An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...
Steve Ballmer: The Exit Strategy
Apparently I'm not the only person who has pegged the launch of Windows 8 as the ideal time for beleaguered Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to step down. Woody Leonhard also believes this is the right strategy, and for good reason: It would let Ballmer exit on a high note, and give him reasonable claim to the notion that he left Microsoft with good positioning. But the launch of Windows 8 is perfect for other reasons, not the least of which is that it will free up Windows chief Steven Sinofsky to take the top spot at the software giant. This is, I think, the most logical course of action for Microsoft to take. And the right one.
Nokia to Announce First Windows Phones Next Week, Ship First in Europe
The ailing smartphone giant will announce its first Windows Phone handsets next week at the Communic Asia 2011 conference, according to rumors. And the rumors aren't entirely unsubstantiated: According to a Nokia press conference invitation at the show, the company plans to show off "the new Ecosystem that will be introduced to the world." Hopefully, the company has a number of devices to show off, and I think it's wise for the company to tip its hand early, since things have been rough lately in Finland. Note, however, that Nokia won't ship Windows Phones until the "Mango" update is available, so availability won't happen until September or October at the earliest. And we do now know that Nokia will ship its first Windows Phone(s) to Europe first: The company this week said that it will launch first in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
Microsoft Warns of Phone Spam, er ah, Scam
So we're all pretty familiar with the notion of malware on the PC: Install a free AV client like Microsoft Security Essentials and use some common sense, and you're good to go. (Sorry, Mac fans. It really is that easy.) But now Microsoft is warning about a new kind of attack on PC users, and this one might not have such a clear-cut solution: According to the software giant, consumers in the United States, Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom have been getting phone calls from a hacker group claiming to be security experts warning them of a potential threat to their PCs. And then they guide the consumers through a series of steps that, you guessed it, actually allows the hackers to get into their PCs and steal personal data. So this isn't so much "spam" as it is "scam," but you get the idea. And to be fair, the advice here is just common sense: Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls and so on. You know, the type of thing you tell a child before setting them off into the world.
IBM Turns 100. No, Really, IBM Is Still Around!
IBM used to run roughshod over the PC industry—heck, it invented the PC industry—but the computing goliath finally gave up the ghost, mostly, when it sold off its hardware business, including the legendary ThinkPad brand, to Lenovo in 2004. So, from a personal computing standpoint, IBM has been a non-entity for several years—with a few software-based exceptions, like Lotus and WebSphere—and thus one of those "out of mind" companies. But here's the amazing bit: IBM is celebrating its 100th anniversary this week (it started out making time clocks in 1911) and is still a technology superpower that, get this, recently surpassed Microsoft from a market-cap perspective. (Apparently, anyone can do that these days.) IBM has a rich history, and lest you forget, please do check out its IBM 100 website, which nicely illustrates why this company, more than any other, really did matter and still continues to matter. I wonder if Microsoft, Google, or Apple will be around for this long.
Kinect Comes to PCs, Sort Of
Microsoft this week released a non-commercial, pre-release version of a software development kit (SDK) for its Kinect, allowing programmers to write applications for Windows 7 that can utilize the hardware sensor. Microsoft is hoping to ignite the enthusiast community, and I think the company is on to something given the excitement we've seen out there already. What's interesting about the Kinect is that it introduces two crucial new control mechanisms to the PC—hand movements and voice controls—adding to previous and well established PC controls such as keyboard, mouse, stylus/Tablet PC/handwriting recognition, remote control, hand controller, touch, and multi-touch. And when you consider the new universal user experience that's coming soon in Windows 8, Windows Phone, and the Xbox 360, you can see how this stuff is all coming together. It's pretty exciting.
Acer Cuts Forecast for Notebooks, Tablets
Acer was running hot when the netbook category of PCs took off and its line of netbooks were perennial bestsellers, launching Acer into a top-two position worldwide, ahead of Dell, Toshiba, and Apple. But with netbook sales slowing and consumers turning their attention (if not yet their buying dollars) to alternative computing devices like media tablets, Acer is starting to feel the heat. And this week it lowered its unit sales and financial results expectations for the current quarter, noting that sales in Europe, its biggest market, are down. Acer expects things to stabilize by the end of the year, but we've heard that one before. My guess is that Acer's future results will be tied more to Android-based tablets this year and then Android and Windows 8-based tablets in 2012. I guess we'll see what happens.
RIM: Down and Out in Ottawa
Speaking of doom and gloom, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) is feeling a bit Nokia-esque these days: The company announced this week that its current-quarter earnings will fall below previous estimates and it will (not coincidentally) be laying off an as-yet-unknown number of employees in order to rein in costs. Shareholders are calling for the ouster of co-CEOs and Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, who seem to have co-led RIM into a serious funk in the wake of the 2007 release of Apple's revolutionary iPhone. Products have been delayed, others have been released in incomplete states, and the company still doesn't seem to have a handle on what its unique niche is these days. The one bright spot, oddly, is the Playbook, RIM's new iPad-like tablet device. It sold more than 500,000 units in the first quarter of availability—far above the estimated 360,000 units. But in RIM's world, such successes are relative. Apple sold almost 5 million iPads in the same time period.
Redbox Is Adding Video Game Rentals
If you hang out in front of the local Wal-Mart and other US retail locations, you have no doubt seen—and most likely availed yourself of—the Redbox movie-rental kiosks that sort of resemble those old-fashioned London telephone booths. Well, now the semi-ubiquitous red monoliths are adding video game rentals to the mix, and the price is right: $2 a day. And that's just enough time to realize that, yes, the recent release of Duke Nukem Forever is indeed crap. Redbox will offer games for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii, and you can even reserve games at local kiosks. A complete list of available titles and locations is available on the Redbox website.
Apple's iTunes Match and Music Piracy: Maybe We're Just Moving Past That Now
One of the lingering issues in the wake of this month's Apple iCloud announcements is the impact that iTunes Match will have on the music industry. After all, it appears that Apple—in cohoots with the recording industry—is basically going to let music pirates spend a one-time fee of $25 to legitimatize their stolen music collection and replace it with one that is both legit and high-quality (256Kbps AAC format). Aren't both parties worried about this? After all, the RIAA has sued anything with a heartbeat over the past several years. I can't imagine what the recording industry thinks about this given its past belligerent behavior toward customers. But from Apple's view point, this is just found money: These people were never going to pay for music anyway, but by giving them an out, they can collect $25 from millions of people. Genius? Yeah, I think so.
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
Leo and I recorded the latest episode of the Windows Weekly on Thursday as usual and the new episode should be available for download 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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