Last week I mentioned that I brought two Windows Vista-based notebook PCs to Paris for our three-week house swap. It didn't take long for that decision to bite me in the butt. On the plane, I tried to watch a "Simpsons" DVD with my son, but the performance of Windows Media Player 11 was so miserable that we had to switch to the Apple MacBook. That's right, a Mac saved the day.
Vista has let me down in a lot of ways, frankly. One way is photo importing. Vista has a lot more options than Windows XP, and Vista will even automatically name photos exactly the way I want (date-event name). But Vista's photo importer doesn't let you preview your pictures and choose which ones to import. If I have pictures from two or more events on my camera, all the pictures are imported with the same file name. Sigh.
Paris has been great, and the kids are having an excellent time. I'd like to bust one myth about the French for American readers: They're wonderful people, and we've had nothing but positive experiences in all our trips here. The trick, of course, is to not be obnoxious and to try to speak the language (which should be common sense). The friendly reaction we get is just about universal, and we've had people spontaneously stop to ask if we needed directions (in English, no less), get up on trains and busses so my kids or wife could sit down, and provide assistance at the drop of the hat, all while apologizing that their English is poor (which, of course, it never is). The guys at the bakery and convenience store up the street hand out candy to my kids, the people at the market give us unusual fruit to try, and we're even turning into temporary regulars at a few places. It's really, really neat.
I've had one mini-adventure so far. Thursday, we went into the city in the morning as usual, but instead of heading back with me, my wife and kids stayed in town while I returned to the house to work (3 p.m. here is 9 a.m. back home, which is about the time I usually get started). My wife kept our European cell phone so she could call me when she and the kids wanted to come back. I hopped on the RER (Paris's version of a commuter train) for the 20-minute ride to the train station near the house.
Less than a minute later, I realized my wife had the car keys, and I had no idea what our cell phone number was. The car was parked at the train station near the house, and the house keys were in it. So I got off at the Luxembourg stop, vaguely remember that there was an Internet café there. I wrote WinInfo at the café and then jumped back on the RER, figuring I'd have a lot of time to kill at the train station. But when I arrived, I had another vague memory: I had emailed our cell phone number to some friends in Paris before a previous trip. And perhaps I'd done so from a Web-based email account, which is pretty much the only way I'd be able to get to it.
So, at the train station near the house, I asked if there was a nearby Internet café, and there was. I went there, got on my Microsoft Hotmail account, and started looking for the email message. Remarkably, I found it, jotted down the number, and headed back to the station to find a pay phone. They have them, but you need a prepaid phone card to use them, so I bought a card. Someone from a nearby store helped me figure out how to use the card to make a call, and I managed to reach my wife, who came home and ended my exile.
Suffice to say, I'll be more careful with the keys and make sure I've written down all the numbers I might need. I was totally bone-headed, but the incident ended well.
Microsoft Talks Vista RC1
On its Vista Team Blog, Microsoft has revealed some Windows Vista Release Candidate 1 (RC1) information that should be of interest to anyone looking forward to a more stable and fine-tuned version of Microsoft's ever-delayed OS. Microsoft says it will make "testing sign-ups" and the Customer Preview Program (CPP) available when RC1 hits, and will automatically give the Vista RC1 version to people who signed on for the CPP at Beta 2. No word yet on when to expect Vista RC1, but it should be out sometime in late August. Certainly, Microsoft's had no problems meeting deadlines on this one.
Rumor Busting: Microsoft Has Been Working on Vista RC1 Since May
Speaking of Vista, there have been several weird reports lately about Microsoft just starting to test RC builds in-house. That's not the case. The Vista code tree was forked for RC1 a long time ago, before we got Beta 2. It's unclear why that's not obvious, because that's the way these things always work; maybe someone was fooled by the appearance of RC text on a Vista desktop somewhere.
