An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including iPod with video, SQL Server and Visual Studio 2005 RTM, Microsoft earnings, PC shipments, Microsoft vs. South Korea, Google suit stayed, AMD vs. Intel, VMWare Player, and so much more...
If you're interested in the speed of the new FIOS connection, I finally have some results. Using the speed test on bandwidth.com, I'm averaging about 12.8 Mbps down and just a hair under 2 Mbps up. That's pretty sweet. To be fair, in usage, I don't really see a big difference. As with all things Internet-related, you're at the mercy of the host to which you're connected. I would imagine that this connection could be handy for massive file transfers and online gaming. But with half the planet apparently trying to download SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 from MSDN Subscriber Downloads (see below) this week, I didn't exactly fare very well in that department either.
Switching Internet providers is painful. Switching over my entire home network to the new connection proved even more difficult, and I wasn't expecting that. I used the FIOS install to switch completely to gigabit Ethernet networking, and 108 Mbps wireless, using a nice D-Link gaming router that I've had sitting around here for a while. The switchover was somewhat straightforward, but I had a heck of a time getting my network-attached Dell laser printer to work properly. Through a bizarre series of driver uninstalls and reinstalls--on every single one of my systems, no less--I can once again print, for the most part. But the weirdest thing happened on my main desktop PC: After a few days of printing fine over the new network, it now refuses to print to the Dell, and crashes any application that tries to print (Word, Outlook, StarOffice, whatever). Then, Word just started crashing all the time, and let's face it: I use Word all day, every day, and it never, ever crashes. So I switched the default printer to the Microsoft Office Document Image Writer, and .. voila. No more crashes. That is just unbelievable. Days later, I still haven't solved this issue. What a mess.
I've been playing with a new iPod with video, the Apple Universal Dock, and the new Apple Remote for the past week, and I have two observations. First, despite years of experience with portable video, I'm super impressed with both the iPod video and the video formats (MPEG-4 and H.264) that it utilizes; even at 320 x 240 (or 480 x 270, as I've encoded my widescreen videos in), these movies look great blasted out to a large TV set, albeit with sub-DVD-style artifacts here and there. Second, I'm suddenly hooked on the TV show "Lost." I purchased the show's premiere episode via iTunes to test the iPod, and now my wife and I are several episodes in and there's no turning back. My TV watching habits tend toward horror movies, history and travel shows, and comedies like "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy," and I find most network TV to be reprehensible and unintelligent. But "Lost" is just good stuff. I guess TV is like anything else: There's good buried in there with the bad. The trick is to find it.
Saturday is my birthday--I'll be 39--so excuse a bit of introspection. I've been writing this newsletter for over ten years now, and the SuperSite for over 7 years. That's not too shabby, I guess. On a related note, I've gotten a bunch of emails lately from journalism students wondering how they get to do what I'm doing. I don't have much advice, sadly: To completely emulate me, you'd have to have a wife that doesn't mind supporting you for several years while you write about technology for free, and then you have to get really lucky after that. In other words, I don't have a business how-to book in the works. But there are definitely holes in tech coverage these days: Most current tech enthusiast sites are simply blogs that cull the Web and post links to content written by other people, and there's a real lack of insight, depth, and experience out there. So my advice is simple: Actually do the work, create a body of unique content, and don't take the easy way out. And if a nuclear war does break out, duck and cover. Or something.
SQL Server and Visual Studio 2005 RTM
Almost two weeks before their official launch, Microsoft has released SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005, and .NET Framework 2.0 to manufacturing. The first two products are currently available for download via MSDN (for subscribers), while the new .NET Framework is publicly available from the Microsoft Web site.
Windows, Server Shipments Lift Microsoft Profits ... Again
Microsoft has once again exceeded analysts expectations, posting quarterly profits and yesterday that were above estimates. In the quarter ending September 30, 2005, Microsoft earned $3.14 billion (up from $2.53 billion in the same quarter last year) on revenues of $9.74 billion (compared to $9.19 billion last year). The earnings include a one-time charge of $359 million, which the company paid in an antitrust settlement to RealNetworks. Amazingly, Microsoft credited the strong quarter on strong sales of Windows and Windows Server; the company's Windows XP product is four years old and desperately in the need of replacement, while Windows Server 2003 is about to replaced by a new version called Windows Server 2003 R2. Looking forward, Microsoft noted that the coming quarter will see a huge spike in video game sales thanks to the launch of the Xbox 360. The company says it plans to ship between 4.5 million and 5.5 million Xbox 360 consoles worldwide by June 2006, but that it will likely not come close to meeting demand for the holidays. Microsoft, incidentally, still has $40 billion in cash or liquid assets. Not to shabby.
PC Shipments Still Going Strong in 2005
If you're wondering how an aging version of Windows could possibly still be selling at record levels, look no further: PC sales are on a tear this year, and though most PC makers won't see the sales increases that Apple Computer enjoys (because, let's face it, it's easy to raise sales year-over-year when last year stunk), this year is quickly turning into one of the best in recent PC history. According to Gartner, PC sales in the third quarter were up a whopping 17 percent year over year, with PC makers shipping a combined 55 million computers. (IDC, which uses different numbers to calculate total PC sales, says that 53 million PCs were shipped in the quarter.) Dell was the number one PC maker yet again, both in the US and globally, followed by HP, Lenovo, and Acer.
