I spent most of this week in an unexpected and unwelcome stupor, thanks to my second post-winter cold in three weeks. (And I wasn't sick all winter—go figure.) This morning, the illness is finally starting to pass, but I feel like I haven't gotten anything done in a while, so I'll be catching up all weekend. At least spring is finally here, and not just according to the calendar: It's actually going to approach 70 degrees today for the first time, I bet, since last October.
Leo and I recorded the Windows Weekly podcast at our regular Thursday time, so it should be available by the end of the weekend, as always.
But wait, there's more. Don't forget to follow me on Twittert, Friendfeed, and the SuperSite Blog.
Microsoft Agrees to Yet More US-Based Antitrust Oversight
Like Jason from the Friday the 13th movies, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) just refuses to die: This week, the DOJ asked a federal judge to grant it another 18 months of antitrust oversight over Microsoft, its second such request in as many years. And what, you might ask, is the burning concern at the heart of this extension? Is Microsoft using illegal bundling practices to harm competitors and customers alike? Is the software giant cutting backroom deals with PC makers to shut Linux out of the netbook market? Ahahaha. You're so cute. No, the DOJ wants to “ensure the quality of the technical documentation Microsoft provides to licensees.” Um, what? “Section III.E of the final judgment requires that Microsoft make available to competing server software developers, on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, certain technology used by Microsoft to make its server operating systems interoperate with client PCs running the Windows operating system,” a DOJ statement reads. “Microsoft must provide licensees with technical documentation that is designed to enable them to use this technology in their own server products so that those products work better with Windows.” Ah. Sounds ... exciting. Anyway, Microsoft agreed to the terms, and the DOJ will continue watching Microsoft churn out documentation until at least May 2011 now.
Yes, Virginia, There Will Be a Public Beta of Office 2010
Contrary to widespread reports this week that Microsoft wouldn’t offer the public a beta version of its upcoming Office 2010 productivity suite, the software giant said that it would, in fact, issue a widespread public beta. This news comes down to semantics. Microsoft previously announced that it would deliver a “technical preview” of Office 2010 in the third quarter of 2009, and when asked if this release would be made available to the public, the company said, correctly, that it would not be. This statement set off the erroneous reports. But Microsoft will issue a public beta of Office 2010 after the technical preview, as it has with virtually all previous versions of Office. Nothing to see here, people.
iGoons Jump the Shark
Apple and its craziest followers have been reeling from punch after punch from the Microsoft camp in recent weeks, with the software giant's hugely successful "I'm a PC" and "Laptop Hunter" winning over audiences around the world. Of course, Microsoft's ongoing campaign against Apple isn't relegated to just a handful of ads. Another component is the "Apple Tax," with which Microsoft argues, correctly, that Macs are simply more expensive than PCs and that, with the economy headed south, maybe it's time for consumers to look beyond Apple's high-priced offerings. Apple's Think Different squad (the iGoons) have been picking apart the math in Microsoft's Apple Tax releases, as you might expect, but none of their pedantic breakdowns change the big picture at all. What's next for these guys? Do they plan to go after the cute little kids in the "I'm a PC" ads? Don't be surprised.
E74 Is the New RROD
I assume every Xbox 360 user has heard the term "Red Ring of Death" (RROD). I further assume that most Xbox 360 users have experienced the RROD and that the mere mention of the RROD term is enough to cause these people to twitch slightly as they come to terms with the fact that their expensive video game console is, in effect, living on borrowed time. Well, it's time to add a new boogeyman to the list. Microsoft this week announced that it would extend the Xbox 360's no-questions-asked warranty policy to cover an emerging and increasingly common type of failure. Known by the E74 error code that appears on the screen when the system dies, this type of error apparently doesn't cause red rings to appear on the console's power light. But it has the same effect: It turns your $300 console into a brick.
Video Game Sales Tank, but Xbox 360 Sees Some Gains
Speaking of video game consoles, NPD released its US video game sales figures for March, and the outlook isn't pretty. Overall video game sales fell 17 percent year over year, although analysts attributed at least part of that drop to the fact that Easter occurred in March last year, as opposed to April this year (leading me to wonder how buying a Call of Duty-type shooter is in any way an appropriate gift idea for a holiday celebrating Christ's rise from the dead.) Anyway, the Wii continues to dominate desktop console sales, with 600,000 units sold, compared with 330,000 for the Xbox 360 and a surprisingly strong 218,000 for the Sony PlayStation 3. (Yes, Sony still makes that.) So what do you do when you're handed lemons? You go on the offensive. Microsoft says that its Xbox 360 sales are a 25 percent year-over-year increase, compared with "double digit declines" for the competition. Growth in paid Xbox Live content is up 128 percent since last year, too, the company says, and game add-on downloads are up 62 percent. See? They're actually winning.
Swedish Court Says Pirate Website Violates Copyright Laws ...
... but then proceeds to do absolutely nothing about it. A Swedish court ruled today that four men associated with The Pirate Bay—a top Internet destination for illegally downloadable movies, music, video games, PC software, and other wares—violate that country's copyright laws. The men, who founded and helped finance the site, were each sentenced to a year in prison and fined about $3.6 million. Which sounds thrilling and everything, except for one little detail: The Pirate Bay is still in business and serving up illegal goods for anyone who's interested. And it will do so for the foreseeable future as the defendants file an appeal. "We are not triumphant," a group supporting the case against the men admitted. "But we are satisfied that the court has clearly said that what they were doing was wrong." Hey, you'll always have that going for you. As for The Pirate Bay, an official statement on the site refers to the court's judgment as a "crazy verdict." The site also offers logoed t-shirts, just in case stealing stuff wasn't enough of a drain on your soul.
Google Cuts Deal to Bring More Commercial Content to YouTube
Google's YouTube service is already the overwhelming favorite, both in the United States and worldwide, for delivering Internet-based video content. But because most of the content is user-generated—that is, lame—and doesn't come with accompanying advertisements, YouTube doesn't recoup the huge cost of hosting and streaming all that content. Now, Google has a plan to turn things around, and it's struck what will most likely be the first of many similar deals with tier-1 content providers. This week, it reached an agreement with Sony, Lionsgate, MGM, and other content providers to deliver hundreds of movies and thousands of TV show episodes via YouTube. The deal, and others like it, will help YouTube compete with a growing slate of other competing services, including Hulu, which already offers incredible collections of legal, copyrighted content.