An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Windows 7 product edition silliness, a surprising Microsoft add-on for Firefox, new Zune hardware for 2009,a Windows Vista SP2 RC escrow, Dell's smart phone plans, and much, much more...
January is often the cruelest month and that's particularly true if you live in a northern clime as I do. Aside from the absurd amount of snow we've gotten this month, Mother Nature was nice enough to punctuate our latest snow storm on Wednesday with a few hours of freezing sleet and rain, which had the expected effect: A two inch layer of ice on top of everything. I can now glide the entire 40 feet from my car to the house, which is fun if scary, and given Dedham's inability to plow effectively, the streets are now a certified disaster area. Good times.
Due to some scheduling mishaps which are entirely my fault, Leo and I weren't able to record the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday as usual, but we're scheduled to do so Friday at 3:30 pm EST, so it should be out over the weekend as usual.
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Microsoft: Stop the Windows SKU madness
Microsoft confirmed and then went suddenly mum on its plans to release a Windows 7 product version, or SKU (pronounced "skue," stands for Stock Keeping Unit), specifically for Netbook computers, due to their low-end hardware and performance. This, of course, triggered widespread panic around the tech industry that the software giant wasn't just holding its multiple product edition strategy from Vista but actually expanding on it. Normally, I'm not one for panic attacks, but this time I think it's warranted. So I'd like to reiterate some basic points to Microsoft. One, we're in the middle of a global economic recession with no end in sight, and if you think that multiple premium versions of Windows is still the way to go, you need a wake-up call. Second, there should only be three versions of Windows 7: Home, Business, and Ultimate; that's it. (Windows 7 Home could encompass the needs of emerging markets, and Business could work for both retail and volume license purposes.) Third, because everyone seems to have forgotten this very basic fact, Windows 7 is a minor, evolutionary update to Windows Vista. In fact, it's so minor, that I'd argue that it might be given away for free to existing Vista owners and at a steep discount for all others. Yes, Windows 7 is the bee's knees, I get it. But it's not a big leap. In fact, it's got that Windows XP SP2 vibe to it: Necessary, and important, yes. But it should be free. It's the right thing to do. So, Microsoft, stop the madness. It's not too late.
Microsoft provides IE 8 feature to Firefox users
You've gotta love the competitive spirit over at Microsoft. They develop a brand new browser, Internet Explorer (IE) 8, which has approximately three major new features, features that really set it apart from the rapidly gaining competition. And then ... they give a good portion of one of those features away to the top competitor. For free. This week, Microsoft shipped a Microsoft add-on for Mozilla Firefox (yes, you read that right) that allows Firefox users to receive auto-suggestions in the browser's search box when they configure Live Search as the search provider. OK, there are probably 17 people worldwide using a combination of Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Live Search, but still. What's next? A Windows Live Toolbar for Firefox? Accelerators for Firefox? Come on.
Microsoft: New Zune hardware in 2009
Microsoft's Zune business was hit hard by the recent layoffs at the software giant, and of course that business saw a 54 percent revenue decline (a loss of $100 million) in the most recent quarter. This means that Microsoft sold something south of 500,000 Zune devices in that quarter, compared to 22.7 million iPods and 4.4 million iPhones in the same period. So how does Microsoft react to such a pathetic showing? That's right: They're renewing their investment in the Zune. The company said this week that it would ship "surprisingly" good new Zune devices sometime this year and will of course work to expand its Zune software platform beyond the PC and Zune hardware. All of which has to make one wonder: Has this company lost its mind? Look, I really, really like the Zune. But let's be honest. The market has spoken. And the only one not listening is Microsoft.
Microsoft ships Windows Vista/2008 SP2 release candidate "escrow" build
Microsoft this week shipped a "release candidate (RC) escrow build" of Windows Vista/Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2 (SP2) to a limited group of testers. What that means is that the build is a release candidate of the release candidate, if you will: If testers don't find any issues, this same build (or one very much like it) could be released next month as the actual RC to a wider audience. Microsoft is then expected to ship the final version of SP2 sometime in Q2 2009 (read: April), or just about the exact time I also expect the company to finalize Windows 7. There are no new features in the SP2 RC escrow build, but that's no big surprise: Like Windows 7, this thing has been baked for a while already.
Dell is exploring creating its own Google- and Windows Mobile-based smart phones
According to numerous reports, PC maker Dell is exploring creating its own line of smart phones and the company is working with both the Google Android and Microsoft Windows Mobile platforms. Dell could, of course, simply drop the projects and never bring a device to market--as it did last year with a Wi-Fi-based MP3 player that was quite far along in development--but hey, it's not like we're swimming in too many me-too phones now as it is. Oh, right. Dell's smart phone line will allegedly use the brand MePhone, which sounds absolutely nothing like iPhone, and could hit the market as early as September. If it does, I fully expect it to be pulled from the market as early as September 2010.
Russian prime minister turns down Dell offer for tech help
And speaking of Dell, Dell CEO Michael Dell (guess where the company got its name?) this week made an overture to Russian prime minister and Bond-villain-in-the-making Vladimir Putin to help Russia make better use of technology. Putin rebuffed the offer with his usual charm. "We don't need any help," Putin said. "We are not invalids. We do not have limited capacity." I'm guessing that was the end of that particular conversation.
Amazon backs up "best holiday season" ever claims with surprisingly strong quarterly revenues
Last month, Amazon.com once again claimed that it had just experienced its "best-ever" holiday sales season, a claim the company makes every year. But it was also able to back up that claim with better-than-expected earnings and revenues for the holiday sales quarter. Amazon posted earnings of $225 million on revenues of $6.7 billion for the quarter ending December 31, 2008, sending shares in the company skyrocketing yesterday. The blockbuster quarter comes during a period of abject misery for most of the economy, with retail giants like Best Buy and Circuit City reporting less-than-stellar results or, in the latter case, a long-expected liquidation of assets. They must be doing something right.