An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...

More Exclusive Information About Windows Server 2003 R2
   As first revealed on the SuperSite for Windows, Windows Server 2003 Release 2 (R2) is targeted for summer 2005, according to a source at Microsoft. The release will combine the gold (final code) Windows 2003 release with Windows 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) and a host of out-of-band (OOB)--or feature pack--updates that the company has released since last April. These updates include a new SharePoint version with TrustBridge compatibility for sharing information with partner companies and customers, integrated Windows Rights Management Services (RMS), and the Whidbey version of the Microsoft .NET runtime engine. R2 will also include new, unique features, such as branch-office support. Microsoft hasn't yet determined the pricing but, at the very least, customers won't be forced to pony up new Client Access License (CAL) fees if they've already licensed Windows 2003. A final produce name and delivery schedule are yet to be determined, I'm told.

This Month's Office Patch Upgraded to Critical
   So much for the no-critical-patches addendum to this month's round of Microsoft security patches. A day after releasing its March 2004 set of security fixes, the company updated the severity rating of the Microsoft Office XP and Microsoft Outlook 2002 vulnerability from important to critical. Using Microsoft parlance, a critical security flaw could let an attacker propagate errant code on affected systems, so the company is now advising that all Office XP and Outlook 2002 customers update their systems with the patch as soon as possible. Concerned customers can get the patch from the Microsoft Office Online Web site

Microsoft Not Particularly Interested in Drafting Its Own EU Remedy
   Antitrust regulators from the European Union (EU) are pressuring Microsoft to craft its own remedies for its violations of European antitrust law. But the company is particularly uninterested in doing so, largely because it claims to have done nothing wrong. Meanwhile, Microsoft is very much interested in a settlement, which could avoid the all-too-public denouncements from the EU if the company is, as expected, declared guilty of sweeping antitrust abuses and levied a set of remedies.

Microsoft: Yukon Delays Won't Impact Longhorn
   Hey, Longhorn was never going to ship in 2005, anyway, right? Microsoft has curiously decided to deny charges that delays in its Yukon wave of products--primarily Microsoft SQL Server (code-named Yukon) and Visual Studio .NET (code-named Whidbey)--will postpone the ever-delayed Longhorn wave of products, which Microsoft has delayed several times and will delay several more times if history has been any guide. Longhorn will be lucky to see 2006, by all accounts, unless it's delayed yet again. And it will be. Delayed, that is.

SA Customers Up in Arms Over Yukon Delay
   And speaking of delays, the ever-distant release of SQL Server Yukon has caused Microsoft's Software Assurance (SA) customers to flail wildly as they come to the realization that their quickly expiring licensing agreements will no longer include the major SQL Server update that Microsoft promised them. Their concern is valid: Microsoft sold the SA licenses on the theory that customers could amortize the cost of several software releases over the life of the license. Then, the company promptly dropped out of Internet time and started its current glacial product-release schedule, in which major new releases are much fewer and further apart. The situation represents a beautiful "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario--after all, if Microsoft released too many upgrades in a short period of time, customers would be confused--but you have to feel sorry for these customers. Paying for something and not getting it isn't a very pleasant situation.

Microsoft and SCO Ties Pump Up Conspiracy Theorists
   I'd be the first to point a finger at Microsoft if any actual evidence existed to support claims by open-source fanatics that the company financially backed the SCO Group's ill-advised lawsuits against Linux-using and Linux-backing companies such as IBM and Novell. But those claims aren't true. Although everyone loves conspiracy theories, some people clearly love them a bit too much. Here's what we know so far. SCO is suing Linux makers such as IBM and Novell and large Linux customers, alleging that Linux includes source code stolen from UNIX, for which SCO owns the intellectual property rights. This ownership is, itself, debatable, but let's skip that little technicality for the moment. SCO's business is, shall we say, negligible, until you consider the money some companies--such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems--have paid SCO for UNIX licenses. Then, consider the news that a hedge fund called BayStar Capital made a $50 million investment in SCO last year. Senior executives at Microsoft (which didn't actually pay BayStar or put any money into the company's SCO investment) introduced BayStar to SCO. End of story, right? No, not quite. SCO would have been hard pressed to fund its Linux lawsuits without that BayStar investment. So did Microsoft secretly fund the SCO lawsuits, as open-source backers so desperately want to believe? Sorry, but this series of revelations doesn't prove that assumption. I wouldn't be surprised to discover it's true, but we're not there yet.

RealNetworks vs. Microsoft Will Remain in Silicon Valley
   This week, a federal judge denied Microsoft's request to move the RealNetworks antitrust trial from Silicon Valley, California, to Washington state, home of both companies involved in the suit. The fact that RealNetworks filed its case against Microsoft in San Jose, California, specifically because it felt the people in that area would tend to be anti-Microsoft is pretty obvious but not to the judge, apparently, who noted that "a transfer \[to Washington state\] would not serve \[the interests of justice or convenience\] any more than having the case proceed \[in San Jose\]." RealNetworks is seeking $1 billion in damages, arguing that Microsoft abused its Windows monopoly to cut into RealNetworks' business. I'm interested in seeing this case go to trial because I believe it's relevant to the emerging high-stakes digital-media market. But this case should be tried in the state in which both companies reside.

Predictably, Virgin Picks WMA for New Music Ventures
   UK media giant Virgin will launch a major new digital-media venture this year, hoping to surpass rivals such as Apple Computer and Napster. The company's Virgin Digital arm will launch a new online music service called Virgin Music Club, which will let customers purchase songs and albums in digital-download format and optionally purchase subscriptions, a la Napster, that let them stream music. Virgin chose the superior Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, which gives customers the widest possible range of compatibility across a huge selection of PCs, portable players, and other devices, all made by different manufacturers, which creates choice, competition, better features, and lower prices. We expect these benefits from all the products we buy, and we should expect them from digital-music services as well.

ExtremeTech: WMV 9 Shines vs. "Absolutely Awful" MPEG-4
   And speaking of the whole digital-media debate, ExtremeTech has published an astonishing comparison of Windows Media Video (WMV) 9 with other video codes, including Apple's MPEG-4. Based on my experience with these formats, I'm not surprised by the results: WMV 9 came in first, and ExtremeTech said that Apple's MPEG-4 implementation was "absolutely awful." As the review notes, "If you're looking to make video that will play on future DVD players, portable video players, and home media gateways, WMV 9 is probably your best bet. A great many CE products shipping this year and next will support it." You can read the full review on the ExtremeTech Web site

Microsoft Ships IT Resource Kit for Visio 2003
   This week, Microsoft started shipping a must-have resource kit for Microsoft Office Visio 2003 users. The "Microsoft Office Visio 2003 Resource Kit for IT Professionals" provides two third-party tools at a substantial discount. You get Fluke Networks' LAN MapShot 2.0, a tool that automatically maps your local wired network, and a subset of Altima Technologies' NetZoom Stencils, a collection of 28,000 Visio shapes of network-gear-like hubs, switches, storage devices, and servers. The resource kit is available for just $18.95, plus shipping--a huge savings considering that these products typically cost several hundreds dollars each. Visit the Microsoft Web site to find out more about the offer.