An irreverent look at some of the week's non-antitrust news...

Microsoft Starts External Mira Beta Test
I've received word from several testers that Microsoft has opened up the beta for Mira (a remote-screen technology) to select members of the Windows XP beta. How the invitation-only beta will work is unclear; Microsoft obviously will need to send hardware devices to testers. Check out my Mira report on the SuperSite for Windows  more information about this upcoming technology, which Microsoft will release as part of XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) late this year. 

Microsoft Should Rename Xbox Scratchy Scratchy Bang Bang
Microsoft's Japanese Xbox rollout got off to a rocky start when the company confirmed this week that it has received hundreds of complaints about the console mysteriously scratching game disks. Microsoft doesn't know whether the scratches happen when users insert the disks in the units or while the disks are playing. (I guess the company shouldn't have used a phonograph needle to read the game data.) In any event, Microsoft says it will exchange the units and scratched game disks, but I'm not sure how that solution addresses the problem. Won't the new units scratch disks, too?

Xbox Strikes Out in Japan
And speaking of the Xbox, the historically tough Japanese market isn't overly impressed with Microsoft's game console, which it gave a decidedly lukewarm reception. In its first 3 days of availability, the Xbox sold 125,000 of the 250,000 units Microsoft shipped. These numbers compare poorly to the 1 million PlayStation 2 units Sony sold in the first 3 days that system became available 2 years ago. The Japanese market is important because Japan represents about 30 percent of the worldwide video-game market, which, as you know, is worth about 16 gajillion dollars.

Microsoft: We're Not Recalling the Xbox
And just in case you aren't sick of hearing about the Xbox, Microsoft is moving to squash press reports that the company is recalling the game console because of game-scratching problems. Just to clarify, Microsoft would never recall a product, no matter how buggy it was.

RealOne Hits the Streets
And speaking of buggy software, RealNetworks finally shipped its RealOne media-playback software, which combines the functionality of three products: RealPlayer, RealJukebox, and a new invasive virus-like application that wrestles away your file associations no matter what choices you make during initial setup. RealOne, which is essentially a pastel-colored Windows Media Player (WMP) rip-off, is designed to provide a front end to RealNetworks' subscription media services, which sets customers back $5 to $10 a month. In case you haven't guessed, I don't like RealOne. I don't like it one bit.

Steve Jobs Fires Back at Record Companies
Apple CEO Steve Jobs was in a tizzy this week after Disney CEO Michael Eisner accused Apple of fostering music piracy with its "Rip, Mix, Burn" advertisements. Jobs retorted that record companies need to make it easier, not more difficult, for consumers to do whatever they want with music they legally purchase. And besides, Mac users represent only 3.5 percent of the market, so they couldn't pirate a lot of music, anyway.

MSN Settles Billing Lawsuit
Gosh, MSN will do anything to be like AOL, won't it? Microsoft's online service recently settled a consumer lawsuit that charged the company with overbilling customers for online time. Microsoft will pay more than $100,000 to settle the case, which bears a passing similarity to a similar charge against AOL, although AOL's suit is a lot larger, worth a lot more money, and affects a far greater number of consumers. That's what happens when you're number one, I guess.

Palm Caught with Misleading Ads
In its never-ending quest to copy every Pocket PC feature, Palm this week found itself on the receiving end of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) order to cease deceptive online advertising. The ads in question suggest that Palm's new products can access Internet and email services without requiring costly hardware add-ons or monthly fees. These ads are similar to the deceptive Pocket PC ads that got Microsoft in trouble last year, so even Palm's ads are lagging behind similar Microsoft ads by about 12 months. That's a whole lot of ads, ain't it?

News of the Bizarre: Coded Messages in Modem Lights
A group of scientists has determined that you can use the blinking red lights on modems, the indirect glow from PC monitors, and other subtle electronic PC-related light flickering to eavesdrop on computer data. "Data communication equipment, and even data encryption devices, sometimes emit modulated optical signals that carry enough information for an eavesdropper to reproduce the entire data stream," one of the scientists writes in a paper that discusses the discovery. "It requires little apparatus, can be done at a considerable distance, and is completely undetectable." The possibility of someone studying your blinking modem lights to figure out what you're doing online seems impossible, so I decided to test the theory on my own system. Regardless of what I typed in, my modem light just kept streaming back, "Frank Stallone. Frank Stallone." Weird.

