Microsoft and Facebook, Sitting in a Tree, P-A-R-T-N-E-R-I-N-G
In case you haven't noticed, Microsoft has been getting awfully tight with the newest online services juggernaught on the block, and no, I'm not talking about Google. Microsoft and Facebook have begun looking more like a team than two separate partners, and it's hard not to wonder if something somewhat ... grander ... is in the works. The companies have put Facebook data into Bing search results, utilized Microsoft search technologies on Facebook, have created a version of Office Web Apps specifically for Facebook users, and will do so again with the new version of Facebook Messaging. Heck, Microsoft even owns a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook, which may seem like a small amount until you realize that it's worth over a billion dollars and that Microsoft beat out both Google and Yahoo for that stake. Are these guys setting the stage for a merger? I hope so: A combination of Facebook and Microsoft may be exactly the kind of powerhouse the world needs to act as a counter to Google's insatiable growth.
Ballmer, Gates Sell Microsoft Stock ... Maybe They're Onto Something
I've often opined that Microsoft needs to split up into multiple businesses in order to regain its competitive edge, but the company seems to have no plans to do so, especially under the current leadership. But why isn't more of a stink being raised by the fact that this leadership, embodied by the first generation of Microsoft CEOs and biggest shareholders—Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates—are, in fact, busy selling off their own stakes in the company at a suddenly alarming rate? In fact, Microsoft has been the biggest insider seller of stocks within the S&P 500 for several years running. Shouldn't that alarm anyone? It's not like Microsofties are taking advantage of some sudden stock jump; the stock has sat still for a decade. So why are they bailing on the company? This month, Ballmer sold 49 million shares (12 percent of his stake in Microsoft) for $1.3 billion, and he announced he'd sell a total of 75 million shares by the end of 2010. Gates, meanwhile, sells 20 million shares every quarter as part of his foundation funding. Of course, both guys will continue to be Microsoft's biggest shareholders. But the question is relevant. If these guys are divesting themselves from the company's future, why wouldn't others do the same?
It's baaaaaack: Verizon Once Again Selling KIN One, KIN Two
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Despite being routinely mocked by virtually everyone, Microsoft's aborted KIN pseudo-smartphones were just great little phones, marred only by too-high data plan pricing from Verizon. In fact, if we're going to mock anything here, let's mock Verizon: The phones were great. And now, they're back. Verizon is once again selling the KIN One and KIN Two phones, but they're marketing—and pricing—them correctly, as feature phones, not smartphones. And the prices are right. The "new" Kine ONEm (as its called) costs just $19.99 with a two year contract while the KIN TWOm is $49.99. They both feature slide-out hardware keyboards, support text and multimedia messaging, and include the Zune media player, an IE-based web browser, and email. And the cameras are surprisingly excellent. So how cheaply can the new KIN phone/data plan be? Realistically speaking, with a minimal texting plan, you're looking at about $45 or month, or just a bit over half the cost of the original $80 to $85 that Verizon was trying to get when the original KINs went on sale earlier this year. Put another way, exactly how it should have been all along.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Continues to Set Records
Activision's latest blockbuster video game, "Call of Duty: Black Ops," continues to set records. This week, the company announced that the title made over $650 million in its first five days on the market, beating out the previous record-holder, its predecessor, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which earned $550 million in the same time period a year ago. Over 10 million copies were sold in the first week. And Black Ops is also setting Xbox LIVE records: According to Microsoft, players spent over 5.9 million multiplayer hours with Black Ops on the online service on opening day, and over 2.6 million unique gamers played Black Ops online in the first 24 hours. How big of a deal is this? Big enough to be the biggest entertainment launch in history. In fact, it's not even close.
Apple Fixes Next iOS Before It's Even Released
I want you to close your eyes for a moment and just imagine how this would play out if the companies and products were different. Let's say Microsoft spends several months promoting Windows 7 last year, promising various features and making claims about how it's like getting a new PC and so on. And then the date for Windows 7's release comes and goes, with nothing released. And then Microsoft finally does release Windows 7, except that now it's called Windows 7.1 because the company found some "severe" problems right before it was supposed to release the OS. Got that image in your head? Can you see the Mac faithful taunting and chortling about how lousy a company Microsoft is, about how broken its software development processes must be? Got it? Good. Now realize that what I'm talking about is, in fact, iOS 4.2, the next release of the system software for Apple's iPad and iPhone, and that when it comes out, late, it will actually ship as iOS 4.2.1 because Apple did, in fact, discover "severe" problems (with VoIP functionality) right before it was going to pull the trigger on this release. And if anything, iOS is actually even bigger than Windows 7, at least for iPad users, because it adds basic iPhone functionality like multitasking, folders, and so on. So you can be sure of one thing: Those Apple fanboys aren't laughing over this one. No, they're not laughing at all.
Ballmer Finally Hints That Windows Phone OS Could Be Used on Tablets
The first time I saw Windows Phone I thought, wow, here's an OS that actually makes sense for a tablet, unlike, say, iOS on the iPad, which is simply a stretched out version of the same tired iPhone UI that came before. The rationale is simple: Windows Phone OS supports a unique panoramic UI that, on the phone, needs to be panned across multiple screens. But on a tablet, those UIs could be viewed full-screen in many cases, and would look and work beautifully. I've asked Microsoft about this possibility repeatedly, and many others have made similar requests. And now, finally, the software giant has provided the hint we've been waiting for. When asked about decent Microsoft-oriented tablets recently, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said, "You're going to see some things that do a very nice job over the course of the next year. You'll see some stuff now, you'll see some stuff after Christmas, you'll see some stuff as we get new Intel chips \\[in 2011\\]. You'll see some things as you move Windows Phone along." Ahhh... There it is. Thanks, Steve. I'm eager to see Windows Phone-based Zune devices and tablet computers appear in time for holiday 2011. In fact, it can't happen quickly enough.
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday as usual. It should be available by the weekend on the Zune Marketplace, in iTunes, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.
But Wait, There's More
My next book, Windows Phone Secrets is now available in bookstores everywhere.