Microsoft, US Agree to Settlement Changes
Microsoft and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) have agreed to accept the minor changes on their antitrust settlement imposed by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. The only change of note gives the judge additional authority to oversee Microsoft's adherence to the settlement over the next five years. Microsoft and the DOJ both said they do not object to the changes, paving the way for ratification of the settlement.

DOJ Deflates States Role in Antitrust Battle
In related news, the Bush administration's wildly ineffectual DOJ announced this week that it would not enforce any of the Microsoft restrictions sought by the so-called non-settling states, because that enforcement was the responsibility of the states. The Justice Department's top antitrust enforcer (if you'll excuse the oxymoron) Charles James, is leaving the DOJ later this month for a job in the private sector, and he took exception to critics who correctly labeled his stewardship of the Microsoft case as almost comical in its ineptitude. James, you'll recall, took the bizarre tact of publicly informing Microsoft that the Department wouldn't seek to break up the company before entering settlement talks, taking away his most obvious bargaining chip. James now says that the states role in the national antitrust case was "a historical accident" and that "this is not the system we would design today if we were starting all over again." Well, we could say that about a lot of things, James. For example, we wouldn't design a system where the federal government was in cahoots with big business. James, incidentally, will become general counsel of ChevronTexaco, one of the largest oil companies in the world. Form your own opinions.

Who Was Conspicuously Absent at the Tablet PC Launch
The glitzy Tablet PC launch this week was as notable for who didn't attend as for who did. On the hardware front, a few big players such as Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Toshiba showed up, but many of the Tablet PC devices were made by companies not normally associated with PCs, such as Viewsonic, or companies no one has ever heard about, like Motion Computing. Where was IBM and Dell, for example? Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell said this week that he didn't expect Tablet PCs to be very successful, but that his company would enter the market if proven wrong. IBM is even more negative, describing the new products as "an experiment" that doesn't fit in the company's strategic goals. I think IBM is wrong, and I think Dell is playing it say, like it's done in many product categories (it's first Pocket PC will ship almost three years after the first generation devices, largely because of Dell's wait-and-see attitude). Markets in the Far East alone spell success for the Tablet PC, and if HP's innovative design is any indication, we could be looking at the future of the PC itself. Tablet PCs aren't an experiment or a curiosity.

DOOM III Leaks; ATI Blamed
An unknown individual has leaked an alpha version of the eagerly awaited DOOM III game from Id Software to the Internet, causing friction between the company and video card maker ATI, where the leak reportedly started. Id says that an ATI employee is responsible for the leak, and the company is currently trying to track down the individual. Id's DOOM III uses a next generation 3D engine and features scary, moody graphics and sound effects to create a unique, interactive horror adventure. And according to the alpha leak, which I viewed over the weekend, it's going to be yet another smash hit for the company. The only real question here is, how soon can I buy this thing?

Microsoft Again Denies Shareholders Dividends
In what appears now to be a never-ending cycle, Microsoft has again denied shareholders access to its $40 billion cash horde by refusing to pay dividends. At its annual shareholder's meeting this week, the company was pressed by stockholders to disburse dividends, stung by a stock price that's still down over 50 percent since January 2000. But Microsoft CFO John Connors reiterated the company's need to keep the cash on-hand in case of expensive losses in the hundreds of legal cases that arose in the wake of Microsoft's antitrust loss.

Microsoft Unveils Holiday PC Games Lineup
Microsoft Game Studios has big plans for PC gamers this holiday season, including high profile sequels to some of its most popular titles. The company is shipping or will soon ship a wide variety of game titles, including Age of Mythology, a mythological follow-up to its popular Age of Empires series; Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe; Links 2003, the latest version of the company's golf franchise; Asheron's Call 2: Fall Kings; and MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries. For more information about the company's holiday lineup for both the PC and Xbox, check out the Microsoft Web site.

Windows Is Cheaper than Linux. Or So Says Microsoft
Taking on Linux in what is generally thought of as the Open Source solution's strongest case against proprietary software, Microsoft says that Windows is actually cheaper than Linux over the long term. Linux advocates have long argued that because Linux is free, it's a good alternative for any government or business on a tight budget. But when tracking the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), Microsoft says, Linux fall short because the up-front licensing costs of an OS represent only 5 percent of the total cost of the OS over its lifetime. The other costs involve support, ease and speed of application development and deployment, and so on, and this is where Windows shines. So it's fair to say that Linux is less costly to license, but more costly to own, the company says. My take on this is equally subjective. I believe that any statement that can be broken down into an easily digestible sound-bite ("Linux is more secure than Windows," "Windows is more expensive than Linux", and so on) is completely untrue by nature. These issues are more complex. I believe that Linux can be less costly than Windows in certain situations, while the reverse is true in others. The key here is finding out where either solution makes the most sense.

101 Things Mozilla Can Do that Internet Explorer Can't
Neil Deakin has written an interesting (if somewhat overblown) list of 101 things that Mozilla can do that Internet Explorer cannot. But some of the features in Mozilla really set it apart, and a few of the top choices ("tabbed browsing," "popup ad blocking," and "themes") nicely explain why I use Mozilla, rather than IE, as my primary browser. It's an interesting list, though it devolves into niche developer topics rather quickly. Perhaps a better list would be "The Top 10 Things Mozilla Can Do for Actual End Users that IE Can't." Anyway, check it out.

Apple Upgrades Laptop Lines
PC users may scoff at a new line of high-end laptops whose fastest possible speed is a measly 1 GHz, but Apple's recent introduction of new PowerBooks is good news for a company struggling with declining market share and relevance. Best of all, customers can now get a PowerBook with a slot-loading recordable DVD drive, albeit at a whopping starting price of $3000. Also interesting are the new low prices for the consumer-oriented iBook line, which now starts at an affordable $999, though the iBooks feature underpowered G3 chips, not the more desirable G4 microprocessors found in the PowerBook line. All around, a good set of mobile upgrades, though Apple has some work to do to counter its performance issues.

Microsoft Backs Up My Mac OS X Security Assertion
Speaking of Apple, in last week's Short Takes, I mentioned a bizarre report that credited Mac OS X as being among OSes "least prone to attack" (I called it "Least Prone to be Used"). This week, Microsoft responded to the report as well, noting that the numbers used are highly misleading, and the company also backed my case against OS X. Microsoft vice president of the security business unit Mike Nash says that OSes like Windows are naturally going to have more reported security vulnerabilities because the user base is so much larger than that of OS X. And because the report combined user vulnerability reports with those reported by the OS vendors, the results were further skewed. Don't get me wrong, Windows has plenty of security vulnerabilities. But it also has plenty of users. There's a correlation.