stories. Please.

Microsoft: No Connection Between Kinect and Xbox Failures

Speaking of Microsoft failures, the software giant this week denied reports suggesting that the Kinect motion-sensor add-on was responsible for a series of Xbox 360 console failures. Taking the company at its word, this means that the Xbox 360s just failed on their own, which is of course much better news. And in case you're wondering, these console failures all appear to be for the original-generation Xbox 360, and not the new S variant. Cross your fingers.

AT&T Jumps the Shark

Finally, how could I be this scathing and not at least mention AT&T Wireless? How ludicrous is this company? Well, in the wake of all its competitors announcing superior 4G wireless networks, AT&T is sort of in a bind: It's stuck with its current-generation (and, ahem, widely beloved) 3G network, and it won't be able to start implementing 4G until the end of 2011 at the earliest. So AT&T is really stepping up to the challenge ... by simply renaming its 3G network as 4G. Now, before you start laughing at this—actually, go right ahead—you should understand one thing: Most people simply don't even understand what 4G means. So AT&T's marketing move makes plenty of sense. If you're an idiot. And I know you're not an idiot. So, please, do make fun of AT&T for this.

This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast

Leo and I recorded the latest episode of the Windows Weekly podcast a bit earlier this week because of CES. So it should become available, as always, 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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