So I'm in Columbus, Ohio, for Origins International Game Expo, a gaming conference. How I came to be here and what I'm doing here are complicated, but let's just say that I'm tagging along with a friend who's a hardcore gamer. I'm fascinated by cultural comparisons between this show and, say, Microsoft TechEd and the other tech shows I usually visit. Origins, you see, is a pen, paper, and dice-type show, and people here dress up like vampires, pirates, and medieval maidens. In general, these people are even geekier and more out of shape than the typical TechEd showgoer, but on the plus side, they're clearly having a great time and are uninhibited about their love of gaming, dungeons, and "Star Trek." Long story short, Origins is just like TechEd--but with vampires.

I've humorously noted that I'm among the most mainstream group of people here. (Note to wife: I haven't seen this many cloaks since my last time at a Cirque du Soleil show.) In fact, as a "norm," I'm in the minority. And for the first time since, oh, high school, I'm in the top two percent physically. Have I mentioned what a fun and strange experience this is?

T-shirt of the week, which those who understand Dungeons & Dragons-type gaming will appreciate: "Jesus saves. The rest of you will need to roll the dice." Good stuff.

Incidentally, now that my mysterious illness is reaching the two-week mark, I feel remarkably better. People still comment that I sound sick (as in stuffed up), but I feel about a million times better than I did last week. I guess I'll never know exactly what it was (other than a vague virus with a temporary and potentially unrelated skin condition), but it certainly could have been a lot worse. Anyway, thanks to everyone who expressed concerns or opinions about potential diagnoses. Some of the diagnoses were excellent and almost identical to what I had. I'm pretty sure Googling symptoms is generally a bad idea, though I should go on record and admit that doing so probably saved my life in early 2005, when I developed high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) during a particularly memorable trip to Colorado.

Microsoft Delays Office 2007

Microsoft alerted me yesterday to a minor delay in the release of Microsoft Office 2007, its upcoming office productivity suite. Instead of shipping the volume-license versions of Office 2007 in October as previously planned, Microsoft will now delay the release closer to the end of 2006. And the general availability of Office 2007--when consumers can go into retail stores and purchase boxed copies--has been delayed from January 2007 to "early in 2007." These aren't huge delays, so there wouldn't be any real concern except for one thing: Microsoft has often stated that it intends to launch Windows Vista and Office 2007 simultaneously. Does this mean Microsoft will delay Vista yet again?

Sorry, It's Still Windows Server 200x

We've seen a bit of confusion this week about the naming of Microsoft's next Windows Server version, currently operating under the code name Longhorn Server. Contrary to rumors, it will never, ever be called Windows Vista Server. It's going to be called Windows Server 200x, where "200x" will be 2007 or 2008. Based on the product's anticipated late-2007 release date, I think it's safe to say that Microsoft will finally brand it as Windows Server 2008. This theory has been corroborated by several people at Microsoft who know a lot more about the timeline than I do.

Microsoft Exec Jumps Ship to Google

Vic Gundotra, a 15-year Microsoft veteran and formerly a general manager of platform evangelism at the software giant, has left the company to work for Internet search giant Google. Because of his noncompete agreement with Microsoft, however, he can't join Google for one year, and he'll no doubt spend the intervening time on Xbox Live playing "Call of Duty 2." (Vic, my Gamertag is "Paul Thurrott"--let's hook up.) A few things are interesting about this development. First, Gundotra was working on Microsoft's response to Google's Web-based software applications. And second, he isn't the first Microsoft employee to leave for Google. High-profile executives such as Mark Lucovsky have left Microsoft in recent years, and of course, Microsoft's chief executive in charge of competing with Google--Martin Taylor--left the company just last week (though he didn't join Google). Microsoft might have more money than God, but the recent brain drain has to be a concern.

Microsoft Counters WinFS News

Dismayed by the news reports about its decision to cancel WinFS and integrate the technology into other products, Microsoft is going on the offensive and trying to explain that its decision doesn't mean WinFS--or more important--its wider integrated storage vision, is dead. According to the company, only WinFS as a standalone product is dead. Microsoft will integrate the technology into future products, such as the next versions of SQL Server and ADO.NET, and, presumably, Windows post-Vista as well. I say "presumably" because Microsoft refuses to publicly confirm the post-Vista integration, no doubt because its grand pronouncements about Vista over the years have come back to haunt the company. And of course, Microsoft is still desperate to explain that the integrated search features that will ship in Vista, despite not being based on WinFS, do in fact satisfy most of the promises it's made about WinFS. Well, sort of.

Microsoft Faces Class-Action Suit Regarding WGA

Finally, a frivolous lawsuit I can rally around: A lawsuit has been filed in Washington State alleging that Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) tool illegally gathers user data and secretly sends it over the Internet to Microsoft's servers. The lawsuit alleges that WGA violates California and Washington consumer-protection laws, and lawyers are seeking to have it granted class-action status. Frankly, I'm blown away by the stupidity Microsoft is showing with WGA, during a time when the software giant is trying to establish itself as a credible security vendor. For a company so full of smart people, Microsoft can be awfully boneheaded sometimes, and WGA is the ultimate example of that. I'm tired of Microsoft treating its customers like criminals, and although I respect the company's need to prevent piracy, all WGA does is stop the little people, not the organized, professional pirates. And let's face it, Joe Consumer wasn't going to spring for a second copy of Windows at $199 anyway, so it's unclear how Microsoft is saving money. This whole thing is a farce.

Microsoft Announces Vista-Ready Keyboards, Mouse Devices

Later this year, Microsoft will ship cool-looking keyboards and mouse devices designed specifically for use with the Vista OS. The keyboard is dubbed "The Ultimate Keyboard," which presents a curious naming problem for future Microsoft keyboards. It'll be wireless and rechargeable, with backlit keys that know when you leave the room (no doubt using WGA technologies to spy on you) as well as Vista-specific keys. It also features cool-looking metal accents and an ergonomic curve. The mouse, which doesn't yet appear to have a name, includes what appears to be a docking pad, and it's styled to match The Ultimate Keyboard. Looks neat. However, knowing Microsoft and its love for premium products, this little package will no doubt set you back quite a bit of money. After all, there's a reason the word "ultimate" is in there.

Microsoft Talks Up Future Windows OSs, Sort Of

Admitting that the current Windows architecture is getting long in the tooth, Microsoft is now finally in the early stages of creating a new OS based on an entirely new foundation. This new OS would eventually replace Windows. This news shouldn't come as a surprise, per se. But what's interesting is that Microsoft is actually talking about it for the first time. A future OS with a new foundation would better leverage the power of multicore microprocessors, the company says, but would require software-development tools that don't yet exist. Replacing Windows won't be easy, of course, and Microsoft is only at the first, tentative stages. But given how deftly the company handled the transitions to technologies such as the Intel 286, Windows NT, and x64 architecture, I can state with some certainty that we should be free of Windows by 2050, at the latest.

France Approves iTunes Law

French lawmakers on Friday agreed to ratify legislation that might force Apple Computer to make its Apple iPod MP3 player and iTunes online music store compatible with competitive products and services. However, Apple might simply pull out of the French market because its success relies heavily on shutting out the competition: Both the iPod and iTunes are engineered specifically to work with only each other, and Apple jealously guards the secrets to its near-monopoly products. Apple, incidentally, previously referred to the then-proposed French law as "state-sponsored piracy" and said that notions of competition should be left to the market to determine. As a side note, the final version of the French law does include a loophole that would let Apple and other companies avoid compatibility with competitors: All that companies need to do is strike new deals for the French market with music studios and artists. My guess is that Apple will do that rather than comply with the new law's compatibility requirements.