An irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Microsoft, Intel to Expand into Mobile Phones
Hoping to grab huge chunks of the cell phone market from Nokia, Microsoft and Intel have teamed up to create a reference design for next-generation phones based on Pocket PC technology. While the idea of the "Wintel" duopoly moving into new markets brings instant comparisons to such TV spin-offs as The Brady Bunch Variety Hour and Jonie Loves Chachi, I could see this partnership succeeding. After all, both Intel and Microsoft have had all kinds of success in markets unrelated to their core strengths... oh wait.
Microsoft Eyes Storage Market, Onlookers Confused
And speaking of Microsoft moving into new markets, the company revealed this week that it will soon begin selling enterprise class data storage software, a market now controlled by Microsoft partner EMC. As EMC is now learning, Microsoft tends to feed from those markets that are most successful for its partners and the end result is usually a buyout or the utter destruction of that partner (it's unclear how Microsoft's proposed settlement will handle this activity going forward, but if I understand things, EMC will probably have to sign a waiver allowing Microsoft to steal this market). Like most Microsoft partners faced with such a sudden role reversal, EMC has put on a brave face. "Will we compete on some fronts? Most probably yes," said EMC executive Don Swatik in an interview with the Boston Globe this week. "But we will partner, certainly, as well going forward. Overall, I'd forecast it as being a positive relationship." Sure it is Don, sure it is.
Microsoft: No HomeStation for You
Microsoft took the odd step this week of denying reports that they're working on an Xbox follow-up called the HomeStation. The HomeStation would basically combine the gaming features from an Xbox with the Digital Video Recording (DVR) functionality from Ultimate TV. "There is no thing called the HomeStation product or initiative," a Microsoft spokesperson said. Don't take that as a denial, however. Regardless of what she said, Microsoft is indeed working on a combination Xbox/Ultimate TV device, and it will see the light of day by the end of the year. Two clues that it's happening: All of the Ultimate TV hardware guys are now working on the next Xbox, and when I spoke with a representative of the Ultimate TV team last month, he confirmed that this was the plan. So the only truth we can gleam from this denial is that the device won't be called HomeStation.
Microsoft Launches Xbox in Japan
And speaking of the Xbox, Microsoft launched the device this week in Japan, a market that hasn't welcome American video game technology since Mork and Mindy was still airing new episodes (and no, I have no idea why I'm so fixated on old TV shows this week). But Japan is crucial to the success of the Xbox because it represents one-third of the worldwide video game market, so Microsoft has made some concessions in hopes of gaining a foothold there. First, Japan is the only market to have different hand controllers: The Japanese controllers are much smaller than other versions, in deference to Japanese needs. Also, Microsoft has agreed not to market itself as "Silly Bully Company" as it does in other parts of the world.
Laptop Hard Drives Rev Up to 5400 RPM
Laptops have historically been an exercise in compromise, since price, heat and power issues forced PC makers to generally use less-than-top-notch components across the board. But in recent years, the situation has improved dramatically, and it's now possible to buy a spankin' game-playing mobile masterpiece that rivals even some desktop systems. One of weakest links for laptops, however, is hard drives, which generally run at 4200 RPM, a far cry from the 5400 RPM budget desktop hard drives and 7200 RPM mainstream models we now come to expect. But that all changed this week when IBM and Toshiba separately announced new 5400 RPM hard drives for the mobile market, meaning your next PC just might be a laptop. After all, how else are you going to watch streaming video clips of Laverne & Shirley from the bathroom?
Pocket PC Gets Real
Actually, one way you could probably do it is with a Pocket PC, thanks to this week's announcement that Real Networks will port its wireless audio and video streaming software to Microsoft's mobile platform. Real, which is best known for its insidious PC infiltration system dubbed RealOne (which also apparently plays audio and video), says that the Pocket PC platform represents a natural progression for the company. "After all," Real Networks says, "we've been trying to beat back Microsoft on the PC for years. Why not go after their mobile platform too? It's fun!"