Microsoft Allegedly Planning Vista Reparations
You know, kind of like paying for war crimes. Peter Galli, a reporter at "eWeek," says that Microsoft's working on a customer incentive program aimed at paying back Volume Licensing customers who are going to be negatively affected by delays in both Vista and 2007 Microsoft Office. Here's what's happening: Even if Microsoft does ship Vista and 2007 Microsoft Office by January as planned, some of its Software Assurance (SA) customers won't get their free upgrades because their subscription programs will have expired. Should Microsoft delay either product any further, the problems multiply, as more and more SA customers have their subscriptions expire without Vista and 2007 Office. So Microsoft is hoping to talk SA customers into extending their subscriptions by offering them various rebates and other incentives. I guess that's the logical thing to do. But it's unclear how the company is going to overcome two years of bad news.
25 Years Later and It Doesn't Look a Day Over 40
25 years ago tomorrow, IBM did the unthinkable, entering the PC business with its first-ever microcomputer, the IBM PC Model 5150. For about $1500, users could get a system that was about as technically sophisticated as the $300 Commodore 64, but with three major differences: The IBM was expandable like an Apple II, could run several OSs, and was backed by the world's most powerful computer company. The first IBM PC was awfully conservative in many ways, but it revolutionized personal computing by making it legitimate and, eventually, by setting the stage for the clone market, which established the PC as a de facto standard that continues to this day. A small, skunk works-style group outside the company mainstream (similar to the original Macintosh group at Apple) developed the original IBM PC. Sadly, IBM has since quit the PC business, but there are more than one billion PCs in use around the world, and almost all of them owe their existence to IBM's decision to enter the market 25 years ago.
Security Researchers Impressed with Vista
Last week, attendees of the Black Hat security conference got their hands on Vista and came away pretty impressed, which actually surprised me. This week, Microsoft revealed that it hooked up with hackers at Black Hat only after the OS got a resounding thumbs-up from some of the world's legitimate security professionals. These so-called "white hat" hackers have been pushing at Vista's security features for several months and—like their Black Hat brethren—liked what they saw. It says a lot that Microsoft is willing to put Vista under such scrutiny at this stage, and the company must really believe it created a reasonably secure system. Of course, it also believed that about XP.
Microsoft Adds Speech Server Technology to Office
This week, Microsoft announced that it will cease selling its Speech Server product next year and roll the product's capabilities into an upcoming Office server product called Office Communications Server 2007. Speech Server is used by businesses such as Continental Airlines and Target that need to let customers speak commands and choices into a standard telephone to interact with back-end systems. Adding its speech functionality to Communications Server probably makes a lot of sense, but only if Microsoft offers a way for existing Speech Server customers to move up to Communications Server as if it were a version upgrade.
Microsoft Shows Off HD-DVD Add-on for Xbox 360
Last week, Microsoft finally unveiled its HD-DVD add-on drive for the Xbox 360 at the DVD Forum Conference in Los Angeles. It's a svelte little unit that's styled like the Xbox 360, although it's about one-quarter the size. Like the 360, it can stand up on its side or lay flat, and it connects to the Xbox 360 via a USB 2.0 connection. (It also has a USB passthrough connector on the back so that you don't lose a port, and an additional smaller USB port like those found on USB cameras.) No word yet on pricing or whether Microsoft will ship a new, higher-end Xbox 360 that includes an integrated HD-DVD drive in place of the DVD drive included in current versions.
Leopard, Not Vista, Is the Copycat
At Apple's almost self-destructively boring Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote this week, Steve Jobs and company took potshot after potshot at Microsoft and Vista, which is odd when you consider that Microsoft and Office kept Apple afloat less than 10 years ago and that half of the features included in Apple's new OS (code-named Leopard) seem to have been culled directly from Vista. Many in the Windows community—normally oblivious to the noise from the Apple camp, have taken umbrage at Apple's baloney. I guess I have too, although Apple does of course score a few points. My review of Apple's Leopard preview at WWDC is available on the SuperSite for Windows.