An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...

WinInfo Blog

I can't claim to be on top of Christmas, per se, but I'm getting there. Our Christmas cards are finally starting to head out, so they should be delivered sometime before February. And I should wrap up shopping this weekend, well ahead of my usual December 24 target. All in all, yeah, I'm kind of screwed.

I've finally booked by CES 2010 trip, the first time I'll be attending this show in three years. (I missed the previous two after attending for several years in a row.) And after a month and a half off from travel, CES will be the start of at least one trip for each of the next three or four months, but hopefully I can keep it more manageable this time. I'm sure just mentioning this will trigger a request from my boss. Admit it, Michele, you're thinking about it.

Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday, and it should be available by the weekend, as usual. Next week: a special Christmas Eve version of the show.

But wait, there's more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed, and the SuperSite Blog.

Short Takes

Issue of the Week: Why Would Microsoft Make Such Major IE Concessions?
So, Microsoft this week settled its massive, years-long antitrust case in Europe by offering to let consumers and PC makers replace its Internet Explorer (IE) web browser with an alternative in EU-based nations. The scope of this concession can't be overstated, given how strategic IE supposedly is to the company. (Remember, although Microsoft largely controls the PC, server, and office-productivity markets that are today the primary sources of the company's revenues, the computer industry is heading to the cloud, and the browser is the primary interface there.) So why would Microsoft allow such a thing? Why would it provide its often hapless competitors with an entryway into its core Windows product (and provide the equivalent of a can of Pepsi in every six-pack of Coke … or in Opera's case, a can of Tab)? I have a theory, and this is rooted in nothing more than common sense and conjecture. (That is, I have absolutely no inside information here.) That theory is this: I believe that Microsoft will (as it can and should) simply abandon its IE web-rendering engine and latch on to the only logical choice there is—the standards-based WebKit rendering engine that Google Chrome and Apple Safari use today. That will let the company focus on the parts of IE that are actually strategic to the company (i.e., ahem, the OS interaction bits and user-focused UI) and stop wasting time and money developing something (the web-rendering engine) that isn't important to the company and is, frankly, being out-engineered by the competition anyway. Think about it. Microsoft just abandoned IE in one of the biggest markets on Earth. It just doesn't make any sense, unless what they gave away simply isn't important to them anymore. And that's my theory.

The True Measure of Windows 7's Success: Fewer Help Desk Calls
There are many ways to measure how successful Windows 7 has been for Microsoft: the universally positive reviews, the user excitement, the upswell in PC sales, the market-share gains … it goes on and on. But if you're looking for the true measure of Windows 7's success, consider this: Support calls to Microsoft's call centers are down dramatically in the wake of Windows 7's release, and much more so than even Microsoft expected. "We are finding our call center volume is down significantly more than we expected," said Microsoft VP Barbara Gordon. And although some of that call-volume drop-off is due to self-help options in both the OS itself and online, much of it is due to the fact that Windows 7 is simply easier to use and less problem-plagued than its predecessors. With all the extra time on their hands, maybe the Microsoft Help desk people can help Apple fix problems with Snow Leopard and the new iMac.

Report: iPhone Usage Overtakes That of Windows Mobile in the United States
According to market research firm comScore (whom I tend to trust a lot less than, say, NPD), Apple's iPhone has surpassed Windows Mobile to become the second-most-often-used smart phone in the United States market, behind Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry. The firm says that 40 percent of smart phones in use (or 15 million devices) in the United States run on BlackBerry, compared with 25 percent for the iPhone, which has almost 9 million US-based users. Meanwhile, 7.1 million people are stuck with Windows Mobile. What's most interesting about these statistics is that the iPhone and Windows Mobile were neck-and-neck as recently as July, when they both accounted for about 6.6 million users. Meanwhile, the up-and-coming Google Android system accounts for just 3.5 percent of US-based smart phones, but that number is up sharply from a year ago. Which makes sense, since the first Android phone came out a year ago.

