An irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including...
Microsoft Begins Palladium Campaign
With the revelation last weekend that Microsoft was working to overhaul PC security with a new platform called Palladium, the company is now facing its biggest problem: Overcoming public perception. If my feedback is any indication (and let's put this in perspective: these are Windows users we're talking about, not Linux advocates or Mac sycophants), Microsoft has a tough road ahead of it. Virtually no one trusts the company to deliver on this thing, mostly because of its abysmal security record to date, and the Big Brother overtones are almost deafening. And here's a sobering thought: The one thing that might finally kill Palladium will be the eventual advertising Microsoft uses to spread the word. Think back to the company's last two ad spots ("Business agility" and "1 Degree of Separation") to see what I mean. What, you don't remember those ad campaigns or what they were trying to sell? Well, then you DO see what I mean.
So What's the Deal with Office 11?
Microsoft introduced Office 11 at TECHXNY this week, but the details are still relatively vague. Here's what we know: Office 11 will ship before mid-2003, probably in May. It will feature deeper XML hooks than previous versions, though Microsoft sold XML as a feature of both Office 2000 and XP. The Outlook client has been change to a vertically-formatted UI layout, compared to today's horizontal layout; this lets you view the body of email messages in a portrait-like panel on the right of the UI that resembles a sheet of paper. Microsoft is going to push online data storage harder with this release, which will probably take the form of some type of SharePoint-based My Documents Online (or My Remote Documents) feature. And ... well, that's about it. Like last year's Office v. X rollout of Mac OS X, Microsoft plans to introduce new features in its next Windows Office suite over time. So we can expect more details--and Beta 1--by the end of the summer.
Major Windows Media Player Vulnerability Found
Is it safe? With Microsoft products, alas, the answer is often no. This week, the company revealed a "critical" security vulnerability in its Windows Media Player product, which affects versions 6.4, 7.x, and 8.0 (aka Media Player for Windows XP). Nice to see them supporting older products for once, but this begs the question: Why the heck can a media player bug let hackers take over your entire system? Maybe this Palladium rearchitecture isn't such a bad idea. You can download the patch for this problem at the Microsoft Web site and, like Microsoft, I recommend you do so ASAP.
Microsoft to China: OK, Pirate Software, but Make Sure it's Windows
OK, so I think its common knowledge that China is, perhaps, the largest state-run piracy ring on the planet Earth. But it's also the largest potential market for growth, so if you're, say, a software giant that already controls the market in the rest of the world, China might be a place you're interested in. With that in mind, Microsoft revealed this week that it would invest $750 million in China over the next three years, in an effort to better understand the Chinese market, bolster its exposure in schools and universities there, and set up a software college in Shanghai. Given the massive successes that open source solutions like Linux have experienced in China--which, again, isn't particularly interested in actually paying for software, Microsoft might have a tough sell on its hands.
Hey Gustav. Yeah, I Like the Mac
It's the good old days all over again: Paul writes a short blurb about Apple Computer that portrays the company in a realistic, if less than flattering, light; Apple fans post link to story; Paul gets spammed by pro-Apple sycophants eager to shut down anyone who dares to criticize their favorite company. People, get a life. Nothing I wrote about the Apple Switchers last week is incorrect. But most importantly, I think many people--shall we say certain people with rainbow-colored perspectives--misunderstand my point in writing about Apple and its products. So here it goes. I like Apple Computer. I like Macs. I own a Mac, and unlike certain so-called journalists that field test a Mac for 30 days and then forget it ever happened, I've been using an iBook, daily, since last summer. So why do I bother writing about the Mac? Most Windows users (and journalists) seems to ignore the rest of the computing market, even though there are lots of important developments out there that will some day affect Windows as well (And this applies to my Linux coverage as well). Perhaps as importantly, there is way too much pro-Apple press out there (think compromised publications like Time, Newsweek, WSJ, LA Times, Washington Post, and so on), which seems oblivious to anything beyond the PR information that Cupertino feeds them. I'd like to present a more balanced view of what's really going on, because people will read other articles and foolishly believe that there was any real research behind them. So here's the deal: Apple makes good stuff, and I like a lot of what the company does. I'm a customer. And I want them to succeed, I really do. I just want them--and their fans--to be honest about what they're doing, what the real performance and usage issues are, and where Apple really fits into the grand scheme of thing. Yeah, that's the whole conspiracy. Nuts, isn't it?