Ricochet Stages a Comeback
The untimely demise last year of Ricochet, which offered 128 Kbps wireless Internet access in select areas of select metropolitan areas in the United States, might not spell the end of this technology. A Denver, Colorado technology entrepreneur is reportedly trying to resuscitate Metricom, the company that plied the Ricochet service, and he has some interesting plans. First, the price of the service will drop from $70 a month to about $40-50. Then, the new company will work with local providers to bolster its somewhat disperse network. And finally, the company will just go out of business again, stranding the seven people silly enough to think this thing is going to fly. Here's the thing: Nationwide wireless broadband will never work until a major national network provider decides that there's a market.
Corel Finally Abandons Linux Market
Months after it sold off its moribund Linux distribution to Xandros, Corel officially pulled the plug on all Linux and Open Source development this week. "There is no Linux strategy moving forward," said Dave McKeen, Corel VP of Corporate Affairs. I'm not sure how I feel about this: Corel made a cool, user-friendly Linux distribution back when such a thing was very uncommon, and it made lots of headway porting crucial end-user applications like WordPerfect and CorelDRAW to Linux. But I think Corel was bitten by the Catch-22 of Linux, which is that people love to download the stuff for free, but no one using Linux wants to pay for anything. So Corel learned the hard way that you can't make money giving away products, even in volume.
Lindows Fights Back
And speaking of Linux, the makers of the new Linux distribution called Lindows say they're reading to fight Microsoft's trademark infringement suit, and they've got some interesting backers. Lindows was sued because Microsoft says the company's product name will confuse consumers, who might assume that Lindows is a Microsoft product. Not so, the company says: Unlike Windows, Lindows never crashes and is less prone to security hacks. But seriously folks, even industry bigwigs like John Dvorack are supporting Lindows, and I have to think that Microsoft's suit will be thrown out. And that Lindows will die the quick death it so richly deserves: Trust me, we don't need yet another Linux distribution.
Microsoft Says It Will Work With, Not Join, Liberty Alliance
Microsoft says that it will work to make its Passport service interoperate with the upcoming Internet authentication and single sign-on technology from the Sun-backed Liberty Alliance, but will not join the group. The Liberty Alliance includes some of Microsoft's biggest rivals, yes, but it also includes many of the company's biggest partners, and it's clear that Microsoft is feeling the heat. The company has backpedaled on its Passport plans several times already, and I suspect that the Liberty Alliance's greatest contribution might ultimately be to cause Microsoft to open up Passport much more than it would have otherwise. And this is, as we say, a Good Thing.
Japanese PC Makers Back Microsoft Mira
The Japanese might not be interested in Xbox, but they sure do love Mira, Microsoft's remote display technology. Several Japanese PC makers--including NEC, Fujitsu, Matsushita Electric, and Sotec--announced this week that they would adopt Mira technology for their PCs, turning flat panel displays into portable devices with touchpad capabilities. Detachable Mira display panels communicate with the PC using Wi-Fi (802.11b), allowing users to walk around a home or office and still use the PC back at their desk. This, too, is of course a solution to the Laverne & Shirley problem noted above.
Business Week: Apple Stores a Disaster
Even Business Week's Apple guru agrees that Apple Computer's retail stores have proven to be a costly mistake for the company. Despite large crowds a most locations, the stores are only selling 1 percent of all customers to buy Macs, and most of those people are existing Mac users, not Windows users. So 800,000 people passed through the stores in December as Apple claimed, it was able to sell about 1000 Macs--almost solely to previous Mac owners. This does nothing to move the company beyond its core audience, as I've often griped, a huge problem for the company. But consider the up-tick: According to a recent study, if Apple was somehow able to convince 1 percent more customers to buy Macs--and preferably these people would be non-Apple users to begin with--the company could raise its market share from 4 percent to 6.5 percent in the U.S. How will it do this, you ask? Hire Frank Stallone to do its advertising, of course.