Microsoft Apologizes for Plurk Code Theft, and Plurk Threatens to Sue
It's like poking a tiger with a stick and then trying to explain it all away as a joke. After a Microsoft subsidiary in China posted a third-party-created web service that was very clearly stolen from a social networking site called Plurk, Microsoft found itself in some hot water. The software giant responded by pulling the service immediately and apologizing to Plurk. But that might not be enough: Plurk is now threatening to sue Microsoft. "This event wasn't just a simple matter of merely lifting code," Plurk Cofounder Alvin Woon said this week. "Due to the nature of the uniqueness of our product and user interface, it took a good amount of deliberate studying and digging through our code with the full intention of replicating our product user experience, functionality, and end results. This product was later launched and heavily promoted by Microsoft with its big marketing budget." I'm not normally a fan of the "sue 'em and let God sort 'em out" approach (see below), but in this case, it's totally warranted.

Company Sues Microsoft over Bing Name
A small Missouri company named Bing Information Design sued Microsoft this week for alleged trademark infringement and unfair competition, citing the software giant's Bing branding in its search engine. Bing Information Design, of course, isn't a search engine but instead offers computer-based graphics and illustrations. Ironically, when you search for "Bing Information Design" on the Bing service, the Bing Information Design website is the first link, so I'm not sure what the problem is here. Oh, right. Microsoft has $137 gajillion dollars and we live in America, so it's fair game to sue at the drop of a hat. I bet any settlement will garner this company more money that it would make over the rest of its existence. I'm sure Bing and Bing Information Design get confused all the time.

Stupid Web Theory of the Week, Part 1
Every day, I wake up and hop online to see what's going on in the world. And every day, I'm disappointed by the stupidity I see. Case in point: A theory foisted by the ever-less-credible PC World that Microsoft and Apple will "team up" and fight Google together. Yeah, that's going to happen. The theory here is simple (i.e., "my enemy's enemy is my friend") but flawed, since Apple and Microsoft are enemies too. Oh, and Apple is run by one of the most vindictive jerks in the history of the tech industry. (Yeah, yeah. Visionary. Seer. Marketing genius. All that. But a jerk, as well. I mean, seriously.) And if you think this guy is going to go running back to Microsoft—again—to save his company, well, that's just humorous. For Apple, the humble days are over. I mean, this is a company that made ads making fun of Vista's User Account Control (UAC) feature without mentioning that its own OS had this feature five years earlier (and still does). Think about it. Just for a second. And then laugh and get on with life.

Stupid Web Theory of the Week, Part 2
Not coincidentally, this theory also involves Apple because, let's face it, when it comes to Apple, reality just explodes in an orgasm of reality distortion. When Apple recently announced a new generation of iMac computers with a high-end version featuring a 27" screen and a super-fast 3.06GHz processor (or, optionally, a quad-core processor), Mac fanatics started injuring themselves high-fiving each other. But as is so often the case with this rush-to-market-fix-the-bugs-later company, Apple's high-end iMac had problems: cracked screens on delivery, failures to boot—you know, Snow Leopard-level problems. So Apple started delaying iMac orders so that could actually fix the problems before customers got them (sort of like airplanes pulling back from the gate early so that they can claim better on-time departures). And what's the spin on this one? Did Mac fans suddenly realize Apple wasn't infallible? Hold on to your hats, folks, because this one is priceless: They claimed that the iMac was so successful that Apple simply couldn't make them fast enough to satisfy demand. I'm sure that's exactly what it is. Folks, pass the Kool-Aid.

Microsoft Releases Broken Twitter App for Zune HD, and No One Notices
I'm becoming increasingly less enchanted with Microsoft's attempts to create an even more closed version of the iPod in its Zune HD player, and this week's release of a Twitter app for the device—a release that virtually no one noticed, by the way—is a good example of why. As originally released, the Zune HD Twitter app actually censored Twitter posts, or "tweets," abbreviating swears and slurs, and otherwise trampling all over users' free speech rights. Here's how Microsoft explained it: "The recently released Twitter for Zune HD application has been abbreviating some explicit words in tweets when viewed on the device; however, these explicit words do appear in their full text on the Twitter site or on any other Twitter client. We have identified the issue and are taking steps to update the application as soon as possible to ensure Twitter for Zune HD users are able to view tweets in their original state." I'm going to go out on a limb here and surmise that a mysterious third-party contractor is responsible for this silliness. But as someone who spends a lot of time on Xbox Live, I also have to wonder how it's possible that users of a service populated with millions of people can easily put swear words into their Xbox 360 gamertags, and yet obscuring them on the Zune HD—which no one uses—is somehow automatic and, apparently, effective. Sometimes I just don't get this company and its priorities.