An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news, including US Congress vs. Microsoft on the China issue, Mozilla's silly (and telling) stance on Windows Phone, the future of Windows Mobile, a Zune patent lawsuit, browser pwnage, and much more...
After almost two weeks on the road, I'm finally home for a while, and of course that's just fine with me. For all the travel I do, I've never really gotten good at it, in the sense that it just wipes me out, and I've spend the past week in semi-awake state. I need to get moving, because it's going to be a busy several months. I've got a few books in the pipeline this year (thank you, falling ad sales) and some other projects to occupy my time. I mean, how am I ever going to find the time to "finish" Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2?? (You can "finish" multiplayer, right?)
Leo and I were back on schedule this week, and we recorded what must be a nearly two-hour edition of the Windows Weekly podcast this week. I'm guessing it will be up at the usual date and time. And as a reminder, the podcast is now available in various video versions on both iTunes and the Zune Marketplace.
US Congress: Google Good, Microsoft Bad
While Google has been (wrongly) praised for (sort of) pulling out of China, companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo! have basically just hung low in the hope that no one would notice that they aren't leaving China at all. That's starting to change. This week, a bipartisan US Congressional panel praised Google (naturally) while complaining about Microsoft (finally) for doing nothing at all. "\\[Microsoft\\] needs to get on the right side of human rights rather than enabling tyranny, which they're doing right now," said Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey. Which is great, until you read his laughable Google assessment: "a remarkable, historic, and welcomed action." (Yeah. As remarkable as the United States closing its Japanese embassy in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attacks. I wonder if that decision was characterized as "brave"?) Anyway, Microsoft has responded, and I'm sure the response will clear this all up. "We appreciate that different companies may make different decisions based on their own experiences and views," an official statement from the software giant reads. "At Microsoft, we remain committed to advancing free expression through active engagement in over 100 countries, even as we comply with the laws in every country in which we operate." Put through my BS filter, that reads as: "China is a market opportunity that's too large to ignore. We will ignore human rights violations there as long as that's the case." Which, when you think about it, was actually Google's policy as well. Until they were hacked by the Chinese government. And for all you Google lovers out there, consider this: Google still censors search results in countries like Thailand and Turkey, among others. They're not brave. They just act in their own best interests.
Hey, Mozilla! Silverlight Works Great!
Although Mozilla has never actually shipped a non-beta version of a mobile web browser (aside from a very recently shipped mobile browser on the little-used Nokia N900 platform), the company got a lot of news attention this week when it announced that it was abandoning Windows Mobile and the as-yet-unreleased Windows Phone platforms, the latter because it doesn't support "native" applications. If we can ignore the obvious—Mozilla can't deliver a mobile browser to save its corporate life, regardless—what this really boils down to (as far as I can tell) is the company's inability to write code in a language created after any of its employees were born. Mozilla wants an old-school, unmanaged code environment that works with C or C++ (both dating back more than 35 years). But Windows Phone utilizes a modern, clean, and beautiful Silverlight environment based on C# and .NET managed code. So, those developers who actually understand modern programming paradigms will do just fine on Windows Phone. Put another way, Mozilla just announced that it was clueless. And we should really view the company in that light going forward. The folks at Mozilla just don't get it. And the mobile web is happening, right now, without them.
Microsoft: We're Not Abandoning Windows Mobile
Microsoft should. However, because some of its enterprise customers are freaking out that the upcoming Windows Phone platform is incompatible with all those horrible, absolutely freakishly bad Windows Mobile applications they use, Microsoft is bending over backward to support Windows Mobile 6.5 for the foreseeable future. No offense to this critical market segment, but bending over for the enterprise hasn't exactly won Windows Mobile many converts so far. It's unclear why we care about this kind of thing now. Let's be aggressive for a change, Microsoft. Just kill Windows Mobile and be done with it.
Ophthalmologist Sues Microsoft: Can You See Me Now?
