An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Microsoft Drops PC Gaming Peripherals
Fans of Microsoft SideWinder joysticks and gamepads will be sad to hear that the company is halting development of these PC-based products to concentrate on the Xbox and peripherals for that system. Although I appreciate Microsoft's support for the Xbox (sort of), I also feel compelled to mention that the PC gamer market is about 100 times larger than the Xbox market, so I'm curious why the company made such a bone-headed move. It seems to me that Microsoft should have ported all its Xbox controllers to the PC so that people could get used to them and feel more at home with the Xbox. Microsoft says it's dropping the products because they aren't selling well, but those poor sales have more to do with the low quality of the company's recent hardware releases than anything else. Back when Microsoft actually cared about the products, the company released innovative joysticks with force-feedback features and a gamepad you moved in 3-D space to guide onscreen characters. Today's SideWinder peripherals are cheap plastic junk by comparison. Where's the competitive Microsoft we've come to know and love?
Notebook Sales Surge, Pass Desktops for First Time
And no, Apple had nothing to do with it. In May, sales of notebook computers surpassed sales of desktop computers for the first time ever, thanks to strong sales and aggressive pricing from Dell, Gateway, and Hewlett-Packard (HP). Notebooks accounted for about 54 percent of all PC sales that month, according to market research firm NPD Group, compared with less than 25 percent 3 years ago. Price was a huge differentiator; you can now buy a fully equipped PC notebook for less than $1300, an enormous change from only a year ago, when such a machine would set users back at least $2000. In related news, sales of LCD displays for desktop PCs surpassed sales of CRT displays for the first time in May; LCDs accounted for 52 percent of sales, compared with just 22 percent for the same month a year ago.
Microsoft Fixes Passport Flaw
The ever-buggy Microsoft .NET Passport service introduced another security vulnerability to its users last month, but the company says it has now deployed a fix. According to Microsoft, no user accounts were actually stolen, although the flaw could have potentially let attackers hijack accounts. In what's now a commonplace occurrence, a hacker first published details of the flaw to an Internet discussion list, rather than communicating them directly to the company, although the hacker claims he tried to contact Microsoft "several times," unsuccessfully. Sure he did. Anyway, rest assured that your Passport accounts are safe. For now. Or something.
Intel Loses Email Case
The California Supreme Court ruled this week that a former Intel employee is free to email current employees of the company, overturning an injunction that a lower court previously filed. The case involves a former employee who sent six email messages critical of the company to current employees over a 2-year period. Intel argued that the former employee broke an antiquated Californian trespass-to-chattel common law, which a court applied to email messages in 1977, if you can believe that. After losing the case, Intel said that the ruling was a blow to antispam advocates. But I see the ruling more as a blow to legal stupidity. The last time I checked, we have something called freedom of speech, and you have to send more than six emails to qualify as a spammer. Furthermore, one might argue that the tech-savvy folks at Intel were intelligent enough to set up email filters if they didn't want to receive email from this individual. The Supreme Court basically ruled that because the former employee didn't harm any of Intel's property or impose any cost on the company, the law didn't apply. "\[The former employee\] no more invaded Intel's property than does a protester holding a sign or shouting through a bullhorn outside corporate headquarters, posting a letter through the mail, or telephoning to complain of a corporate practice," wrote Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar. Sounds like a victory for common sense to me.
A Kinder, Gentler Java
The name Sun Microsystems isn't exactly synonymous with elegant, easy-to-use software, so the company is trying to change its image to make consumers less resistant to installing Java, the company's cross-platform programming technology. First, Sun is releasing a graphical toolkit that will let Java applications look like native Windows XP applications (most Java applications feature a metallic UI that's nothing like the application UIs everyone uses). In addition, Sun will update Java with a friendlier control panel, an automatic-update feature, and better performance. These moves are all part of an effort to make Java more accessible, the company says (and less geeky). And yes, that effort should help a bit with end users. But I think Java, like Microsoft .NET, will see its biggest successes under the covers, in devices such as cell phones and on servers that run Web services. In other words, no one needed to pretty up electricity to make it successful. Likewise, I don't think changing Java will make much of a difference in the markets that matter.
