An often irreverent look at some of the half-a-week's other news, including the wonders of a four-day weekend, cybercondria, Microsoft confuses customers ... on purpose, Kumo, Xbox 360 sales, a Blockbuster set-top box, The Beatles, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

So it's Wednesday, and I'm delivering this week's Short Takes, which traditionally comes out on Friday. That can only mean one thing: We're having a very, very long weekend this week, and it's coming to you courtesy of Thanksgiving, the holiday in which we inexplicably ignore the Norse Vikings as well as the French, and Spanish settlers who arrived in America hundreds of years before the Pilgrims. Yes, we have a lot to be thankful for this year, and I'm not just talking about a successful rewriting of history. I mean, the economy is going gangbusters, joblessness is at an all-time low, and we're successfully fighting the war on terror. Wow, I really need to stop cutting and pasting from last year's newsletter.

Thanks to the short week, Leo and I will record a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Wednesday. I'm not sure how that will impact the publication date per se, but I'd imagine it will be online by the end of the weekend as usual. It will probably be about 11 minutes long too, given how little that's happened since last week.
http://www.winsupersite.com/article/Paul/windows-weekly-podcast.aspx

But wait, there more ... to be thankful for. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed and the SuperSite Blog. Thanks!

Short Takes

Microsoft: Google Makes You Sick. Well, So Do We
Microsoft researchers are investigating the causes of "cybercondria," that wonderful effect that Internet search engines have on people who are feeling ill and decide to Google their symptoms. All too often, Microsoft says, people succumb to search-engine-related hypochondria, turning headaches and other common ailments into cancer and other sinister possibilities. I do agree that this happens, and probably all too often, but I would like to point one bit of contradictory personal experience. During a trip to Colorado a few years back, I came down with a bizarre fatigue and dizziness and, after spending half a night up in a crazy fever and pounding headache, I finally decided to Google the symptoms. It turns out I had come down with something called high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a condition that could have killed me if I hadn't gone to the hospital that night. (A doctor later told me that he had only once seen oxygen levels lower than mine, and that guy slipped into a coma and died.) So as with paranoia, where sometimes you really are being watched, sometimes you really should pay attention when things don't seem right.

Ozzie: Our Products are Confusing Because We're in Startup Mode. Deal With It
Have you ever wondered why Microsoft is currently offering overlapping products and services like Live Mesh, Windows Live FolderShare/Live Sync, and Windows Live SkyDrive? I mean, each of these things offers a similar feature set, and they seem to actually compete with each other in some ways. Well, that's all according to plan, says Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie. Speaking this week at the company's TechReady conference, Ozzie said that one of his goals in replacing Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates was to get away from the staid product development style of the past. Now, he says, overlapping products can be developed independently, and if they catch on, they'll be merged later. Before, he says, products would be killed early on if they were too similar to something else Microsoft was doing, and that practice hindered innovation. Or so he says. I agree that there's probably a happy medium here somewhere, but I think that the company's current "strategy" is a bit too scattershot. It's unclear which of these solutions people should use, and when faced with too many choices, people tend to stick to what they know. That is, they stop trying new things. So maybe, Microsoft, you could at least enunciate what the plans are, if any, to merge these projects going forward. Because right now, it's just plain confusing.

Aruba, Jamaica. Ooh I Wanna Take Ya ... To Kumo?
Microsoft's Live Search has had more changes that erstwhile pop superstar Prince, but Microsoft might be pulling the trigger on yet another moniker for the search engine that no one uses anyway. The latest entry is Kumo, which means "cloud" in Japanese. That name makes some sense, given a search engine's cloud computing ties. You know, assuming you know Japanese. I'm told it can also mean "spider," which evokes a 1960's-era Godzilla movie in my mind for some reason. In any event, I'd like to just toss out the notion that Kumo is a stupid name, but then so are Google and Amazon.com, so what do I know?

Xbox 360 Surpasses Xbox Sales. Well. It Will. Eventually
Microsoft seems quite proud of the fact that its second-generation Xbox 360 video console has outsold the first-generation Xbox console, and that news has been republished pretty much everywhere. Too bad it's not true. What's really happened is that Microsoft's hardware partners have manufactured a volume of Xbox 360s that is larger than the units sold of original Xbox consoles. But the company hasn't, in fact, sold all of them yet. So it's predicting that it will do so by the end of 2008. Of course, in Microsoft parlance, "sell" doesn't mean "sell to customers," it means, "placed into the retail channel," so the company will have no problem meeting its prediction. All it has to do is stuff the retail channel with product. Which it will do. Of course. I will say this, however: The Xbox 360 is certainly selling at a faster clip than the original Xbox. But then, that's not hard. The original Xbox came in dead last in that generation of consoles, and was even outsold by the lackluster Nintendo GameCube.

Blockbuster Sells a Set Top Box of its Own
When Netflix debuted its Roku-based set-top box back in May, you had to think it was only a matter of time before its sole competitor, Blockbuster, followed suit. And sure enough, Blockbuster purchased online movie service MovieLink in August. And then this week, it shipped a me-too set-top box, the MediaPoint Digital Media Player, which provides Blockbuster subscribers with access to on-demand entertainment. To be fair to Blockbuster, their set-top box is a bit different from the one Netflix offers. For example, it looks more like an AppleTV than the Netflix box. And ... well, that's about it. They're the same thing.

The Beatles Catalog Still Not Destined for Digital
While sales of digital music are finally starting to outpace traditional CD music sales for the first time this year, the biggest remaining holdout from the digital de-evolution, The Beatles, is still resisting the transition. According to former Beatle Paul McCartney, talks between the band's record label, Apple, and the digital music giant that is also confusingly named Apple, have "stalled." The issue, apparently, is ... Well, EMI. EMI being a record label (yes, some are still around) that owns the rights to the Beatles catalog. Apparently, they actually want to get paid for handing off the catalog. The gall of some people.

Twitter and Facebook, Sitting in a Tree
Well, not quite. Social networking giant Facebook was apparently set to purchase micro-blogging pioneer Twitter for $500 million but then pulled out at the last second over cost concerns. My guess is that Facebook realized that the business model of Twitter--where many of its users wax philosophic over what they ate for lunch or the latest bit of gunk they've pulled out of their bellybuttons--wasn't particularly well thought out. And they might have a point. I think the value of Twitter has a lot less to do with "traditional" micro-blogging (I know, I can't believe I wrote that either) than it does to do with the social possibilities of the service. We live in a world that is quickly turning into an Isaac Asimov short story, one in which people never have to physically meet in order to socialize. But how can you put a price tag on such a thing? And how compelling would an in-person meeting be if annoying ads kept popping up on the side?

See You on Monday
We will taking Thursday and Friday off for Thanksgiving, so the next WinInfo will appear Monday. However, I'll be online all weekend like the tool that I am, so if anything important happens, I'll be sure to post it to the WinInfo Daily News Web site. Have a great long weekend.