HP/COMPAQ Merger Gets Support, Lack of Support
The epic $23 billion Hewlett-Packard (HP)/Compaq merger received mixed marks from various groups this week as the countdown to the decision moved inexorably forward. Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), a proxy-advisory company whose clients own a large chunk of HP's shares, gave the merger the thumbs-up, providing new hope that shareholders might ratify the merger. But corporate-rating agency Standard & Poor's wasn't so sure: The company hit HP with a lowered debt rating, citing uncertainty about the merger. HP shareholders will vote on the merger March 19.

Looking for .NET Questions
Next week, I plan to post my first Microsoft .NET FAQ on the SuperSite for Windows, but I want to make sure I've covered all the basics. If you have any questions about this emerging technology, send them to me at thurrott@winnetmag.com with the subject line ".NET FAQ." Thanks!

Email Me: A Not-So-Concise Guide
And speaking of email, I get a lot of it. Although some people are amazed at the speed in which I can reply, others no doubt wonder whether their messages fell into a black hole. I've written a guide for contacting me that will (I hope!) help your email make it through my overly strict Outlook message rules (which I designed to spare me from the hundreds of brain-dead spam messages I get every day). If you've been trying to get an answer to a burning question and haven't heard back, check out the guide on the SuperSite for Windows.

Goooooaaall!! Goooooaaall!! Goooooaaall!!
This year's Winter Olympic games in Salt Lake City, Utah, were a huge success for just about everyone except Michele Kwan fans, and Microsoft is now touting its technology's success in providing online audiences with timely and accurate scores and information. Microsoft says that its Windows 2000 Datacenter Server and Windows 2000 Advanced Server products were responsible for keeping NBCOlympics.com and Olympics.com--which served up pages to a record 9 million unique users--up and running during the games, providing 99.98 percent availability. Granted, that number isn't five nines, but it's still a decent real-world-use metric.

Microsoft Announces Windows Datacenter Server Limited Edition
Admit it; you can never get enough Datacenter news. This week, Microsoft announced the availability of Windows Datacenter Server Limited Edition (Datacenter LE), a version of Windows Datacenter Server designed for companies that require high levels of scalability and performance. Datacenter LE is optimized for customers involved in e-commerce online transaction processing, online analytical processing, and data warehousing and data mining; Microsoft recently used the software to set a record SAP data-processing benchmark. I understand the software also provides "freaking awesome" Quake III frame rates.

Confusion About XP SP1 and the Tablet PC
Like many people, I was a little confused about a blurb in last week's Microsoft announcement regarding Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1), which will ship this fall. Among other things, the company noted that SP1 will include "enabling technologies for ... the Tablet PC." But won't Tablet PCs ship with a special XP version called Windows XP Tablet PC Edition? I queried the company about whether this product is now cancelled but was told that "XP Tablet PC Edition is a superset of XP Professional and will become available simultaneously with XP Professional SP1 in the second half of this year. Microsoft will also include all the latest updates that are part of SP1 in XP Tablet PC Edition." Makes sense. So why will the wider SP1 release include any Tablet PC functionality? I'm still waiting to hear back on that question.

Confusion About Windows CE .NET SP1
Microsoft wrote me late last week to correct a Short Takes blurb that other news agencies also apparently misreported. The company won't release a Windows CE .NET Service Pack 1 (SP1) product, but will instead put out a CE .NET code update, code-named Jameson. Jameson will be a minor update that will deliver several additional technologies before the next major CE .NET revision, which is due next year. Planned features include IP version 6 (IPv6) support, enhanced device-management functionality, and support for popular file-type document viewers. The company expects to release Jameson later this year.

Fun with Microsoft Press Releases
If you read Microsoft press releases on the Microsoft Web site or other public-relations-spewing Web sites, you can have a little fun if you're tired and your vision isn't good. I was scanning a list of press releases the other day when I saw two releases--"Microsoft Announces Next Generation of Microsoft Class Server" and "Kung Fu Chaos"--listed side by side. My addled brain shifted the two titles into one title, which I read as "Microsoft Announces Next Generation of Kung Fu Chaos Server." You know, my life would be a lot happier if that was an actual Microsoft product name