XScale-based Pocket PCs Don't Scale
So Microsoft's aging Pocket PC hardware platform was finally upgraded from the 206 MHz processors they've had for over two years to a 400 MHz StrongARM processor, leading many Pocket PC users expect that they would experience a huge performance increase if they moved to the new systems. Makes sense, right? Well, that's not what happened: In fact, users with the new hardware are reporting that the performance is the same as, or in some cases even less than, what they experienced with the previous hardware. What's really wrong with this picture, however, is Microsoft's response, since the company should have admitted the problem before devices were revealed. Intel, which makes the hardware, says that the advantage of XScale is that it has headroom to grow, so future versions will be even faster. Presumably, there'll be some software around by then that will take advantage of the speed increase.
Xbox Modders Mysteriously Disappearing
Hey guys, let me know if you find Jimmy Hoffa. The Xbox mod world--which consists of hardware hacks you can solder onto your Xbox motherboard--is shrinking, despite recent successes in pirating Xbox games and creating smaller and simpler hardware hacks. Why is this? Apparently, Microsoft is going after anyone posting information about hacking the Xbox, and the company recently caused a high-profile Xbox mod called MAME to shut down. Another site, Enigmah-X, which touted an Xbox mod chip, left the Web this week with the following short note: "After speaking to lawyers we feel that we must not do this project anymore. There are many other chips and methods for guys to play with anyway so have fun and good luck to everyone out there." Will the last standing Xbox modder please raise his hand? Microsoft's lawyers are looking for something to do.
Sun Backs WS-Security
After a bizarre spat in which the company refused to sign up because it couldn't be listed as a founder, Sun Microsystems has finally backed the Web services security initiative called WS-Security, joining Microsoft, IBM, VeriSign and others in submitting the specification to a standards body for ratification as an open standard. Sun had been working up its own Web security standard, which I'm sure it would have handled as adroitly as it did with the Java standardization process, but agreed to back WS-Security when it discovered that the budding spec was royalty-free. It's nice to see the big boys getting along. Maybe now they can work on Java-.NET interoperability.
Tablet PC Reviews Mixed, but Users Don't Care
It's like a STAR WARS movie: No matter how mixed the reviews are, the customers are lined up, ready and waiting. But like the oft-reviled Episode I, I'm expected a few die-hard fans to be somewhat disappointed by the reality of the Tablet PC, which offers a brilliant screen and huge software advances, but poor handwriting recognition and a completely brain-dead interoperability/file sharing story. No matter: If feedback to my Tablet PC review is any indication, people want a tablet, and they want it now. Whether the buzz will withstand real-world use is unclear, but my responses have been overwhelming in favor of the device, which could see big usage in schools, the legal world, and other places writing would be better than type.
Wacom Tablet Users: No Tablet PC for You!
And speaking of the Tablet PC, a lot of readers have asked me if Microsoft has any plans to port its Tablet PC software to existing pen interfaces, such as Wacom tablets. The answer is no, they don't, and I actually think their reasoning behind this decision makes sense. The problem with Wacom tablets and other similar devices is that you are drawing on one surface (the tablet) while watching the output on another (the screen). This separation--and the resulting hand-eye coordination it requires--makes the experience very different from writing with paper and pen. The Tablet PC, however, was designed to perfectly emulate the paper and pen experience, so what you write appears exactly where you write it, at the tip of the pen. The Tablet PC is very much about bringing this paper and pen experience to PC users, and you just won't get that with a Wacom tablet, sorry.
Microsoft Updates Producer Tool for Web-based Movies
Microsoft's excellent Producer tool (think "what the next version of Movie Maker will look like) was recently updated to version 1.1, giving users improved support for complicated Web presentations and new captioning capabilities. Microsoft Producer is a free add-on for PowerPoint 2002 and Office XP users, and it provides advanced video capture, editing, and Web publishing capabilities. For more information and the free download, please visit the Microsoft Web site.
PC Expo Gets No Respect
This week's PC Expo--excuse me, TECHXNY, was the worst ever, with an ever-shrinking show floor and the most muggy and oppressive weather New York has to offer. Even with a few add-on shows focused on recordable DVD and other unrelated topics, the Jacob Javitts Center was less than half full, and its probably only going to get worse in the future. In a final nail in the coffin move, show organizers have booted PC Expo out of its plum June timeslot for 2003, replacing it with the first US version of the CeBIT tradeshow, whose long-running European version is the largest computer tradeshow in the world. So the 2003 edition of PC Expo--if it even happens--will be held in September 2003 instead. My bet is that we've seen this end of this once-cool event.