Mozilla.org Issues Mozilla 1.4
This week, open-source organization Mozilla.org issued its most recent Web browser suite, Mozilla 1.4, adding features such as streamlined junk-mail filtering, a simpler bookmark feature, HTML email blocking, NT LAN Manager (NTLM) authentication support, and other niceties. But Mozilla 1.4 is most notable because it marks the end of an era: Future suites from Mozilla.org will build on a new code base in which the individual components--Web browser, email and newsgroup clients, chat client, HTML editor, and calendar--are created independently. Users will be able to more easily choose which components they need; they won't need to unnecessarily run all the components under one runtime as they do today. The change is in response to criticisms that Mozilla is too big and too slow for most users, which is certainly true. Not coincidentally, this week Netscape released a new version of its browser suite, Netscape 7.1, which is based on Mozilla 1.4. Netscape's offering adds some new features, such as a spell checker and AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).
Microsoft Updates Product No One's Ever Heard Of
This week's release of Microsoft Identity Integration Server (with its weak acronym MIIS, which raises questions of acronym overloading with Microsoft Internet Information Services, known as IIS) raised some eyebrows, including mine, as few people were aware this server was coming. MIIS is just the new version of a product once called Meta Directory. Never heard of that one, either? Well, don't feel bad; neither had I. Apparently, MIIS is designed to help customers build identity-management infrastructures. And no, I don't know what that means, either. My head hurts.
Hackers Mobilize for Defacement Contest
Stay tuned to the Internet this weekend because a hacking contest that kicks off Sunday will see contestants from around the world attempt to win prizes by defacing Web sites. Although the contest sounds suspiciously like the plot of a new Fox reality TV show, Web site defacement is a pretty serious concern, especially for the potential victims. But here's the humorous part of the story: Contestants will receive only one point for defacing Windows-based sites, whereas they'll receive three points for hacking Linux, UNIX, or BSD sites. Sites based on HP-UX or the Macintosh are worth five points.
Some Bands Revolt Against iTunes Music Store
Not everyone is as excited about Apple Computer's excellent iTunes Music Store as I am. Notably, some famous bands, including Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, have refused to offer individual songs for sale on the service, stating that doing so would contribute to "the demise of the album format." Ah yes, the wonderful album format, which the typical band can use to bilk customers by forcing them to buy 10 ho-hum songs to get the one or two tracks that they actually like. Heads up to these bands: The album format is as dead as, well, the album. Given the ways in which companies can distribute music digitally today, we should think of Apple's innovation as the birth of a new era, rather than the death of anything. I'd rather have a new song from my favorite band when the song is recorded than wait for the band to create a padded collection of accompanying songs. The move to digitally distributed music will result in more good music and less junk. Embrace the future, guys; it's unavoidable.
Microsoft Continues eBook Push with New Reader, Free eBooks
This week, Microsoft unveiled a new initiative to promote eBooks; the offer includes a new version of Microsoft Reader and a free collection of eBooks. Microsoft Reader 2.0 features ClearType technology for clearer text on LCD displays, a new uncluttered interface, and other improvements that readers have requested; it's particularly nice on a Tablet PC. Beginning this week, the eBook promotion will make 60 free eBooks available to Microsoft customers over a 20-week period. The books require Microsoft Reader 2.0, which makes this deal sound like a way to get users to upgrade to the company's most recent document-protection scheme, and include such titles as "A Short History of Nearly Everything," by Bill Bryson; "The Joy Luck Club," by Amy Tan; "Fear Itself," by Walter Mosley; and "Beach Music," by Pat Conroy. For more information and the free Microsoft Reader 2.0 download, visit the Microsoft Web site.