Not Humor: Microsoft Threatens to Remove Windows from South Korea
What do you do when you don't agree with the laws of a country that, frankly, isn't populated enough to warrant your attention? You simply threaten to remove your best selling product from that country until it grows up and bends to your monopolistic demands. Yes, folks, this is the sad story of Microsoft and South Korea this week, in which our favorite monopolist is literally threatening to remove Windows from the South Korean market if the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in that country requires the company to unbundle Windows Messenger and Windows Media Player (WMP) from Windows. Oh, South Korea, when will you learn that you don't have the political or market clout of the European Union (EU) or the United States? And Microsoft, the shame of it all. When will you stop complaining that it's so hard to remove artificially bundled products from Windows when, in fact, the XP N Editions pretty much prove that it wasn't all that hard after all? If Windows were truly elegant--i.e. created in a componentized fashion--this would be even less painful. And if Microsoft would stop trying to jam unrelated products down consumers throats in order to artificially and, ahem, illegally extend its Windows monopoly to other markets, this never would have happened. Brad Silverberg, where are you when we need you?
Google Suit Against Microsoft is Stayed
Judge Ronald Whyte, representing the US District Court in San Jose, California, yesterday ordered a stay in a case in which Microsoft is attempting to block Google's hiring of an ex-Microsoft researcher, Kai-Fu Lee. Basically, Microsoft sued Google to prevent the hire, and then Google countersued Microsoft in order to have the case tried in California, a state in which Microsoft is, ahem, not exactly popular. The stay, which is potentially a major setback to Google, means that the case will have to be tried in Washington state. "Google and Lee fail to explain why they cannot ask the Washington state court to apply California law," Whyte noted in his ruling. A trial is now scheduled in Seattle for January 2006.
Microsoft Shuffles the Executive Deck ... Again
Yesterday, Microsoft announced that Bob Muglia would assume the title of senior vice president of the company's Server and Tools Business, succeeding Eric Rudder, who recently took on a new role working directly with Bill Gates. Muglia was previously the senior vice president of the Windows Server Division, and is a member of the company's Technical Senior Leadership and Business Leadership teams. Additionally, Sanjay Parthasarathy, the corporate vice president of Microsoft's Developer & Platform Evangelism Group, will now report directly to Kevin Johnson, who is co-president of the Platform, Products & Services division. Microsoft reorganized last month, reducing the number of internal product divisions from seven to three, in a bid to move more quickly in the market. In case you hadn't noticed, Microsoft isn't exactly the most sure-footed of high tech companies these days.
Microsoft Ships Works 2006
This week, Microsoft shipped the latest version of Works, its productivity product suite aimed at consumers. Microsoft Works 2006 includes a number of applications, including Word, Digital Image Standard, Money, Streets & Trips Essentials, and Encarta Standard, and is priced to sell at just $99. But what the heck is up with the inclusion of Word 2002 (from Office XP) in the package? Rather than bundle the latest version of Word, Word 2003, in the package, Microsoft has opted to saddle consumers with the previous version of the product, which shipped back in 2001. That's like a little slap in the face, from what I can tell. Did Microsoft think that too many people were slumming it with Works just to get Word?
AMD Turns Up the Heat on Intel
Microprocessor maker AMD, which created the innovative x64 platform, is finally starting to make some market gains on chip making juggernaught Intel. In the third quarter of 2005, Intel saw its market share dip 1.4 percent to 80.8 percent of the market, while AMD's market share rose to 17.8 percent (from 16.2 percent). That means that AMD gained on Intel, but it also snagged some market share from Transmeta, which is apparently doing what it can to exit the market. A 1.6 percent market share gain might not seem like a lot, but remember that this is the hardware market, which has been steady for years; too, AMD's gain is the largest its made against Intel in years. When you combine this information with AMD's better-than-expected quarterly results, and Intel's less-stellar-than-expected quarterly results, the news is good. When you realize that AMD might have actually outsold Intel in desktop PC sales at retail locations for the quarter, it's even clearer that something wonderful is happening.
VMWare Player Released
This week, VMWare made its machine virtualization technology more accessible by releasing a free VMWare Player product that lets users run single instances of virtual machines (VMs) on their PCs. VMWare Player can't create VMs, however, so you'll still need to use VMWare Workstation or one of the company's server products for that task. But with VMWare Player, corporations now have a lightweight client they can deploy to workers, and we might just see Linux distributions offer their products in VMWare virtual machine formats, so that individuals can evaluate these Linux versions on their Windows desktops. The possibilities, frankly, are endless.
New Browser Threatens IE, Maybe Firefox Too
There's a new browser in town, and frankly, I don't know what to make of it. Based on Mozilla's excellent Firefox browser, Flock adds a number of interesting and even controversial new features. Some are describing it as the rebirth of Web browsing. But others think that Flock is a huge mistake, one that will eventually be a catastrophe for users. So what's the big deal? Flock brings all the goodness from Mozilla and adds better pop-up blocking, dramatically improved Favorites functionality, History searching, RSS feed integration, blog posting integration (compatible with WordPress, Movable Type, Typepad, Live Journal, and Blogger), and other new features. And Flock has some great credentials, as it's designed by the mastermind behind doomed Eazel product, which sought to create one true user interface for Linux. Flock critics, however, are legion. They say that Flock does nothing that isn't possible with Firefox extensions, while ignoring existing Web services. They note that Flock's marketing message is full of Web 2.0 baloney such as social engineering. They even hate its icon. I don't know. Flock is just a superset of Firefox, from what I can tell, and if you happen to need or want any of its additional features, it seems to work just fine in my tests. Frankly, I'm unclear on what all the hubbub is.
Happy Halloween ... And Let's Not Forget Episode III
Monday is Halloween in the US, and my kids will be dressed up as Batman and a cat, terrorizing the neighborhood that night. This is big stuff when you're under 12, but bigger still, from my perspective (and, perhaps, that of my 7-year-old son) is Tuesday's release of "STAR WARS Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith" on DVD. Good times.