An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the weak reach of Microsoft's cutbacks, a renewed interest in Yahoo's search business, IE 8 RC, the merging of Windows Live and Office Live, an SEC Apple probe, and much, much more...
After two straight weeks of travel, I've finally been able to catch up on sleep, and I should now be home for a few weeks at least. On Sunday, I took the Amtrak back to Boston from Washington D.C. That trip is usually quite enjoyable, but a power outage near New York delayed things, and my leisurely train ride turned into a 12-hour door-to-door odyssey that I'd rather just forget. The one highlight: When we pulled into Philadelphia, we sidled up next to the train president Obama rode to D.C. in the day before. Nice!
Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday. This week, he sent me a new Heil PR40 microphone with a bunch of other do-dads, so the sound quality should be significantly better than before. The podcast will be made available on the normal schedule by the end of the weekend as always, and this time I may actually listen in for a bit to see if the new mic makes a different.
But wait, there more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed, and the SuperSite Blog.
Microsoft cuts not as deep as reported; In fact, they're not cuts at all
Wall Street and the tech industry acted with shock and awe as Microsoft announced plans to layoff up to 5000 employees over 18 months and trim operating expenses. Too bad neither is actually happening. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal today, Microsoft's "cuts" are hardly deep and, if you look closely enough, what you discover is that the software giant isn't really doing much at all to address the very real problems it faces. First, the layoffs: While Microsoft has said it will lay off "up to" 5000 employees over 18 months, the company also revealed that it plans to add "a couple of thousand" new Internet search employees this year, dropping the actual number of employees lost by about half. But let's say Microsoft is laying off 5000 people: That number represents just 5 percent of its workforce, and drops the number of employees the company has to the level it was at in June 2008. And the company is still hiring: It general and administrative head count grew 6 percent in the previous quarter, while sales and marketing grew 4 percent. And then there's the operating expenses: Microsoft said that its layoffs would save $1.5 billion in operating expenses. But its budget for the current fiscal year is 10 percent higher than the previous year, almost completely wiping out those savings. The conclusion? "It may be that Microsoft simply doesn't know how to control costs," The Wall Street Journal says. And apparently the software giant agrees. "We're not used to down markets," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Thursday. Yikes.
Ballmer: Yes, we're still interested in Yahoo!'s search business
And just so we're clear about where Microsoft stands on increasingly headcount, Ballmer said this week that he was still interested in consummating a deal for Yahoo!'s search business, a deal that may be all the more important given the software giant's recent ills with its traditional Windows and Office businesses. "We would like to do \[a deal for Yahoo's search business\]," Ballmer admitted during a conference call this week to discuss his company's recent quarter. As noted above, Microsoft expects to hire "a few thousand" new employees for Internet search in the coming year regardless of any Yahoo! deal. One can only imagine how many employees Microsoft would actually add if the Yahoo! deal does happen, as is now widely expected. So much for the 5000 layoffs.
Here comes the Internet Explorer 8 Release Candidate
According to a recent post in the Internet Explorer blog, Microsoft will soon ship a release candidate (RC) version of Internet Explorer 8. This RC will include far better Web site compatibility than the version the company shipped a few months back and, according to the blog, better compatibility even than the IE 8 version that shipped in the recent Windows 7 Beta. In other words, if you're looking for the most recent version of the browser, you're going to have to test it on Windows XP or Vista. There's no word yet on an exact release date for the RC.
Microsoft merging Windows Live and Office Live?
ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley was the first to report that Microsoft plans to merge its Windows Live and Office Live services as part of a coming "Wave 4" release of its online services. (Wave 3 is just about completed with the recent release of Windows Live Essentials and Windows Live services Wave 3.) This combined set of services (hopefully just called Microsoft LIVE or similar) will happen around the same time as Office 14, which is currently slated for a late 2008/early 2009 release. And yes, Microsoft has confirmed it: "To simplify and improve the customer experience around its Live services, Microsoft made the decision to converge Windows Live and Office Live into an integrated set of services at one single destination," the company notes. Sounds like a plan.
