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

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EXCLUSIVE: Microsoft to Ship Windows Server R2 Before Longhorn
   Microsoft's ever-evolving Windows roadmap will hit yet another bump in the road when the company releases an interim version of Windows Server 2003 that's currently called R2 (as in release 2). According to my sources at Microsoft, R2 will ship before Longhorn and will include all the free out-of-band Windows 2003 updates that the company has shipped since it first released the product in April 2003. I'll have more information about this blockbuster development soon.

Microsoft Considers Fast Food-Style Licensing Terms
   Microsoft might abandon its standard worldwide licensing terms to instead offer different prices in different markets, similar to the way fast-food restaurants price their products. "How much does a Big Mac cost in India versus in New York versus in Taipei, and how do you map a similar Big Mac index to software?" Martin Taylor, general manager of Platform Strategy, asked this week. One obvious problem with the idea is language: If, say, the Canadian version of a Microsoft product is less expensive than the US version, US customers might simply buy the Canadian version instead. So Microsoft might base prices on language, not location. The company is apparently speaking with representatives of various governments around the world to gauge interest in the idea, which could significantly lower prices in certain markets.

SCO: Halloween Memo is Baloney
   Ever-controversial open-source advocate Eric S. Raymond released yet another so-called Halloween memo this week--this one an email message purporting to prove that Microsoft is financially backing the SCO Group's legal campaign against Linux. The problem is, though, that SCO says Raymond's claim isn't true. Instead, SCO says that, although the memo is real, Raymond's "speculation" about what it proves is untrue, and Microsoft hasn't--and isn't--paying SCO to sue companies that support Linux. "We believe the email was simply a misunderstanding of the facts by an outside consultant who was working on a specific, unrelated project," SCO said in a statement. "Microsoft did not orchestrate or participate in the transaction \[described in the memo\]."

Mark Your Calendars: European Commission Sets Date for Final Microsoft Decision
   Officials from the European Commission branch of the European Union (EU) revealed this week that they plan to issue a final decision against Microsoft on March 24. The Commission is accusing Microsoft of abusing its desktop OS monopoly in emerging markets for servers and media-player software and will likely fine the company and require a behavioral remedy or three. In one controversial possible remedy, the commission might require Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without a media player or ship competing media players in Windows along with Windows Media Player (WMP). Stay tuned.

Michael Dell Steps Down as Dell CEO
   Dell Founder Michael Dell surprised analysts yesterday by stepping down as CEO of his super-successful (and eponymous) company, although he retains the title of chairman. Dell will continue working as hard and as often as he did in the past, he says. And, frankly, the chairman title is more befitting his forward-thinking, strategy-oriented nature of late. Succeeding Dell as CEO, of course, is actor and singer-extraordinaire Frank Stallone. All joking aside, Dell's current president, Kevin B. Rollins, will assume the Dell CEO position in July, right after the company's 20th anniversary. Rollins, who started working at Dell in 1996, will also join Dell's board of directors.

Microsoft: Disney, Comcast Rumors Untrue
   Microsoft officials denied this week that the company plans to involve itself in Comcast's bid for The Walt Disney Company, despite persistent rumors. Comcast recently launched a $50 billion takeover bid of the beleaguered Disney, which has rejected the offer. But because Microsoft owns a large part of Comcast, some people have suggested that the software giant might help its cable buddy financially to complete the Disney deal. (Microsoft, you might recall, is sitting on a liquid-cash war chest valued at almost $55 billion.) But Microsoft says that the rumors aren't true. "You won't see us buying a movie studio or some big communications asset or those kinds of things," Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said earlier this week. "What we know is software."

