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

The Biggest Year in Microsoft News … Ever?

If you’ve been following Microsoft for as long as I have—19 years so far, in my case—you’re painfully aware that the company’s biggest moments are in the past. Windows 95 springs instantly to mind, though I often point to PDC 2003—and the introduction of Longhorn—as the real high point, from an excitement standpoint. But then this week happened. Between a fascinating next-generation Xbox leak, the surprise Microsoft Surface announcement (see my photo gallery), and the Windows Phone 8 unveiling on Wednesday (here, here, here, and here), this might just have been the biggest week in Microsoft news ever. Ever. I honestly can’t remember a time this momentous in all the years I’ve been writing about the software giant. It’s sort of thrilling to see that happen again.

Microsoft Surface Brings Out the Crazies. Hell, Yeah!

Monday’s Microsoft Surface announcement triggered something else I’ve not seen—in this case, not ever! Suddenly, there are Windows enthusiasts everywhere, akin to the Mac crazies and Linux nut jobs that scour the Internet looking for critical comments about their favorite respective companies and products. People on the other side of the technological fence have often claimed that there were Windows advocates just as there were advocates for other platforms, most likely in a bid to justify their own misguided adventures. But it’s not true: Those who back Windows, such as that is, have always taken a far more common-sense/logical standing than the emotionally driven enthusiasts of other platforms. My own situation is very much in keeping with this trend: I think of myself as a supporter of Windows users, or the people who use Microsoft’s platforms. I’m not a cheerleader, ever, and I can be as harsh about Microsoft’s mistakes as I am positive about their successes. You just don’t see a lot of that in the Mac world, sorry, and that’s always been the difference. Until now, maybe. My plainspoken criticisms of the unknowns of the Surface—and there are many, including many I didn’t mention—has triggered a wonderful knee-jerk reaction from the normally quiet world of Windows users, many of whom are apparently tired of being stepped on and prodded by Mac, iOS, and Android users. Well, bravo to you folks, and it’s nice to see a bit of life out there for a change. This, too, suggests that Microsoft’s Surface, despite its many obvious issues, is the “right” thing, a good move, since it’s triggering the same emotional response that’s normally reserved for every single product Apple announces, no matter how evolutionary. I like it.

Microsoft Issues Legal Takedown Order for Next-Gen Xbox Presentation

Just in the case there was any doubt that the next-generation Xbox leak over last weekend was real—I wrote about it exhaustively in Next Generation Xbox Preview if you’re curious—this latest news should drive home the fact that it is: Microsoft’s lawyers have spent the past week issuing legal takedown orders around the globe, trying to prevent the publication and dissemination of the presentation. In the Czech Republic, for example, a Microsoft legal document refers to the presentation as its “copyrighted work,” and DropBox revealed that it, too, was prevented from hosting the presentation by Microsoft. It’s real, folks. So go read Next Generation Xbox Preview and find out more!

Rumor Busting: Microsoft Is NOT Making Its Own Smartphone

Unless, of course, the company is lying to me. Meeting with the Windows Phone team earlier this week, just days after Microsoft’s Surface tablet announcement, a fairly obvious question sprung to mind. So I simply asked, "Will Microsoft be making its own Windows Phone handset, similar to how its making its own tablet?" No, I was told point-blank: Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia gives it the equivalent chance to show what a perfect blend of hardware and software can be, so a Surface phone isn't happening. Of course, instead of just asking Microsoft, one could simply speculate—which is exactly what an analyst from Nomura (whatever that is) did this week. “Our industry sources tell us that Microsoft may be working with a contract manufacturer to develop [its] own handset for Windows Phone 8,” the analyst wrote in a nicely qualified note to “clients” (read: the press). “It is unclear to us whether this would be a reference platform or whether this may be a go-to market Microsoft-branded handset.” Ah. It’s the former. Moving on.

Nokia Tosses a Bone to Lumia 900 Owners

Everyone using a current-generation Windows Phone handset probably feels a bit slighted by the well-telegraphed fact that Microsoft won't be supporting upgrades to Windows Phone 8. And while the coming Windows Phone 7.8 upgrade, which offers just the Start screen from Windows Phone 8 to current handsets—has appeased about half that crowd, some are still upset. And none more so than Nokia Lumia 900 owners, who purchased the latest flagship Windows Phone within the past 2 months, often expecting (illogically, but whatever) that at least they would be pulled along to Windows Phone 8. Well, Microsoft might be leaving Lumia 900 owners high and dry, but Nokia isn’t. As part of this week’s Windows Phone Summit, Nokia announced a stunning set of new apps and app upgrades aimed at making Lumia 900 (and other Lumia model) owners happy during the months ahead. And most of these will be shipping just days from now, though app availability is spotty, depending on where you live. New apps include Camera Extras, which provides new camera features like group shot, action shot, panorama, and self-timer; Contact Share, for sharing contacts via SMS or email; Counters, a data/voice usage monitor; a PlayTo DLNA streaming app; and, later this fall, Zynga’s hugely popular Words With Friends and Draw Something games. And most of Nokia’s existing Windows Phone apps—many of which are excellent—are getting big updates too. Those with lower-end Lumia 710 or 800 phones are getting Internet sharing, Flip-to-Silence, and media streaming features, plus an update that enables the new apps listed above. Good stuff? Absolutely.

Office Starter to Disappear: Will Office Web Apps Offer a Compelling Replacement?

My Windows Weekly cohost Mary Jo Foley reports this week that Microsoft is killing off the free Office Starter edition, which debuted in Office 2010 as a way for new PC buyers to get a taste of its office productivity suite, along with a handy electronic way to pay for more functionality. (Office Starter 2010 provides stripped-down versions of just Word and Excel.) According to Foley, Microsoft will offer its online-hosted Office Web Apps, also free, but in some ways more complete—it offers web-based PowerPoint and OneNote apps, too—to PC makers. Presumably, the Office 15/2013 version of Office Web Apps will be dramatically improved—and maybe even offer offline support—to make this move possible. Since Foley’s report, Microsoft has confirmed the change. “We will begin to phase out the shipment of PCs with Office Starter 2010,” a Microsoft representative says. “After Windows 8 becomes available, most new PCs shipped will not have Office Starter. People who use Office Starter 2010 today will continue to be able to use the product for the life of their PC. For Windows7/Office Starter 2010 users who want to upgrade their PC to Windows 8 and continue using Office Starter 2010, they will have to install an update to Microsoft Office 2010, which is available today.”

Google CEO Larry Page Loses His Voice

Google CEO Larry Page is begging out of his company’s IO conference this week, claiming that he lost his voice. To be clear, Google has never had its own voice. Just saying.

Listen to Paul. No, Really Listen. Or Watch. Or Both!

Andrew Zarian and I recorded the latest episode of the What The Tech podcast on Tuesday, right after I arrived in San Francisco for the Windows Phone Summit. But we had to delay the normal Thursday record time for Windows Weekly because of my travel, so Leo Laporte, Mary Jo Foley, and I will record the latest episode podcast today (Friday) at 3pm ET. As always, these episodes should be available soon, generally in both audio in video formats, on the web, and via iTunes, the Zune Marketplace, and wherever else quality podcasts are found. You can also find all of my podcast activities on the SuperSite for Windows.

The Paul Thurrott Mobile App: Is That a Paul in Your Pocket?

The Paul Thurrott: Pocket Tech app is now available for both the iPhone and Windows Phone, bringing all of my technical content to your favorite mobile device in a fun, on-the-go format. We'll have an Android version available soon as well, I'm told. And who knows? A Windows 8 app would make plenty of sense too. Download for Windows Phone - Download for iPhone

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