An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the end of our trip to France, the return of Windows Weekly, tech punditry and hypocrisy, Linux "facts," HD DVD vs. Blu-Ray, PS3 sales, an URGE for a new music service, and much more ...
It's been a long month, especially for the kids, but this will be my last Short Takes from France: On Tuesday, we head back to Boston. It's been a great time overall, though we've clearly crossed some invisible time limit from Mark and Kelly's perspective and will thus have to plan accordingly for next year and beyond. If international air travel wasn't so darned expensive, I'd consider doing two separate two-week trips to different places, but that's never going to happen. Certainly, we have time to figure that out, plus where we'd like to go. It might not be France, though we'll get there otherwise throughout the year regardless, I'm sure. (There's nothing like planning your next trip while still on vacation. Speaking of which, I don't suppose anyone from Ireland is interested in a two-week house swap in the Boston area next summer?)
Of course, this trip has been disruptive in other ways. I've tried to maintain a semi-normal schedule and that sort of worked, but I feel out-of-touch here in ways I don't when I'm home. This hits on a number of levels. I usually read two newspapers a day at home, for example, but here I've just occasionally looked at news Web sites, and it's not really the same. I have this vague idea that there was a heat wave of sorts, somewhere. I know something was going on with the space shuttle, but can only assume it's been resolved. Someone airbrushed French president Nicholas Sarkozy's love handles out of a photograph? And surely, we've sort out this Iraq mess in my absence. Surely.
We also missed three weeks of the Windows Weekly podcast for a variety of reasons, most recently the Skype outage, but I'm happy to say that Leo and I were finally able to record an episode last night. I did so lying on the floor of a hotel conference room in Toulouse, France, in the southwest part of the country, which was interesting. (That's where the power connections were.)
Of Tech Pundits, Hypocrisy, and Hits
ZDNet blogger Ed Bott did something this week that I should have done myself, but since I've been a bit distracted (see above), it's only fair that I bring this to your attention in this fashion: Retiring PC Magazine editor Jim Louderback has joined what is apparently growing crowd of tech pundits who have decided that Windows Vista is a disaster. Ed Bott, like me, takes issue with this opinion, and for very good reasons. So please check out his two commentaries for more detail about this topic, with two caveats. First, Ed isn't exactly a happy go lucky guy and he goes after Louderback in a fairly aggressive and gruff fashion, so put on your sunshades. Second, Ed's absolutely right to do so, and I'll even take it a step further. As I noted late last year when Chris Pirillo and other high profile pundits starting complaining about Vista quite publicly, here's what you should really be wondering about when it comes to this stuff: If the pundits people look up to can't handle new technology, maybe the problem is the pundits and not the technology. I've been using Vista as my sole OS for a long, long time and on multiple machines. I have no major issues, sorry. And I could most definitely never go back to Windows XP, let alone an alternative OS like Mac OS X or Linux, despite the fact that I've been using and writing about those technologies for several years, and not just recently to get hits. So while it's cute to use anti-Vista editorials to garner attention, let's be honest and admit that's all this is. Vista works just fine, people. Yes, there are some issues, as there are with any new OS. But look a bit deeper at the complaints and what you'll see, really, is that some people are clearly just scrambling for attention. That's fine. Just don't besmirch Vista to do it.
Microsoft Unveils Hip New Search Engine
And speaking of hype, Microsoft this week unveiled an experiment new search engine called Tafiti ("do research" in Swahili, obviously) that takes advantage of a number of new Microsoft technologies, including the Live search engine and the Silverlight Web development framework. Tafiti looks and works nothing like any existing search engines and it uses a three pane approach with drag and drop capabilities. It works in various browsers on various platforms, but of course you must first download the near-complete version of Silverlight first. (Which is a surprisingly small download, to be fair.) If you're used to the static Web of today, Tafiti will be somewhat of a jolt, though I'm still unsure if this is the wave of the future or just a bump on the road. Either way, it's interesting and worth checking out.
Microsoft Ends "Facts" Campaign, Offers Server OS Comparison
Microsoft this week announced that it has started up a new Windows Server Compare Web site, which seeks to provide authoritative comparisons of Windows Server and Linux across several areas such as TCO, reliability, security, choice, manageability, and interoperability. Less obvious is that this site marks the end of Microsoft's previous anti-Linux site, "Get the Facts," which used paid analysts to make Windows look superior to Linux. So what's the real difference? If anything, "Compare" just seems less confrontational than "Get the Facts." But it's basically the same idea, from what I can see.
