Here They Are, Folks: Microsoft's Concessions
Here's the list of concessions Microsoft agreed to in its tentative settlement with the government in its historic antitrust case: The company will give software developers--including Microsoft competitors--access to proprietary information about Windows that will make their software work better with the OS. The company will offer PC makers a version of Windows without any new added features; users can't be penalized for taking the unbundled version, but Microsoft can make the full-featured version more attractive through pricing. The company will add a new icon to the Windows desktop that lets users easily remove--not just hide--Windows components. Microsoft will continue to offer older versions of Windows for a limited time after it releases new versions. The court will appoint a three-member independent panel to oversee this agreement, which will last for 5 years. If Microsoft violates the deal, the court will extend the restrictions for 2 more years. If, after reading through this list, you're thinking that Microsoft got off relatively easy (especially compared to its early breakup punishment), then I think you're on to something.

States Not Sure About Settlement ...
Viewing the list of Microsoft concessions with the same questions any sane individual would ponder, the 18 states allied against Microsoft have asked for more time to determine whether they'll go along with the agreement. One likely scenario is that the states will decide that the Microsoft settlement is too watered down to be effective. If they do, they'll continue their lawsuit against the company in a separate, combined proceeding, and Microsoft will settle only with the federal government. The problem with the settlement, of course, is that it does nothing to punish Microsoft for repeatedly breaking the law and harming competition because it leaves the company's monopolies in place unscathed. Why the Department of Justice (DOJ) doesn't see this is best left to the imagination, but various conspiracy theories are certainly running through my mind.

More Legal Ease from the DOJ
Along with the concessions, Microsoft has struck some interesting agreements with the government regarding terminology and business practices. According to the DOJ, Microsoft and the government have agreed to the following: A definition of the term "middleware," which will include "browsers, email clients, media players, instant-messaging software, and future new middleware developments;" that Microsoft will disclose all middleware and server interfaces and protocols; that PC makers are free to install the middleware they want, even if it excludes similar Microsoft-bundled middleware; and that Microsoft will provide uniform licensing to PC makers and will be banned from making exclusive agreements with any company. Ominously, the DOJ refers to these agreements and the aforementioned concessions as the "Final Judgment." Presumably, if the states decide to go their own route, that decision will be referred to as "Final Judgment II: The Quickening."

InfoWorld Disses Windows XP: Who Do You Trust?
InfoWorld stood alone this week when it declared that Windows XP significantly underperformed Windows 2000 and Windows 9x in its tests. Not only do the controversial InfoWorld results fly in the face of Microsoft's published results and actual real-world use, they refute every independent XP performance test performed to date. One gets the idea that ... nah ... InfoWorld was trying to make XP lose. Don't believe me? Consider this: The following organizations have tested XP, independently of Microsoft: CNET/ZDNET, eTesting Labs, eWeek, PC Magazine, and PC World. All these independent labs came to the same conclusion: XP meets or exceeds the performance of Win2K and Win9x. The InfoWorld results are also at odds with real-world XP use, which already includes hundreds of thousands of beta testers, tens of thousands of IT professionals and developers, and hundreds of thousands of enterprise customers. "Microsoft has not received any indications that users are experiencing reduced performance compared with Windows 2000," a company spokesperson said. "We have had extensive feedback that Windows XP is better performing than Windows 9x." Go figure. And yet, you just know that every anti-Microsoft site on the planet is going to run with the InfoWorld story and not any of the positive stories. Ain't life grand?

Hotmail Accounts: Use It Or Lose It
Microsoft has instituted a new and, frankly, long-needed policy for its Hotmail Web-based email system: Use your account or you'll forfeit it. The company is giving Hotmail users a 30-day sign-on limit; if users go 30 days without accessing their accounts, Microsoft will drop the accounts and delete all related messages, attachments, and contacts. Microsoft says that it's instituting the policy change to relieve server load and improve performance. I can't help but think that the net result will be a sharp drop in the number of Hotmail accounts; surely many of the 30 cajillion Hotmail user accounts are inactive.

