Unexpectedly, given the constant delays and aggravations over the past few months, my son Mark will finally have surgery for a second cochlear implant on Monday morning. Any thoughts or prayers are, of course, appreciated. Mark has been pretty excited about this until, well, Wednesday, when we spent most of the day in meetings with doctors and surgeons, and I think the reality of the situation is finally setting in. He has a million questions, of course, and at one point he surprised me with a bit of maturity, albeit on the negative side: When I told him he had nothing to worry about today, as we were just meeting with people, he looked at me and said, "I know. But I have a lot to worry about on Monday." Yikes.
This situation isn't life threatening, so I don't want to make it sound more dramatic than it is. But he's my kid, and this isn't the type of thing I can get all that excited about. The first time around, it was a no-brainer: He was just a year old, had almost died from meningitis and had become deaf, and getting a cochlear implant was clearly the right thing to do. This time, well, I don't know. There's no guarantee it will even do anything, as that side of his head has been unused for several years now. Anyway, here we go. Wish us luck.
On a lighter note, I did survive last weekend's Las Vegas adventure several hundred dollars and numerous hours of sleep lighter than when I left. It was a good time, and obviously a guys' weekend away is something to be cherished on many levels. On the other hand, I spent most of this week in a near-coma, including Monday, when I slept from 8:00 A.M until 3:00 P.M. after arriving home very early in the morning after a red-eye flight. I had asked my wife to not let me sleep that long and was sort of miffed that she didn't wake me up. But it turns out she had tried repeatedly, and I was non-responsive. Needless to say, she wasn't amused. I may be paying for this one for a while.
And finally, Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this week, which should be up soon (http://www.twit.tv/ww ). We hit on a wide range of topics, including my iTunes on Windows Vista concerns, which I'd like to address here briefly as well. First, thanks again to everyone who wrote in about this. I received more than 200 email messages, and I'm most likely not ever going to be able to respond to all of them, unfortunately. Oddly enough, the disappearing download problem seems to have resolved itself this week. I don't know if that's due to an Apple update, sheer luck, or what, but none of the podcasts and purchased songs I've downloaded from iTunes in the past 10 days have disappeared as before, so I'm crossing my fingers. I still have no idea what the cause was.
Google: Microsoft Search Changes are Not Enough
Predictably, Internet search giant Google isn't appeased by the half-measures that Microsoft made in meeting its demands that it be able to replace Windows Vista's Instant Search feature with its own product. Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond said Microsoft's changes to Vista are welcome, but that "They should be improved further to give consumers greater access to alternate desktop search providers." They didn't go into more detail, so let me explain: What Google wants are two key pieces of functionality that Microsoft won't implement. First, when a third-party search engine is installed on Vista, the Instant Search feature should be completely disabled, which is not the current plan. Second, Google should get access to the search boxes that appear in each Explorer window, and not a secondary link that Microsoft is now creating. These are valid complaints, within the confines of the changes Microsoft has agreed to make. That said, Google's overall complaint is still as baseless as ever, and Microsoft should have simply told the company to take a hike. Give them and inch and they'll take a mile, as the phrase goes. Seriously, someone needs to curb Google's power now before it's too late.
Microsoft: We Patch More Quickly than Apple or Linux
Well, duh. And anyone who disagrees with this hasn't been paying attention. Microsoft on Thursday released data showing that Windows users were at risk from security flaws for less time than users of Apple Mac OS X or Linux over the past few years because the company responds to flaws more quickly. According to the company, Windows users were at risk an average of less than 29 days last year, compared with 46 days for OS X and 74-107 days for various Linux distributions. Hey, that's great, really. But on the flip side, Windows is hacked more than all those systems combined, so it's unclear whether this data makes much difference. Let's flip it around again: In 2006, Windows also had the fewest actual security flaws, with 90 for Windows XP, compared with 129 for OS X and 232-301 for various Linux versions. In the end, security is a tough one: Although it's very easy to protect a Windows system against electronic attack, it's equally true that Windows is the target of most actual attacks, even if it has the fewest actual flaws or shortest length of time before flaws are fixed.
But... Microsoft Patched Windows XP More Quickly than it Patches Windows Vista
But wait, there's more. Although Microsoft wasn't trying to highlight this fact in its revelation about security flaws, the company's data also shows that it's patching security flaws in Vista far more slowly than it did with XP. According to Microsoft, it patched 12 of 27 security flaws in the first six months since Vista was generally released. But the company had patched 36 out of 39 known security flaws in XP in the same timeframe when that OS was released. To be fair, most of Vista's unpatched bugs are not critical security flaws, which might explain the discrepancy. And the lower number of actual flaws suggests that Vista is more secure than XP, especially given that electronic attacks are more frequent and more sophisticated now than when XP first shipped. Yeah, I'm making lemonade here, but it seems there are many ways to interpret this data.