Two Movie Studios Accept Bribes, Drop Support for Blu-Ray
You know HD DVD isn't doing too well when the technologies backers have to basically pay movie studios to use that format exclusively for a short time. This week, Paramount and Dreamworks announced that they would exclusively support the flailing HD DVD next-generation DVD format in lieu of the superior and better-selling Blu-Ray format, causing raised eyebrows around Hollywood. Turns out there's an age-old reason for the move: HD DVD's backers are paying the studios about $150 million to do so, and the exclusive agreement is only in effect for 18 months. The effective result of this decision is that consumers will continue to struggle with two competing and incompatible next-generation DVD formats because certain movies will only be available on one format. A spokesperson for the Blu-Ray Disc Association called the deal a "move of desperation." Sounds about right.
URGE Bales from Microsoft Platform, Embraces RealNetworks
When Microsoft announced Windows Media Player 11 late last year, it had just killed off MSN Music and was promoting MTV's URGE service as the online service centerpiece of the new player. Then, a few months later, Microsoft unveiled its Zune initiative, basically killing URGE and all other PlaysForSure-based services and products. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, MTV wasn't amused, and this week's announcement that URGE would merge into RealNetworks' Rhapsody service to create a new service called Rhapsody America must have been almost a year in the making. The whole thing just stinks, frankly, and to avoid it, all Microsoft had to do was make Zune compatible with PlaysForSure. Of course, all of this stuff is just also-ran fodder for the dominant Apple iTunes store, but you have to wonder what could've been.
Console Isn't the Only Xbox 360 That Needs to be Fixed
The jokes for this one just write themselves. "The Xbox 360 Steering Wheel Controller is So Hot It Smokes!" OK, sorry. But you just have to laugh: Two months after Microsoft revealed a $1.1 billion warranty charge related to overheating Xbox 360 consoles, the company revealed that it was also replacing the power adapter on all Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel controllers because of reports that 50 of them have overheated, causing smoke to billow from the devices. At the Xbox 360 itself has the smarts to just shut down when it's overheating.
Sorry Sony Fans, Xbox 360 Beat Out PS3 (As Usual) in July
And speaking of the Xbox 360, you may have heard rumors of the past week that Sony's lagging PlayStation 3 (PS3) was experiencing and unexpected renaissance, with Sony expected to announce this past week that the PS3 had actually outsold the Xbox 360 for the first time in July. Well, Sony did make a bunch of PS3 announcements this week, but a sales jump wasn't one of them. What's funny about this is that it was Sony that started the sales rumors: The company revealed that it expected July's numbers to show that the PS3 had come out ahead of the Xbox 360. That didn't happen: NPD reported that 170,000 Xbox 360s were sold in July, compared to 159,000 for the PS3. (Market leader Nintendo continued to surge with 425,000 Wii consoles sold in July.) To be fair to Sony, PS3 sales are up, however, just not enough to unseat #2 Microsoft. But let's get real here: Halo 3 is coming. And when that happens, all bets are off.
Google Adds Ads to YouTube, Users Not Amused
Though Google bought video sharing sensation YouTube last year, the company has done little make the site look like a Google property. That changed just a bit this week when Google started adding small advertisements to some YouTube videos in a test to see how it can monetize the heavily-trafficked site. What's funny is that the ads appeared overlayed on top of the videos people are trying to watch. Reaction to the ads has been universally negative. But that's no surprise, as YouTube aficionados are used to getting something for nothing, up to and including stolen commercial content. I'll make a prediction here: YouTube will have to go legit, obviously, and ads are probably inevitable. So, too, I believe, is a huge drop-off in visitors. Those who leave will simply find the stolen content they need from other sources. Welcome to the Internet.
Sun Goes JAVA
This one is kind of fun: Sun Microsystems this week changed its Nasdaq stock ticker from SUNW to JAVA, the first time it's made such a change since the company was founded in 1986. Sun says the change indicates a not so subtle makeover of the company that better reflects the one in-house Sun technology that's really changed the world. (Yes, I mean Java and not "the network is the computer" slogan.) Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz says that Java is a better-known brand than Sun anyway, which makes me wonder why they don't just change the name of the company.
Dell Says, "Color is HARD"
Dell this week revealed that those colorful new notebook computers it's been heavily advertising as of late will take quite a bit longer to come to market, inciting outrage from those who have preordered the machines. The reason is that the 8 colorful shells Dell is offering on the notebooks are much harder to manufacture than previously estimated, causing delays from August to October or even November. That's too bad on a number of levels, but hopefully Dell will straighten this out. In the meantime, might I draw your attention to this pleasingly bland gray notebook computers the company also offers?