An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including Vista Beta 2 (again), Windows Defender, Bill Gates and spam, Microsoft revenues, Microsoft's iPod competitor, AMD market share, iWork sales baloney, Google, and much more...
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After an unexpectedly warm winter, we finally got a few days of snow this week and a return to the blustery conditions one would expect of January in New England. But to go this far into the winter without a serious walloping is unusual; the past three winters have been devastating here. The lack of snow has ruined our normal skiing schedule; in fact, we haven't skied at all this season. But I'll take a mild winter over skiing any time.
I had two interesting Microsoft meetings here in Boston this week, but I can't discuss the details. Let's just say that you should check the SuperSite for Windows late tonight and early next week for some major updates. Although it seems like Microsoft has been taking its time with various products, it's all starting to come together now. Stay tuned.
I want to catch up on some new Xbox 360 reviews. I think "GUN" and "Perfect Dark Zero" are the next two candidates, or perhaps a roundup of the available sports titles, although I find myself drawn back into Call of Duty 2. It's a fantastic game! Even though I completed the game back in November, I selected the "Normal" difficulty level, so I didn't get many Achievement points (most awards require you to finish each level on the Hardened or Veteran difficulty levels). So now I'm replaying the game on the "Veteran" difficulty level, with the help of my son, who can't bear to just sit and watch me play. We've already finished the Russian segment of the game and just started the British segment. It's a great, great game. Highly recommended.
InfoWorld Gets Source Wrong, but Vista Beta 2 is Indeed Due in April
This week, "InfoWorld" incorrectly credited Steve Bink with revealing that Microsoft plans to ship Windows Vista Beta 2 in April. WinInfo readers will recall that I wrote about this topic a week ago (it's in last week's WinInfo Short Takes and has been on the "Releases I'm Tracking" list on the front page of the SuperSite since the middle of last week). In any event, as I wrote here last week, we can also expect a new Windows Vista Community Technology Preview (CTP) build in mid-February. The developers surpassed the build 5300 milestone a week ago and were up to build 5306 on Wednesday. Probably a more recent build will be forked for the February CTP code tree.
Windows Defender Beta 2 Coming Soon
I get a surprising amount of email asking why Microsoft hasn't yet shipped a Beta 2 version of Windows Defender (formerly known as Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware), for Windows XP. You may recall that Microsoft purchased GIANT Company Software in December 2004 then issued a Beta 1 version of what was then called Windows AntiSpyware in January 2005. Since then, Microsoft has released spyware definition updates, but not much else. Microsoft tells me that it has been busy rearchitecting the product--I found out this week that the original was written in Visual Basic--and working to integrate it with Vista. However, that work is just about complete, and we should see Beta 2 soon. The new beta version will resemble strongly the Windows Defender client that was in the Vista December 2005 CTP. Microsoft still expects to ship the final version of Windows Defender for pre-Vista Windows versions sometime in 2006.
Whatever Happened to That Promise About Spam, Mr. Gates?
Todd Bishop of the "Seattle Post-Intelligencer" has an appropriate question for Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates: Why are we still dealing with spam? Bishop takes Gates to task for a January 2003 promise that spam would be solved within "two years," and notes that, as of now, that promise is unfulfilled. Although I look forward to Gates's semi-humorous comment about this statement at his next keynote, Bishop is correct in raising this concern. Gates got a lot of press for his comments 2 years ago. But what really rankles me is Microsoft's reaction to Bishop's question. "'To "solve" the problem for consumers in the short run doesn't require eliminating spam entirely,' said Ryan Hamlin, the general manager who oversees the company's antispam programs," Bishop writes. "'Rather,' he said, 'the idea is to contain it to the point that its impact on Inboxes is minor.'" Baloney, I say. Baloney. Spam is just as bad now as it ever was, maybe worse. More to the point, Microsoft doesn't even have technology in the works that will solve this problem for consumers: The company's upcoming Windows OneCare Live service, for example, doesn't include email spam filtering.
Microsoft Reports Record Revenues Despite Low Xbox 360 Console Sales
So Microsoft announced record revenues yesterday for the quarter ending December 31, 2005. The company earned $3.65 billion on revenues of $11.96 billion, which sounds pretty good. But the earnings would have looked a lot prettier if Microsoft hadn't released the Xbox 360 in fourth quarter 2005. The Xbox division lost $293 million, and Microsoft shipped just 1.5 million Xbox 360 consoles worldwide during the quarter, far lower than its estimate of 3 million units. The problem? Parts were in short supply during the holidays. Microsoft has since added a third console manufacturer to catch up with demand. I've got bad news, guys: If you can't catch up now, the game might be over, and all that excitement about the launch will turn into consumer ambivalence when Sony PlayStation 3 ships this year.