SEC launches probe of Apple, Steve Jobs
Apple's insane secretive policies have apparently finally caught up with it: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) this week launched a probe into the company's disclosures about its CEO Steve Jobs' health. The probe was launched after Apple spent several months not disclosing to investors that Jobs was suffering from a serious illness that caused him to rapidly lose weight, suddenly announced that he was suffering from nothing serious, and then, less than a week later, announced that Jobs' problem was indeed much more serious than previously revealed, causing the CEO to take the next six months off from work. Jobs, a cancer survivor, is more closely tied to his company's recent successes than is typical for CEOs and his health is in fact a required and regulated disclosure for the company. That Apple has described Jobs' issues at times as "a common bug" and "a hormonal imbalance," when neither explanation was, in fact, the truth, is of course a problem. And no, Apple fanatics, there is no exception for personal privacy at all, so feel free to get off of that particular high horse. So is this securities fraud? That's unclear. One scenario is that Jobs lied to Apple's board of directors and thus to the world, which take put Apple off the put. Or perhaps Jobs was very candid about his issues and Apple, as a corporate entity, chose to misstate his condition repeatedly. Did he or they do this recklessly to mislead the public? Yes, I think one or more parties at Apple clearly did this, intentionally and repeatedly. But who cares what I think? The SEC will come to its own conclusions.
New computer worm worst since Slammer
A new electronic attack has been described by security researchers as "the worst since \[2003's\] Slammer worm," and "a digital Pearl Harbor." (Yes, really.) Given the hyperbole, we must assume this one is serious. Here's what we know so far. A worm known alternatively as Conficker and Downandup has been making its way rapidly around the world, using a recently revealed (and patched) Windows vulnerability to do its thing. The worm is creating a network of botnets which could be used to then spread further malware, steal personal information, and the like. So what can we do about this? So far, not much. But what's really alarming is that the bug this worm is exploiting was patched back in October. So how is it that an estimated 30 million PCs worldwide are now silently infected? More as it comes in...
Google beats financial forecasts but growth slows
Internet search giant posted strong financial results for its most recent quarter thanks to the resilience of its paid search business. The company earned $382 million on revenues of $5.7 billion, including a one-time of $1.1 billion for the declining value of its investments in AOL Time Warner and Clearwire. Google, like most other high tech companies, is struggling a bit, but the company has done a good job of tightening expenses and handling slower growth. It's also launched a plan to retain employees who might be disheartened by Google's ongoing share price decreases: It will allow employees to exchange their existing stock options for ones with a lower exercise price, the price at which they can exchange stock into cash. (Google's stock is down 60 percent from its November 2007 high.)
Sony spinning into the toilet. What went wrong?
If you think Microsoft and other high tech companies are in trouble, wait until you see what's happening at Sony. The company is poised to post a record annual operating loss of $3 billion, its first annual loss in 14 years. Sony attributes its ills to "the massive economic upheaval being experienced across the world" and "a significant deterioration" of its electronics business, which includes such thing as HDTVs, cameras, video games, and other electronic devices. While Sony is hardly alone in its troubles--Japanese electronics firms are all struggling--the depth of Sony's problems is startling and suggests that the company needs to make deep cuts in personnel and other areas in which Sony, frankly, has grown bloated and soft. Frankly, when all is said and done, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sony abandon the TV business entirely: That unit has been losing money for years, and it's not going to rebound anytime soon.
Obama keeps his Blackberry
One of the biggest concerns that president Barrack Obama had prior to move to the White House was that he would have to give up his Blackberry and instant access to his email. Well, that crisis, at least, has been averted: Thanks to a National Security Agency (NSA)-approved "super-encryption" package, Obama will be able to keep his digital extension on him at all times. However, he's only approved for email and voice, so don't expect to be receiving any SMS messages from the president anytime soon.