An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including some shorter trips, Google competition on the PC desktop, Apple's real place in the PC market, a Linux patent witch hunt, Windows Vista finally wins award, looking for pirates, and more...
I spent a night in New York City this week so I could attend a Microsoft event, but feel like I should have booked a longer stay: I don't get to the city as much as I used to, and there are certainly a number of people there I'd like to visit with. I'll try to do that next time, sorry.
Next week, I'll be making a similarly short trip, this time to the Denver area, for a few work-related meetings and to catch up with friends there. After that, I hope to stay home for several weeks if possible, if only to catch up on my next book, Windows 7 Secrets.
Leo and I recorded the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday as usual, though I had to cut it off a bit short because some work calls. It should be available by the end of the weekend.
But wait, there more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed, and the SuperSite Blog. http://www.twitter.com/thurrott
Ballmer: Google will be the next desktop competitor
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer finally came out and said what everyone's been thinking for the past couple of years: Google will be the next major competitor to face off against the software giant on the PC desktop. He said that he believes that Google will adapt its Android mobile OS to run on netbooks and other PCs and that Microsoft is responding by blurring the line between its PC and mobile OS products as well. "We'll see Google more as a competitor in the desktop operating system business than we ever have before," he said this week. "The seams between what's a phone operating system and a PC operating system will change." This actually makes sense to me, and if you look at Google's relentless push into applications software and mobile software, the PC desktop seems like the next logical move, especially as our computing habits are migrating to a blend of online and more traditional usage.
And speaking of desktop competitors to Windows, we all know that Linux has never amounted to much of a challenge. But what about Apple? After all, you can't go anywhere near a technology site these days without reading about the massive gains that Apple supposedly keeps making in the PC market. Not so fast, Ballmer says, noting that Apple's gains aren't actually as dramatic as is always reported. And he's right: Examining actual market share data-i.e. the actual sales of PCs in a given time frame--we can see that Apple's Macintosh controlled just 3.2 percent of the worldwide PC market in the fourth quarter of 2008, and less than 5 percent in the US. (US figures are harder to measure because Apple only supplies figures for "The Americas" which includes all of North and South America.) And Apple isn't even the number two competitor to Windows, as it turns out. That's right: The biggest competitor Windows isn't the Mac. It's counterfeit copies of Windows.
Microsoft launches Linux patent witch hunt, claims it is not launching Linux patent witch hunt
Microsoft this week sued GPS maker TomTom for infringing on eight of its patents, three of which pertain to TomTom's use of the Linux kernel in its products. Open source backers immediately complained that the suit was the first salvo in Microsoft's long-expected Linux patent witch hunt. Microsoft claims otherwise. "Open-source software is not the focal point of this action," Microsoft deputy general counsel for intellectual property Horacio Gutierrez told TechFlash's Todd Bishop. "The case against TomTom involves infringement of Microsoft patents by TomTom devices that employ both proprietary and open-source. Out of the eight patents, five of them relate to proprietary software infringement." Ah. So from a percentage basis, then, this is more about proprietary software than it is about Linux. But this is, in fact, the very first time that Microsoft has sued anyone for violating their patents in a Linux-based, or open source-based product, right? "That's correct," Gutierrez said. The defense rests, and would like to point out the flotilla of flying monkeys on the horizon.
Windows Vista finally gets the recognition it deserves
Oh, wait. In the first-ever Fiasco Awards, which were designed to award those tech products that have tanked uncontrollably, Windows Vista ran away with the top prize. That said, this was a Spanish-based contest, so the number two "winner," a Catalonian educational product no one has ever heard of, perhaps speaks to the pointlessness of this entire affair. "Out of the 6,403 people who voted through the web, 5,222 considered Windows Vista a Great Fiasco," a press release from the site reads. Other finalists--you know, the ones you may have actually heard of--include Second Life, One Laptop per Child (OLPC), and Google Lively.
Microsoft searches out pirated copies of Windows Vista Ultimate
And you know, this action does sort of run against the stereotype of "Vista as a failure." I mean, if it's such a failure, why are so many people pirating it? Microsoft this week confirmed that it sending out a Windows Update to users of Vista Ultimate edition only to look for a software hack called "SoftMod" that tricks Vista into thinking it has been activated. The tool is, of course, of interest only to hackers who have stolen copies of Vista and installed them on their PCs. "We're releasing an update to Windows Vista Ultimate Edition only at this time and only to systems with English as their primary language," Microsoft senior product manager Alex Kochis notes on the Windows Genuine Advantage blog. "The update will help Windows Vista Ultimate Edition based systems detect the presence of additional activation exploits." Microsoft claims the update will mitigate risk associated with SoftMod and protect its intellectual property. See? It's a win-win.
Leaked Microsoft documents suggest Xbox Live is doing better than suspected
Microsoft often brags about the number of people who have subscribed to the Xbox 360's Xbox Live service, but the company has never broken down its membership between paid and unpaid subscribers. Turns out its way better than expected. Thanks to internal Microsoft documents that were leaked to the Web recently, 60 percent of subscribers to Xbox Live in the US are paying $50 a year for the Gold membership about a year ago. Back then, there were about 10 million Xbox Live subscribers (there are 17 million now), or about 5.6 to 6 million Gold subscribers, representing about $280 million in revenues. The remaining question, of course, is what sort of revenues the rest of Xbox Live--game downloads, movies, TV shows, and other paid content-generate. Microsoft says that Xbox Live has generated $1 billion in revenues overall since 2006.
But what about Sony?
In the wake of the revelations about online usage at Xbox Live, Sony executives fired back with the assertion that over 20 million people have registered for accounts on the PlayStation 3- and PSP-based PlayStation Network, meaning that somehow Sony's lackluster console (and its slightly more popular handheld brethren) has 3 million more members than does Microsoft's. While I find that hard to believe, I'd at least point out that Sony's service is completely free, so it's not like it's generating the kind of income that Xbox Live does. And Sony says that PSN has generated only $180 million in paid downloads since coming online a few years ago, compared to over $1 billion for Xbox Live. I do know from experience that there are always tons of people online with Xbox Live, regardless of the game you're playing. Can Sony users (there must be some) claim the same?
Dell in the dumpster
Once mighty PC giant Dell is having a hard time getting anyone to believe that its products are now innovative and interesting, though I'd argue that the company's wares are quite a bit nicer than they've ever been. This week, Dell reported its latest quarterly results (their fourth quarter ends at the end of January), and the company's earnings have now fallen to their lowest level since 2002. The company earned $351 million (down 48 percent year over year) on revenues of $13.4 billion (down 16 percent) in the quarter. But the earnings were actually better than expected, suggesting that Dell's $3 billion cost-cutting strategy is finally starting to work. So much so that the company will cut another $1 billion over the next two years as well. Sales of desktop PCs fell 27 percent, while notebook sales fell 17 percent. And it's unclear whether the company's move into retail sales has borne fruit: It sold just 2 percent more PCs to consumers in the quarter than it did a year ago.