DeCSS Propped Up in Court
A California court has ruled that the free speech clause of the First Amendment protects the infamous DeCSS code, which provides the blueprint for decoding copy-protected DVD movies. The movie industry has been fighting the DeCSS code for some time, for fairly obvious reasons, and although this week's ruling isn't the final say in the case, it's certainly a major setback for Hollywood. A 15-year-old Norwegian hacker allegedly created the code because he simply wanted to play back DVD movies on Linux. But the movie industry argued that the code violated its copyrights and has since been on a mission to ban the code and any unauthorized DVD decoding. I'm not sure how to view this argument because the code was cleanly produced and wasn't reverse-engineered. But it's definitely a story to watch.

AOL Slapped Down in Winamp Suit
A federal judge handed AOL an interesting legal defeat this week, ordering the company to stop distributing AOL 6, a fairly recent version of its online software. Sadly, the judge didn't cite AOL for its overt contribution to landfills across America with its rarely used CD-ROM coasters, which come bundled with everything from magazines to cereal boxes. Instead, at issue is AOL's bundling of Winamp, an audio player that uses technology from a company no one has ever heard of--PlayMedia. AOL now owns Winamp, but the original deal between PlayMedia and Winamp preceded that sale, and PlayMedia says AOL has no right to distribute its technology. A federal judge agreed, ordering AOL to stop shipping AOL 6. Now if the court will order the company to stop burying us with throw-away CD-ROMs, all will be well.

PC Makers Try Crazy-Eddie Pricing
Have you seen those car ads that advertise zero-down, zero-percent financing? Well, that kind of financing is also coming to the PC industry. In a bid to keep PC growth alive, companies such as Dell, Compaq, and IBM will soon begin offering zero-percent financing deals spread over up to a 3-year period. Given the current economy and a relative abundance of PC hardware, it's unlikely that this strategy will have much effect. But don't expect these deals on the el cheapo hardware: If you want to save big, you'll have to spend big, too. That's irony, right?

This Thing Makes the iPod Look Affordable
Looking for the perfect home stereo component to accompany that expensive Apple ("oops, don't drop it!") iPod? How about the even more expensive Hewlett-Packard (HP) Digital Entertainment Center de100c? It looks like a VCR but offers a 40GB hard disk and an accompanying CD drive for recording your audio CD collection, and an Internet radio tuner--all for $1000. And it hooks up to your TV. What does this wonderbox leave out, other than the need to get a second mortgage? How about a DVD drive. Expect this useless hunk of metal to tank immediately unless HP can figure out how to sell it for $300.

Opera Seizes the Moment
You gotta give Opera credit. First, Microsoft temporarily prevented the 11 existing Opera users from accessing its MSN Web site last week, and all hell broke loose. So the little Norwegian company has unleashed a campaign aimed at capitalizing on the issue (which disappeared within days, actually) and popularizing its Web-browser alternative. The problem with Opera, of course, is that many good--and free--Web browsers are already available, including Internet Explorer (IE) and Mozilla/Netscape.

Apple Finds Itself in Court For a Short Takes Pet Peeve
If you've been reading WinInfo Daily UPDATE for a while, you're familiar with my mini-rants about Apple and its product pre-announcements, which often take place several months before the products are available in quantity to consumers. I find this behavior both unnecessary and despicable, especially because so many of the prospective buyers are slack-jawed pro-Apple types, eager to suck up whatever good news Apple has to offer. But now I'm not the only one complaining: Four shareholders have filed lawsuits against the company, each alleging that Apple financially misrepresented its products. At issue in the latest lawsuit is last year's pre-introduction of the G4 Cube, iMacs, and PowerMac G4s, which Apple, in the words of the complaint, "over-hyped" by making unrealistic claims about the products' levels of performance. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Apple makes good products. The company should just market them as such.

Comdex Fall Features Lower Attendance, Better Security
Maybe COMDEX will be a painless event for once. COMDEX Fall is, of course, the premier US computer-industry trade show, one that I've been traveling to, Mecca-like, for years. But this year, show organizers report that attendance is down 25 percent--to about 150,000 people. I expect the attendance to be a lot lower than that, however, especially when you consider that COMDEX has inflated attendance figures for years. I always thought COMDEX would be better if I was the only person who attended. This year, I might get to see what that's like.

Michael Dell Says "Merry Christmas" This Holiday Season
Why is this man smiling? Dell CEO Michael Dell continues to confound his competition by making money and improving market share in an economy that's hurting just about everyone. Dell announced this week that he expects his company's sales to rise this holiday season compared to a year earlier, a prediction we're unlikely to hear from any other PC maker. Naturally, reports that Dell is in league with the devil are now being investigated.