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

Windows XP Reloaded, Take 2: Microsoft to Launch New Media Center Products
   On Tuesday, Microsoft will launch Windows XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE) 2005, Media Center Extenders, and other "second-wave" XP Reloaded products at a gala event in Los Angeles. XP MCE 2005 is the third version of Microsoft Media Center software, and although I can't divulge any details right now, check the SuperSite for Windows on Tuesday for my standard in-depth review. The short version of the story is that this is the best Media Center ever. I think you're going to be impressed. 

Rumor Alert: No, XP MCE 2005 Won't Be a Retail Product
   And speaking of XP MCE 2005, I can dispense with one rumor right now. Contrary to a report on the Ars Technica Web site, XP MCE 2005 won't be available in the retail channel. Although you can technically purchase the OEM version of XP MCE 2005--which is what PC makers and system builders use to build Media Center PCs--the product isn't complete and doesn't include key features such as a DVD decoder, DVD movie creation software, and a remote control. More to the point, you won't ever be able to walk into Best Buy, CompUSA, or a similar store and buy a retail boxed copy of XP MCE 2005. Ars Technica's continued insistence on referring to "retail shrink-wrapped" versions of XP MCE 2005, despite corrections from both official sources at Microsoft and from me, speaks volumes about the site's credibility. That said, enthusiasts who are willing to put up with a lot of missing features (and willing to lie about their status as system builders, ahem) can, in fact, purchase the OEM version (not a supported retail version) of XP MCE 2005 from online resellers such as Directron for about $125. Just be sure you know what you're getting into. 

Rumor Alert: Microsoft Isn't Killing Windows Powered Smartphones
   Another strange rumor making the rounds is that Microsoft is getting ready to kill its Windows Powered Smartphone business and meld it into a single mobile platform based on Pocket PC software. That rumor would be hilarious if it were true, but all the evidence points to the contrary. Indeed, instead of consolidating its mobile products into one platform, Microsoft is clearly bifurcating the product line to handle specific markets, just as the company is now doing with virtually all its product lines. Indeed, Microsoft speaks of Windows CE .NET--the ultimate base of all this mobile work--as the platform from which different groups create market-specific products such as the Pocket PC and Windows Mobile-based Smartphones. Although having the same group create the Smartphone and Pocket PC might make sense because the devices have the same underlying technologies, shipping Pocket PC software to Smartphones or shipping Smartphone software to Pocket PCs will never make sense. I have a Dell Axim with a 624MHz processor. That device is closer to a PC than a cell phone.

Netscape Owner AOL Is Making a Web Browser ... Based on IE
   This story is so full of irony that I don't know where to begin. How about an obvious jab? You know that Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) has one foot in the grave when AOL--which basically ushered Netscape to an early, undeserved grave--is developing a Web browser product based on--yep, you guessed it--IE. That's right, folks. Just as the planet is finally starting to move to more constantly updated Web browser products such as Firefox, Mozilla, and Opera, AOL is getting off its technology-averse patootie and making its own browser ... that's based on IE. Why not just create a new PC based on the Commodore Amiga? Or a car based on the Packard? These ideas were good in their time, but as you know, the world has moved on. Even Microsoft doesn't seem to be concerned about making IE any better than it was in 1998. Why anyone else would bother, either, is unclear.

Security Firm Announces Office Flaw Without First Alerting Microsoft
   Security experts at Secunia issued a warning this week about a newly discovered highly critical software flaw in Microsoft Office 2000. But the company failed to warn Microsoft about the flaw first, causing representatives from the software giant to have an apoplectic fit. "Microsoft is concerned that this new report of a vulnerability in Word was not disclosed responsibly, potentially putting computer users at risk," a Microsoft representative told CNET.com. "We believe the commonly accepted practice of reporting vulnerabilities directly to a vendor serves everyone's best interests by helping to ensure that customers receive comprehensive, high-quality updates for security vulnerabilities with no exposure to malicious attackers while the patch is being developed." You can find out more information about the flaw at the Secunia Web site

Microsoft, HP Hit the Road for Small Businesses
   What do you do when you want to drum up interest in your small-business wares? You hit the road, of course. This week, Microsoft and partners such as HP are starting a 9-month Microsoft Across America tour during which the companies hope to reach more than 1 million users in 250 stops. The tour started at the TECHXNY trade show this week in New York City and involves a large RV-like vehicle that's brimming with the latest technologies, including Microsoft software; HP printers, servers, storage, and PCs; and Cisco Systems networking and IP-based telephony equipment. If you're interested in checking out the rolling show, head over to the Microsoft Across America Web site for details. 

Sun, Microsoft Team Up to Fight Red Hat, IBM
   In the unlikely alliance department, we present Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, who are now allegedly waging war against Linux backers such as IBM and Red Hat. Speaking at Northwestern University this week, Sun CEO Scott McNealy aimed his acerbic tongue at Linux makers rather than his customary rival, Microsoft. "What's happened now is that the world is down to three operating systems," he said. "That is Windows, Red Hat, and Solaris. Red Hat is kind of the ... pretender there. When we look at Red Hat, we are $400 versus their $2000 (for the OS) on a four-way server. We have software indemnification versus SCO and Microsoft; they don't. We have all kinds of features they don't have." During a question-and-answer session after his talk, McNealy said his company's coalition with Microsoft came about because Microsoft realized it would have to embrace one of its enemies. "Sun and Microsoft aren't that competitive \[with each other\]," he said. "We don't do MSN, we don't do Xbox, \[and\] we don't do applications. They don't do computers, storage, or infrastructure. They weren't going to do it with \[Oracle\]. They weren't going to do it with IBM. They can't stand IBM. They at least respect us."

FTC Files First Case Against Spyware Maker
   This week, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed the first-ever US lawsuit against a spyware maker. The case is particularly interesting because the company the FTC is going after, Seismic Entertainment Productions (which also does business as Smartbot.Net and Sanford Wallace) is accused of spreading spyware, then contacting victims and offering to sell them a software solution to remove the spyware. Nice!

Sun Settles with Kodak for $92 Million
   Just days after a federal jury awarded Kodak a victory in its patent-infringement lawsuit against Sun, the two companies have settled the case, with Sun paying Kodak $92 million. Under terms of the agreement, Sun doesn't have to admit any wrongdoing and can continue to use the contested technology in its Java platform products. The agreement also prevents Kodak from pursuing Sun customers. "\[This settlement\] assures customers worldwide that Sun will stand behind its products and intellectual property and eliminates any uncertainty that could result from a protracted lawsuit and appeal," a Sun statement said.

Honeywell Launches Massive Number of Patent-Infringement Lawsuits
   Weren't we just talking about patent infringement? This week, Honeywell launched lawsuits against more than 30 PC and consumer electronics companies, claiming violations of its LCD-related patents. Honeywell's victims include companies such as Apple Computer, Dell, Kodak, Sanyo, and Sony. Honeywell charges that these companies used its patented technology for brightening images and reducing interference on the LCDs used in notebook computers, cell phones, and other products. The company is seeking monetary damages (naturally) and injunctions to halt the sale of the offending products. This patent-infringement stuff is proving so lucrative that some companies apparently are starting to use it as their sole revenue source. Is it time for patent reform?

Tip of the Week: Download the ClearType Tuner PowerToy
   This week, Microsoft issued the ClearType Tuner, a new PowerToy for Windows XP that creates a new Control Panel applet for (obviously) setting up optimal ClearType settings, depending on your display and eyesight. Cool! You can download the new PowerToy, along with many others, from the XP PowerToys site. I'll post a review shortly.