If you're reading this on Friday, I'm flying home to Boston after three weeks in France. If you're reading this after Friday, I'm already home and picking up the pieces. My guess is that it will take a few days to get back to a normal schedule. If I m lucky.

France has been wonderful; the people have been amazingly friendly, the food and drink have been superb (as expected) and the weather has been cooler than anticipated given the season, but quite nice. As I write this, I'm sitting next to huge open bay windows, the sky is sunny and warm and the neighborhood is alive with people coming and going. We did a home swap for the first time and although that scenario can be a bit nerve racking it's allowed us to stay in France longer than we ever could have otherwise and feel as if we're at home. If you can get over your inhibitions about letting strangers live in your home, look into it. In our case, the people we swapped with aren't quite strangers. In fact, they're pretty much friends at this point. But it's worth noting that we all ended up together because of the Internet and we were able to meet with the French family before swapping homes, which made the particulars a lot easier. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I've harbored thoughts about simply not going home.

My wife asked me the other day what I missed from home. I couldn't really think of anything, although I can rattle off several things I'll miss about this place. Of course, three weeks isn't like moving. After several years in Phoenix, Arizona we started missing certain things about New England that we didn't miss the first year or so. But I do feel somewhat disconnected out here. At home, I read two newspapers per day and online regularly, but in France I was online only sporadically. I could get used to it, maybe too easily. We've actually established nice relationships with the people at the market, the butcher shop and the bakery and we ll miss them when we leave.

One thing I'm not too excited about is the expected security problems we're going to face at the airport. While we were away the British terror suspect thing happened so they've battened down the hatches going in and out of the United States. That should be fun.

OK, enough about France. Let's dive into Short Takes.

Vista and Office 2007 On the Road to RTM

There's been some weird conjecture and misinformation about the build numbers for Windows Vista this week. Seeing as I'm curiously the de facto outlet of information along these lines, I thought I'd clear things up. Build 5536 is now the Release Candidate 1 (RC1) escrow build a version of Vista that Microsoft will ship to testers by this weekend if everything goes well. Build 5552 is the new RC1 build and should be available in early September. In reality, RC1 will almost certainly be a later iteration of that build or a completely new build. Meanwhile, Microsoft has also branched the Vista build tree for release to manufacturing (RTM). The current build number for RTM is 5709, but that will be incremented regularly going forward. Put simply, any Vista 57xx builds you see are on the RTM tree. And you might logically expect that the final version will be manually changed to build 6000 because Vista is Windows 6.0. The situation is similar for the 2007 Microsoft Office system. Microsoft plans to ship a Technical Refresh of Office 2007 any day now and the current build number is 4407 .003. If you see Office 2007 builds in the 4409 range or higher they're in the RTM tree. There's been a lot of speculation about whether Vista, and to a lesser extent Office, will be ready for RTM by October. But talking heads aside, Microsoft's internal build number schemes say it all. Both products are barreling toward completion in October whether you re ready or not. It's time to start researching Core 2 Duo based PCs methinks.

Battery Gate: What Did Dell Know and When Follow the Smell of Fire

Pity poor Dell for its recent downturn. Or maybe not. Recent evidence suggests that at least one of Dell's problems wasn't necessarily a surprise. According to various reports, both Dell and Sony knew about manufacturing problems in the batteries that Sony was making for Dell notebooks as far back as October 2005. Sony actually changed the way it manufactured the batteries after discovering the problem, but Dell neglected to voluntarily recall the defective batteries it sold until they actually started exploding. Dell says it was confident that Sony's manufacturing process had been changed sufficiently to prevent any problems and it wasn't until several months later that the batteries started spontaneously destructing. Presumably, Dell didn't act maliciously and it's fair to say that the company acted quickly when real problems did emerge.