An ophthalmologist in Illinois has sued Microsoft for infringing on his patents in its Zune digital media player. Obviously, this is a big case, since the outcome could affect all eight or nine people who actually use a Zune digital media player. Dr. Edward Yavitz says that Microsoft's method for tagging music on the device's FM radio and then downloading it via Zune Marketplace infringes on two of his patents. Perhaps more damaging: He pitched this very idea to Microsoft, for use on its Zune devices, in October 2006. After not responding to Yavitz, Microsoft implemented the technology on its own two years later, he says. If he's smart, he won't ask for a per-device damages fee. Just a thought.
All Browsers Fall at Pwn2Own 2010
During an annual security contest called Pwn2Own 2010 this week, hackers were able to hack into every web browser they got their hands on, and that included both Internet Explorer (IE) 8 on Windows 7 and Safari on Mac OS X Snow Leopard. On the good news front, the exploits used to compromise these products will be privately shared with the browser makers so that patches can be deployed quickly, or—in Apple's case—some time in 2011. One of the hackers, however, would like to teach Apple and Microsoft a lesson. Noting that the current hack/patch scheme isn't really doing much to improve browser security, hacker Charlie Miller said this week that he will instead show these companies how to find the bugs, using a simple "fuzzer" tool he developed, instead of showing them the exact bugs. Using this tool, he quickly found more than 20 vulnerabilities in Mac OS X Snow Leopard (Apple: "doesn’t get PC viruses!"). "I did trivial work and I still found bugs, lots of bugs," he said. Although I'm not sure that shaming Apple and Microsoft is the right way to go, I do at least see the point (and the humor) in this. And let's face it, Apple in particular needs a security wake-up call.
Amazon to Get Windows Server Cloud Licensing
Amazon has offered Windows Server 2003 and 2008 via its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) cloud computing infrastructure for some time, but there's always been a financial downside: Customers that already had enterprise agreements with Microsoft couldn't use their existing instance licenses on EC2. Now, as part of a pilot program, Microsoft is going to allow just that. So, any (US-based) customer with an enterprise agreement that doesn't expire within 12 months can host instances of Windows Server on EC2. Of course, anything that involves Windows licensing is bound to be complicated, so it's not going to be as easy as buying an eBook with the Kindle. But still, it's nice to see a broadening of choice and capability here. And of course Amazon's pricing is—for the enterprise at least—quite competitive.
Microsoft Plans a Big Natal Splash at E3 This Year
So, try not to get any on you. On Sunday, June 13, ahead of its usual media briefing, Microsoft will host a special "World Premiere Project Natal for Xbox 360 Experience," during which the software giant will presumably announce the final release (and perhaps name) of its vaporesque motion-sensing add-on for the Xbox 360. In development since the day the Nintendo Wii started kicking the Xbox 360's butt from one corner of the world to the other, Project Natal has impressed people in closed, closely monitored demos, so it will be interesting to see how it works in the real world. My guess is that it will sit somewhere between the PlayStation Eye and the Nintendo Nunchuk, but I'm willing to be proven wrong as long as no Call of Duty game ever requires this silliness.
Ford Sells 2 Million Cars with Microsoft Sync
Remember the joke about what a car designed by Microsoft would be like? Well, the company has sold two million of 'em, so start laughing. Ford this week announced that it has sold more than two million vehicles equipped with Microsoft Sync technology. And it took just 10 months to sell the second million units, compared with 14 months for the first. Ford entered into a three-year agreement with Microsoft to distribute this technology, which provides hands-free and voice-controlled interaction with smart phones, GPS, and MP3 players, providing Ford vehicles with a neat, in-cockpit set of functionality that's actually unique. I've been hoping for a Sync-like system since experiencing it in a rental car last year. It really is pretty impressive.
Best Buy on the Upswing
After watching its two biggest competitors, CompUSA and Circuit City, succumb to the economic nightmare that's gripped the tech industry for two years, the remaining electronics big box store, Best Buy, has apparently turned things around nicely. In the second half of 2010, Best Buy posted impressive improvements over the same year-ago quarters, and the company saw earnings jump 37 percent in the quarter ending February 27. It's so good, in fact, that the company is actually predicting a rosy year ahead, something that I didn't think I'd hear from any electronics store anytime soon. One area in which the company isn't doing well, and thank God for this, is its scamtastic service called Geek Squad. Maybe if it continues failing, Best Buy will realize that ripping off customers for non-services such as antivirus installation isn't really a core business.