Microsoft Dodges Antitrust Bullet in Iowa
Lost amid all the hoopla this week about Microsoft changing Vista to address Google's desktop search complaints was another bit of info that came out of Microsoft's June 2007 antitrust joint status report: The company will not face non-compliance charges in a related Iowa antitrust case. Previously, plaintiffs in Iowa had charged that Microsoft had not fulfilled a requirement of its US antitrust settlement by providing API documentation aimed at making its products more interoperable with third-party software. However, when expert witnesses in the case examined the charges, they found "no evidence that Microsoft has not fully disclosed the APIs." Thus, the charge was thrown out. Microsoft reached a preliminary settlement in its Iowa antitrust case in February, and the case will receive a final review in August.
Microsoft Office 2003 Gets Rubbed Out, Sopranos-Style
Users pining for the old menu-and-toolbar UI from Office 2003 have about a week left before Microsoft pulls the plug: At the end of June, Microsoft will stop shipping Office 2003 to customers and will provide only the newer Office 2007 instead. That said, copies of Office 2003 will remain in stock at various brick and mortar and electronic retailers for months to come, so it's not like the product will instantly disappear. Mainstream support for Office 2003 continues through January 2009, and extended support ends in January 2014. I'm sure we'll all be running the Microsoft Surface version of Office by then.
Not News: Microsoft Doesn't Changes Plans for Windows Vista Virtualization
It's unclear to me why this generated so much news this week, but here we go: Microsoft this week decided not to change its policy for licensing Vista to virtual machine users. Yep, that's right: Nothing changed. Apparently, the company briefly considered letting users install non-premium (read: lower-cost) versions of Vista in virtualized environments (like VMware and Parallels) but decided to simply continue its current policy of licensing only Vista Home Premium, Ultimate, and Enterprise for that use. Naturally, there's nothing to stop you from installing a lower-end Vista version in a virtual machine (VM), but if you do so, you won't get support from Microsoft. You know, that support no one ever uses anyway. Go forth, virtualization users, and save some money.
Zune Maintains Market Position, Closes in on 1 Million Units Sold
Microsoft informed me late Wednesday that its Zune digital media player has retained its number two position, making up 11.3 percent of the market for hard drive-based MP3 players in May. The company says that sales have been steady since the November 2006 launch of the device and that it is "on track" to sell one million Zune devices by the end of June as previously predicted. My guess is that "Zune momentum," such as it is, has been driven of late by new Zune colors: A pink Zune went on sale in May, and this month the company unleashed a red version. But put down your credit cards, folks, as believable rumors of a smaller, flash-based Zune made the rounds this week as well. Maybe we'll soon have a choice of Zunes.
EU Widens Internet Search Privacy Probe
Apparently taking a rare break from Microsoft bashing, antitrust regulators in the European Union (EU) this week turned their attention toward Internet search privacy problems. Previously, the EU had been examining Google, which is probably at the root of more privacy abuses than anyone this side of China, but the EU has now expanded the investigation to include other search provides like Microsoft and Yahoo!. Google had previously tried to calm EU regulators by promising to cut the amount of time it retains personal information tied to search data from 24 months to 18 months, but that apparently didn't do the trick. (And is it just me, or is that half measure even weaker than Microsoft's agreement to make changes to Vista in response to Google complaints?) I'm guessing it was Google that pointed out to the EU that it wasn't the only company saving personal data related to Internet searches. It's just the way companies do things.
Dell Makes Bloatware Option
And finally, let's leave for the weekend with a bit of good news: Dell this week began offering its consumer PC customers the option of bogging down their new machines with bloatware--that mindless collection of unnecessary software junk that comes with most new PCs--or simply opting out. Now that's a differentiator that really matters: People say that PCs are a commodity business, but Dell's decision will go a long way toward making Dell's PCs all the more desirable. That said, Dell is still installing some bloatware on PCs: It will install Adobe Reader, Google Toolbar, and a trial version of the antivirus software of your choice even if you do opt-out of the other junk. Hey, that's what the Add/Remove Programs applet was designed for, right? Go forth and uninstall, PC buyers. (But be sure to download a free antivirus application like the excellent AVG Free Edition.)