Yes, Microsoft Is Considering Becoming an iPod Competitor
I can confirm reports that Microsoft has been building a potential iPod competitor in house, and I've discussed this product with various people in Redmond since last summer. However, it's not clear whether Microsoft should release such a device. To date, most of the iPod competitors from Microsoft partners have been lackluster, and certainly none of them match the coolness factor of Apple's offerings. But here's the problem: If Microsoft ships a product that's less interesting than the iPod, the company will have effectively hammered the last nail into the coffin of its Windows Media technologies and erased any chance that such a format will succeed in the future. In other words, a Microsoft iPod competitor would have to be perfect. To date, Microsoft has been shopping its work around to partners in a bid to give them ideas about how they might better compete with Apple, but it hasn't yet decided to get in the game. My advice is to hold off.
Microsoft Might Be Considering a Handheld Game System
One rumor I can't confirm is that Microsoft is also working on a handheld Xbox game system that would compete with the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) and Nintendo Game Boy and Dual Screen (DS) systems. That said, I've often imagined what such a device might look like. Picture, if you will, a standard Xbox 360 controller (or the original Xbox S controller) with a small LCD screen mounted near the top (or even a pair of those wrap-around glasses that includes a screen replacement). In the back of the controller would be a mini-DVD slot for the games, which would be technically as good as those for the original Xbox. Such a system would sell in the millions, and I'd be first in line to buy one, especially if versions of Halo were available. I see images of wireless death matches here, people. Let's get this thing done.
AMD Drops Prices, Raises Market Share
This week, microprocessor maker AMD lowered the prices of its dual-core desktop and Turion mobile chips to better compete with Intel's pricing schemes. The price cuts come at a good time: AMD recently jumped to more than 20 percent market share, with 21.4 percent of the market for combined microprocessor sales (desktop, server, and mobile)--its best showing in years. AMD's surge can be credited to two factors: One, the company makes much better desktop and server chips than does Intel (though AMD's chips lag a bit in quality in the mobile area). And two, major PC makers such as HP are now shipping a wide range of AMD-based PCs, which compete head-on with similar models featuring Intel chips. It's amazing what can happen when you give superior technology a chance, eh?
iWork Beats Out Corel? It's a Lie--Don't Believe it
There were insane--I mean literally insane--reports this week that the patently pathetic Apple iWork "office productivity suite" had somehow secured the number two sales spot behind Microsoft Office, acing out more credible contenders such as Corel WordPerfect Office and Sun Microsystems StarOffice. It's a wonderful story, but for one thing: It's complete hogwash. According to sales figures to date, Apple sold just 50,000 copies of iWork last year, and those were all retail sales. Corel sold that many copies of WordPerfect Office to just the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2005, and its total 2005 sales were in the millions. I spoke with a Corel representative this week and learned that the company picked up "millions" of new customers in 2005. These users didn't just get the product bundled with a new PC--they were actually using it. The company claims to basically own the non-Microsoft Office portion of the office productivity market, a market in which iWork isn't even a factor. The point of all this? Everyone gets duped sometimes. And this week it was anyone who believed that iWork was actually selling well. It isn't.
Google Cofounders Keep $1 Salaries
Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and CEO Eric Schmidt will keep their $1 annual salaries this year, in what seems a transparent attempt to look as cool as Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who also makes a big deal out of his ostensible $1 a year salary. But don't pass the collection plate around just yet. Each of these lovable losers is, in fact, worth billions. Brin and Page are worth $7.2 billion each, thanks to Google's soaring stock price, although Schmidt is worth a relatively paltry $2.8 billion. As for Jobs, what with Disney's purchase of Pixar this week, it appears that he's suddenly the true King of All Media. I think his place in the "I'm better than you" sweepstakes is pretty much assured at this point.
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Kama Sutra Due Next Week--No, Not the Good One
And finally, I'll attempt to have a little fun with something that is a) not funny and b) likely to cause this newsletter to end up in your Junk Mail folder. Next week, on February 3, a new virus called Nyxem.E is expected to begin propagating over the Internet. Email messages bearing the virus mention the Kama Sutra, the ancient Sanskrit book that describes various sexual positions and has inspired some really bad Bollywood movies. In any event, Nyxem.E is pretty serious: If you're infected, the virus will attempt to delete all of the Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe Acrobat PDF files on your system, then spread to other PCs. So keep your antivirus definitions up-to-date, and be ready for an email slowdown next week as the unprepared find out about this attack the hard way.