Microsoft Pitches In to Get Firefox Running Properly on Vista

Here's a heart warming story. This week, the head of Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab (yeah Microsoft has one) invited representatives from Mozilla Corporation to come to Redmond to test future versions of the Mozilla Firefox Web browser on Vista. Sam Ramji, who runs the lab, says he has set aside space in his lab so that Mozilla can ensure that Firefox and other products such as the Thunderbird email application run as well as possible on Vista.

"We provide secure office space for four people, hardware VPN access and one on one access to product team developers and support staff," Ramji wrote in a note to Mozilla's development planning discussion group. "I'm committed to evolving our thinking beyond commercial companies to include open source projects."

Mozilla representatives say they're following up with Microsoft via email. Awwww!

Microsoft Inching Toward Incentives to Spur Vista Sales

Microsoft has publicly shot down rumors that it will offer its volume licensing customers reparations because of the late arrivals of Vista and Office 2007 but the company is allegedly still looking into ways to prevent PC sales from tanking this holiday season because of consumers waiting for Vista to ship. According to numerous reports Microsoft will offer PC makers discounts so that the PC makers can in turn offer customers free Vista upgrades that would be delivered and installed in early 2007. That way, consumers will feel confident about buying Windows XP based PCs this holiday season and then upgrading to Vista when it arrives in early 2007. Or so the theory goes. Frankly, I don't recommend this approach. Your best bet will be to buy a new PC that has Vista preinstalled. For that I'm told you'll need to wait until late January 2007.

Microsoft Autodesk Must Pay in Patent Infringement Suit

This week a federal judge refused to throw out a patent infringement verdict against Microsoft and Autodesk and ordered both companies to pay a Michigan man a total of 160 million. The man had patented software designed to reduce piracy and accused Microsoft of infringing on that patent with its Product Activation software. Microsoft would pay $115 million of the $160 million verdict in addition to $25 million in damages and $2 million in legal fees plus interest. Microsoft said it's disappointed and will appeal. But if you want to know real disappointment, think about all those people who have to deal with Product Activation every day. Microsoft could have at least stolen a good idea this time.

Microsoft Preps Live Drive for Vista

This week Microsoft confirmed that it's working on an online service called Windows Live Drive that will provide consumers with free online storage that can be accessed directly from Vista PCs. The basic Live Drive package will be free and will likely include a 2GB storage allotment, although users will be able to purchase additional storage. Naturally, Google is working on a similar service imaginatively named Google Drive.

The Office Meets The Office 

If you're a fan of the UK classic TV show The Office, which the equally excellent US TV show of the same name is based on, you'll absolutely love this news. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the geniuses behind the show, have created a set of 20 minute Microsoft training video spoofs starring Gervais' over the top David Brent character. As expected, the videos are hilarious and are all the more so because Microsoft UK commissioned them and didn't intend them for public consumption. Combined, the two videos are like a lost episode from The Office. Ah bliss.

With iPod Apple Pulls a Microsoft 

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the obvious similarities between Apple Computer's settlement with Creative Technology this week and Microsoft's previous settlement with Apple. In 1997, Microsoft settled a longstanding court case with Apple after Apple accused Microsoft of copyright infringement in regards to the Macintosh and Lisa UIs. At the time, Apple was struggling financially and in danger of bankruptcy and irrelevance. Microsoft, of course, was on top of the world. The Microsoft settlement provided Apple with a much needed cash infusion and the certainty that came with Microsoft's promise to keep developing Microsoft Office for the Mac. That said, few would argue that Microsoft didn't pilfer major parts of the Windows UI from the Mac, although to be fair, Microsoft did a credible job of defending itself in court for a decade. Flash forward to 2006. Now Apple is dominant in the MP3 player market, although it obviously stole its iPod UI from Creative, an innovator in the MP3 player market. This time, Apple settled with Creative for a paltry $100 million, an amount the company admits won't affect its earnings at all and gets the right to continue using its derivative UI in the iPod. And cash strapped Creative agreed to make iPod accessories. So both events are nearly identical right down to the conclusions. In both cases, the dominant product, although late to market and clearly derivative, remains dominant. Bravo to Apple for being on the correct end of the deal this time.