An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including no XP extension for you, Microsoft earnings, a SPOT watch cancellation, a threat to Yahoo!, Wii sales, Amazon earnings, Yahoo!'s open play, new Ubuntu, OLPC and Windows, and so much more...
Leo and I seem to be back on schedule: We recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday as usual. It should be online soon.
I also appeared on last week's episode of TWiT (This Week in Tech), Leo's primary podcast. In addition to Leo, of course, I joined John C. Dvorak, Veronica Belmont, and Roger McGuinn for episode 139 of TWiT, dubbed 4-TWiTty. The range of topics we hit on is almost too long to even understand, but hopefully it's an interesting listen. It was certainly an interesting experience in that Leo and I have settled into what I think is a comfortable rhythm on Windows Weekly, and of course with many more people, it's just not the same. Hopefully in a good way.
Microsoft: XP Extension is Not Happening
Remember that little bit from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, where he noted that his company would do the customer-centric thing and extend Windows XP's life cycle is there was enough demand? Yeah, well it turns out that was just a joke. Microsoft returned to its iron curtain ways today with the following statement issued in the wake of XP-Gate: "Our plan for Windows XP availability is unchanged," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "We're confident that's the right thing to do based on the feedback we've heard from our customers and partners." Well. There you go.
SPOT the Dog: Microsoft Kills High Tech Watch
Remember the SPOT watch? You know, the Dick Tracy-looking thing that could connect to the MSN Direct service to wirelessly download sports scores and weather forecasts? The thing that was the size of a dinner plate strapped to your wrist? Ran a tiny version of the .NET Framework? Made the Timex Data Link watch look svelte by comparison? Ringing any bells? No? Oh then you won't care that it's dead. Neither do I.
Microsoft Earnings on Track
Microsoft announced its quarterly earnings yesterday and the results were pretty much as expected: Microsoft earned $4.41 billion on record revenues of $14.45 billion, coming in on the low end of expectations. The big surprise was that profits actually fell year over year: In the same quarter last year, the software giant posted profits of $4.93 billion. But before anyone gets too misty eyed over days gone by, those profits were artificially aided by a one-time bonus of over $1 billion thanks to deferred sales of Windows Vista. Not surprisingly, Windows and Office were responsible for about 65 percent of Microsoft's revenues. But there were some surprises: Windows revenues were actually down year over year (and I'd have to guess that's the first time that's happened in a while, though again I'd point to that one-time bump from last year as part of the reason). And the division responsible for the Xbox 360 actually made money for, like, the second time ever. The online division? Not so much.
Microsoft to Yahoo!: Time is of the Essence
During a conference call about its quarterly earnings, Microsoft again said that it saw no reason to raise its hostile takeover bid for struggling online giant Yahoo!. In fact, Microsoft issued what amounted as a threat to Yahoo!'s board of directors, noting that "time is of the essence." This is a reference to the fact that Microsoft can begin trying to replace Yahoo!'s board with one that is more amenable to a merger starting this weekend. But Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell also outlined another possibility: Microsoft could simply withdraw its $44.6 billion offer for Yahoo! and leave the company to die a natural death on its own. He said Microsoft could elaborate on "alternative" plans next week if that was the decision. I have to say I derive a guilty kind of fun from watching corporate giants threaten each other. I hope this one goes down to the wire.
Wii Sales Propel Nintendo
The Nintendo Wii may be the lamest video game system to come down the pike in decades, but then consumers are pretty lame too and they've been snapping up Wii consoles in ever-increasing numbers. (Just a hunch, but I bet most Wii's sit unused next to the TV within weeks of purchase.) Nintendo's net profit in its last fiscal year surged almost 48 percent thanks to the Wii (Nintendo doesn't report quarterly results like a "normal" company) to $16.2 billion, $2.5 billion of which it recorded as profit. Nintendo sold 18.6 million Wii consoles in the last year for a total of 24.5 million units since the device went on sale. It also sold over 30 million units of its portable DS game device. While DS sales are expected to slow this coming year, Nintendo expects to sell another 20 million Wii's. I'm sure they'll have no problem doing just that. There's a sucker born every minute.
Amazon Gains in Weakened Economy but Provides Few Details
Many were hoping that Amazon would spell out exactly how its digital products lines--the Kindle ebook reader, online MP3 store, and Unbox TV/movie store--were performing when the company announced its quarterly earnings this week. Those people were disappointed, though Amazon's results were definitely impressive overall. The online retailer (or "e-tailer" as I say) posted net income of $143 million on sales of $4.13 billion, up 30 percent year over year. The company attributed its growth mostly to the Amazon Prime shipping program, which benefits from favorable foreign exchange rates. As for those digital products, no one is saying, but Amazon derived over half of its sales last year from traditional books, CDs, and DVDs. So things can only improve.
Yahoo! to Open Up
Yahoo!--yes, they're still an independent entity--announced this week that it would open up its popular Web site to Web services from others and create a social networking-type experience for users. This new strategy, called Yahoo! Open Strategy (Y!OS), opens up Yahoo! to outside developers in a meaningful way for the first time and is, I suspect, a reaction of sorts to Microsoft's Mesh platform. Here's how Yahoo! makes the pitch to developers: "Think about it: Yahoo! serves more than 500 million unique users every month. We serve 120 billion page views per month. Yahoo! users spend 235 billion minutes a month on our sites. More importantly, some 10 billion relationships exist on user buddy lists and in Yahoo! address books. All that represents a mind-boggling audience for developers." I agree that it's mind-boggling. But then so is Yahoo!'s use of exclamation points. The problem with Y!OS right now, aside from that awful acronym, is that it's all strategy at this point. As with the company's earnings potentials, we have to sort of take it on faith that something's going to happen down the road.
Ubuntu 8.04 "Hardy Heron" is Here
Linux distributor Ubuntu this week shipped Ubuntu 8.04 ("Hardy Heron") this week, the latest version of its popular Linux-based OS. This is a big release by Ubuntu standards: 8.04 is a so-called Long Term Support (LTS) version of Ubuntu Linux and thus one that the organization will support for three years on the desktop and 5 on the server. And if you're really curious about Linux, Ubuntu has always been a great place to start. That's more true than ever with 8.04, which includes a new "Install inside Windows" option that makes experiencing Linux easier than ever.
Now OLPC is Eyeing Windows Too
And speaking of Linux: For all the talk about a Linux usage surge thanks to the emerging market for ultra-low-cost PCs (ULCPCs), it turns out that the companies actually making these devices do have some common sense. And increasingly, they're looking at changing from Linux to Windows to meet customer demands. The latest in what is an increasingly inclusive line of ULCPC makers to examine this switch back to Windows is OLPC, makers of the XO laptop, which is aimed at children in developing countries. OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte said this week that the current built-in software is "narrow," "not crisp," and "grew amorphously," despite being designed to be approachable by children who were unfamiliar with PCs. But the OLPC hasn't sold specifically because it's too unfamiliar with mainstream computing systems. So Negroponte says a dual-boot option with Windows will come soon, possibly to be followed by Windows only machines. The goal, he says, is to get computers into people's hands. "One can be an open-source advocate without being an open-source fundamentalist," he added. Absolutely.