An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

 

Discover the New Features in Windows XP SP2 RC1
   I've posted a screen-shot gallery of the changes in Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) Release Candidate 1 (RC1) on the SuperSite for Windows, if you're interested in seeing what's new. In a discussion about RC1 yesterday, a Microsoft representative told me to expect one more RC release in the coming days and that the company is on track to deliver the final version by midyear, as previously promised. XP SP2 is a major upgrade that concentrates on security and one that all XP users should upgrade to as soon as possible. 

How to Get Windows XP SP2 RC1
   And speaking of XP SP2 RC1, if you missed the news yesterday, you'll be happy to hear that everyone and anyone will be able to download the release starting sometime today. Microsoft is targeting this public release--the Windows XP Service Pack 2 Technical Preview Program--at IT administrators who'll want to test the update to analyze the effects of its many changes in their environments. Microsoft says the preview site will go live sometime today. 

EU vs. Microsoft: Where the Talks Broke Down
   According to sources at Microsoft and the European Union (EU), European antitrust settlement talks broke down this week because Microsoft refused to accept a condition that would have prevented it from adding "new technology and innovations" to its Windows OSs. Whatever the reason, one thing is now clear: The EU's decision against Microsoft will be harsh and will likely result in far more stringent controls on the software giant's behavior than the US antitrust case did.

Microsoft to Buy AOL?
   In a news-from-the-bizarre moment, the "New York Post" reported this week that Microsoft is considering purchasing AOL from Time Warner. Apparently, Microsoft and Time Warner were already negotiating ways for Time Warner to use Microsoft's technologies in its content businesses when Microsoft discovered that Time Warner was shopping around the struggling AOL unit. The US government would likely block such a deal, however, because of the readily apparent antitrust concerns. Nevertheless, we're talking about the corporation-friendly Bush administration--you know, the guys who took the most lopsided antitrust victory in US history and turned it into the weakest settlement imaginable. So I guess anything is possible. The only problem with this report is its source: the "New York Post." I get more reliable news from personal blogs on the Web.

Microsoft Naming Tomfoolery Continues as Company Preps Windows Mobile 2003 SE
   Who's naming products at Microsoft? Although I realize that adding yet another layer of bureaucracy to a company as complicated as Microsoft isn't such a great idea, the company seriously needs someone to be in charge of naming consistency. First, this week Microsoft announced Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) Express (What? MOM Standard Edition was too simple?), and now I hear word that the company is set to release Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition (SE), instead of calling the product the more logical Windows Mobile 2004. And there's more: I also got word this week that the Symphony release of Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) might actually be called Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 Updates instead of MCE 2005. Microsoft needs to get a clue. No matter how few improvements a product contains, the company needs to simply rev the name--Microsoft Office has been doing so for years. If the company is going to use years in its product names, it should go full-tilt boogey and skip the half measures. In any event, the new Windows Mobile release will support VGA resolution, horizontal-display types, screen rotation, and other features and will launch next week. Hey, the product sounds great. Now call it Windows Mobile 2004, please.

Lindows.com Seeks a New Name
   In an email message to customers, Lindows.com Founder and CEO Michael Robertson said his company is seeking a new name to protect itself from Microsoft's legal assault. The company will use the new name only in those countries in which Microsoft has legally prevented Lindows.com from doing business, he said. "\[Lindows.com\] needs a temporary alternative name in isolated locations," the message reads. "It's tremendously disruptive to a business to change a name or add an alias, but it may be the only way in the short term that we can operate in certain places. I want to stress that we have no intention of changing our corporate name, that will certainly remain Lindows.com." Although Robertson is clearly a showman of sorts, you have to admire his plucky, damn-the-torpedoes approach to fighting Microsoft. Clearly, this guy has a death wish.

That's Visual Studio 2005 to You, Mister
   One of the last Microsoft products to sport the .NET name (well, besides Microsoft .NET itself, I guess) is losing the .NET moniker and returning to its roots. Next year, when Microsoft ships the Whidbey release of Visual Studio .NET, the suite will be called Visual Studio 2005, not Visual Studio .NET 2005, as previously expected. Next week, eager programmers will get the first preview release since the product's October 2003 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2003 debut. Microsoft describes Visual Studio 2005 as a major release, although we'll know more about its feature set next week.

Microsoft vs. Minnesota: In Strange Twist, Microsoft Lawyer Apologizes
   This week, in an interesting bit of courtroom strategy, Microsoft Attorney David Tulchin told jurors in the Minnesota antitrust case that the company is sorry for going "over the line" when competing against rivals in the 1990s, behavior that landed Microsoft in court with the US government. "Yes, we acknowledge \[our past anticompetitive behavior\], and we apologize for it," Tulchin said. "The conduct involved competition that went over the line. The question for you is whether or not consumers were overcharged. Who really was injured by anything here? We think the evidence will show that no one was." Tulchin said that PC bundle prices for Windows have remained consistent at about $50 for more than a decade, whereas prices for products such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel have actually fallen.

Here Come the Portable Media Centers
   At the CeBit 2004 trade show in Germany this week, Microsoft announced a set of strategies centered around the Windows-based Portable Media Center products--handheld devices that will provide video, music, and photo slide-show content. A variety of Microsoft's hardware partners will make Portable Media Center products, which will be integrated seamlessly with online music services such as EMI Music Publishing's upcoming European service and Napster, Microsoft says. Some sources have called Portable Media Center products "iPod killers," but that statement is a huge simplification, akin to calling the automobile a "motorcycle killer." Portable Media Center products do so much more than Apple Computer's iPods and other portable audio players that they're really a brand-new category.

Xbox Gets a Price Cut
   In April, Microsoft will reportedly cut the price of the Xbox video game console from $180 to $150 in a bid to kick-start sales and keep the console selling ahead of the rival Nintendo GameCube, which costs just $99. Expect market-leader Sony to follow suit with the pricing of its PlayStation 2, which still holds a huge lead and will continue to do so for the life of this generation of gaming hardware. All three companies are gearing up for the important E3 2004 show in May, although Microsoft denies it will reveal details of the next-generation Xbox console, dubbed Xbox Next internally, at the show.

Mozilla 1.7 Beta Released
   Today, Mozilla Foundation released Mozilla 1.7 Beta, the most recent version of its Web browser software suite. According to the foundation, Mozilla 1.7 Beta features hundreds of improvements, including better standards compliance, various UI changes, new icons, Palm synchronization improvements, and support for MSN authentication and is smaller and faster than earlier builds. You can download Mozilla 1.7 Beta from the Mozilla Web site.