An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...
Support for Ballmer Possibly Waning with Shareholders
I wrote about this week's Microsoft sometimes-contentious annual shareholders meeting on the SuperSite, but there was a related development that further casts doubts on CEO Steve Ballmer's popularity with the company's shareholders. In a Form 8-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) later in the week, Microsoft noted that Ballmer has the approval of 92 percent of shareholders, which seems—and is—pretty high. But it's also lower than the 95 percent approval rating he achieved a year ago, suggesting that slow sales of Windows Phone and Microsoft's creeping inability to quickly enter the tablet market are having an effect on some. More important, perhaps, Ballmer was the only board member not to receive a 99 percent or higher approval rating from shareholders—another indication, perhaps, that not all is well. I suspect the company's performance this coming year, and its ability to deliver strong Windows and Windows Updates, will play a big role in next year's meeting.
Windows 8 Delayed?
Speaking of next year's Windows release, a prominent Microsoft watcher said this week that Windows 8 will ship significantly later than many (myself included) believe. I wouldn't mention such a thing if this was just some random analyst—I abhor most of those people—but this is Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft. He's a friend, a trusted source, and a knowledgeable insider and former Microsoftie. So his word carries a lot of weight with me. "I think Windows 8 is about a year away," he said. "I believe there will be an RTM somewhere in the last quarter of 2012. Traditionally, there's been a 90-day gap between RTM and general availability. To me, that means machine availability in 2013." I have a lot of thoughts running through my head about this one, so I'll try to be brief. First, that would be disastrous, and would give Apple—and Amazon now—another year in which to dominate the nascent tablet market. Second, it also highlights something that's been nagging at me about Windows 8, which is that the very scope of this project (completely remaking the Windows runtime, shell, and development/apps environment) makes it hard to believe that Microsoft could deliver the thing on time. When the company provided a not-complete-version of Windows 8 in September, that was a bad sign, since I was told previously that it would be feature-complete. So now I'm looking toward CES in January and wondering. And if Microsoft announces but doesn't release a feature-complete beta at that show, then Michael's schedule will suddenly look very, very likely. And that will be a setback—for the platform and for Microsoft.
Microsoft Will Update Third-Party Software in Windows 8 ... but Only for New Apps
Years ago, while on a security road-show tour that was partially sponsored by Microsoft, I had a set of briefings at the software giant's headquarters, where I was shown then-future products such as "Monad" (which later became PowerShell) and Microsoft Update, which extended the Windows Update infrastructure to include other, non-Windows products from Microsoft as well as third-party drivers. I was told at the time that Microsoft Update/Windows Update would be later extended again, to support third-party application software, providing Windows users with a central location for all their software-update needs. And now it's happening, in Windows 8. In a blog post about Windows 8's Windows Update functionality this week, group program manager Farzana Rahman revealed that although legacy apps are on their own—"The wide variety of delivery mechanisms, installation tools, and overall approaches to updates across the full breadth of applications makes it impossible to push all updates through [Windows Update]"—new, Metro-style apps will be centrally updated through Windows Update, no matter who wrote them. Windows 8 will include "an integrated update service to help ensure apps are maintained in a consistent manner," he wrote. Yay!
Got $8,400 Burning a Hole in Your Pocket? Then I've Got a Table(t) for You!
Microsoft's second-generation Surface table, the imaginatively named SUR40, is now available for prospective customers, and (reminiscent of an Apple product update) it's thinner, lighter, and less expensive than the version it's replacing. That said, it is a table. The SUR40 runs $8,400—a far cry from the $12,500 commanded by the first unit. It uses a thinner new Samsung display for less bulky design, and the sensors are built right into the panel. It can be mounted on the wall if you don't have the floor space, and it can be used vertically or horizontally. I know, it's a dream come true. But the Surface is still aimed at vertical businesses such as hotels and casinos, and not at consumers. Maybe the Surface 3 will be the table for the people.
Rumor Buster: Sorry, Haters, But Amazon Is Not Taking a Loss on the Kindle Fire
When Amazon announced its iPad-threatening Kindle Fire recently, the Apple-friendly press reacted in shock at the low-ball pricing. I mean, the Fire's $200 price tag is less than a third the cost of a mid-level iPad. Surely Amazon is taking a loss on each unit in a bid to gain market share. Nope. According to the firms iSuppli and UBM TechInsights, the averaged price of the Fire components is just $173, meaning that the online retailer is making a profit on each unit sold even at launch. And since this is Amazon, you can expect both the retail price and cost of components to come down dramatically as sales surge, too, so it's going to be a pretty profitable business going forward. It just goes to show you, you don't have to charge a heady premium for a fantastic bit of hardware.
You've Been Warned: Do Not Buy a RIM PlayBook, No Matter the Price
Staples and other retailers will be selling Research In Motion's (RIM's) disastrous PlayBook tablet on "Black Friday" (the day after Thanksgiving) for just $199, a replay of the earlier $99 fire sale for the equally disastrous HP/Palm TouchPad. As with the TouchPad, my advice is simple: Do not buy this hunk of junk. But this time, at least, you have an alternative, the Amazon Kindle Fire, which also costs $199 and will be supported with new apps and content for years and years to come. In fact, if you're going to buy a Fire, my advice is to not wait for Black Friday: Buy it now. There's already a few day's wait, and my guess is that the wait will get longer as we progress through the holidays. If you have any design on giving this thing as a gift, buy early. Heck, buy a few. They're inexpensive.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Breaks More Sales Records
After last week's stunning opening day, in which Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 became the biggest-ever entertainment launch with $400 million in revenues in the first 24 hours of availability, it probably won't shock you to find out that the game title has gone on to break more records over the past week. The game made $775 million in its first five days, breaking the previous record, set by last year's Call of Duty: Black Ops, naturally, by over $100 million. But how does this compare to movies? The highest-performing movie of all time, over its first five days, was The Dark Knight, but that film earned only a paltry $203 million in that span, less than one-third the amount of Modern Warfare 3. Want a little more perspective? The overall movie industry generated $32 billion in 2010. But the overall video game industry generated $66 billion. Take that, Hollywood!
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
With Mary Jo traveling this week, Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday at the usual time. It should be available for download by the end of the weekend on iTunes, the Zune Marketplace, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.
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