Microsoft Pledges IM Interoperability
   During his keynote address at the Instant Messaging Planet Spring 2004 Conference and Expo in Boston this week, Microsoft Instant Messaging (IM) Architect Paul Haverstock pledged that Microsoft plans to do everything in its power to ensure that IM systems interoperate freely. "It's time to move on interoperability," Haverstock said, in an obvious jab at AOL and other IM competitors who have fought to make sure their systems aren't compatible with Microsoft's. "I've never met a customer who hasn't asked for interoperability. So let's finish the job." Haverstock argued that IM is quickly becoming as necessary to businesses and individuals as email is, but the technology can only become truly pervasive if all the systems work together. Imagine the crazy world that would exist if, for example, AOL email couldn't be delivered to AT&T users. IM interoperability should have happened years ago.

Duh Prediction of the Week: Google Search Dominance to End
   Spouting a position I took long before Microsoft revealed its intention to enter the Internet search market, SearchEngineWatch.com Editor Danny Sullivan said this week that Google's Web searching dominance will end soon, thanks to competing efforts from Yahoo! and Microsoft. Duh, I say. Google isn't a pervasive brand the way Amazon.com and Apple Computer are; Google is a way to a means. People will move away from Google as quickly as they moved to Google, and that transition will take place as soon as something better comes along. Although we might one day witness another senseless antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft (I'm looking at you, RealNetworks), the truth is that Google has been poised to tumble since day one. Sorry, folks, but consumer dedication to a search engine doesn't exist. People are interested in the results, not the page that delivered those results.

Corel Announces WordPerfect Office 12
   Corel, which is under new management, announced this week that it will issue a new WordPerfect Office release in April that will see the suite return to its former position of glory. Corel says that WordPerfect Office 12 will take on Microsoft Office 2003 head to head, offering lower prices and competitive features. And the company will no longer be content with simply selling upgrades to existing customers--a losing strategy if there ever was one. To that end, WordPerfect Office 12 will offer document compatibility and even application compatibility with Microsoft Word; in other words, users who make the switch can configure WordPerfect to look and work exactly like Word does. "We're after the consumer and small- and mid-sized business market," Corel WordPerfect Product Manager Wendy Lowe said. "We've found that a lot of \[people\] are looking to an Office alternative and getting savvy that there are cheaper alternatives. That's where \[WordPerfect Office\] 12 plays nicely; it has a set of features comparable to the standard edition of Microsoft Office, but it's cheaper."

Oh, Behave: Microsoft Touts Software Advance
   I'm not sure whether I can stomach yet another change in the way Microsoft develops software, but this idea looks interesting. Last week at the RSA Conference 2004 in San Francisco, the company revealed that it's moving toward a behavior-blocking approach to software security that will protect Windows and Windows applications from common electronic attacks. The approach works by understanding how the system should react under typical circumstances, then electronically battening down the hatches when it doesn't respond correctly. Behavior blocking won't replace other security tools, such as antivirus products, and yes, other companies (including Cisco Systems and Network Associates) have already implemented this kind of technology in some of their products. But the idea of adding this functionality to the core OS is intriguing. "\[Last Summer,\] the Blaster worm caused the \[remote procedure call\] service \[in Windows\] to open a back door and download some malicious code on the machine. In this case, behavior blocking would recognize that this behavior is out of the ordinary for the remote procedure call service and block it," Gates said during his keynote address. "Think of this as taking the notion of secure-by-default to the next level."

Minnesota vs. Microsoft Starts Monday
   If you can't get enough of Microsoft antitrust news, next week could be interesting. On Monday, Microsoft heads into a Minneapolis district court to defend itself against a class-action lawsuit alleging that the company overcharged Minnesota residents for Windows and Office software. The case is similar to a slew of other class-action lawsuits that Microsoft faced in the wake of its US antitrust case, with one exception: This case is actually heading to court. The lawsuit is interesting for another reason: The potential number of affected consumers equals 1 million--one-fifth of the state's population.

TechEd 2006 Heads to Boston
   For once, I won't have to travel to attend a major Microsoft trade show. In 2006, Microsoft TechEd is coming to the new Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, which means it'll be time for a party at Paul's house. Or something...