An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news, including Microsoft and the fine art of slave labor, a big change to Microsoft's support policy, Intel and Google vs. Microsoft, Twitter's power play, Opera on the (gasp!) iPhone, and much more...
This will be the last installment of the "WinInfo Blog," such as it is. I'll be blogging more regularly now over at the SuperSite for Windows, on the obviously-named SuperSite Blog, instead. What's happened is that I'm now moderating that blog, and providing more of a conversation than before, and will be interacting with readers in the comments section there. That makes more sense to me than this sort of thing, which only happens once a week and isn't any real kind of conversation. See you there!
Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this week, and as always there will be versions on both iTunes and the Zune Marketplace in the coming days.
Microsoft to Investigate Use of Slave Labor for Mice Manufacturing
And you wondered why all those products from Apple, Microsoft, numerous PC makers, and virtually all consumer electronics companies were made in China. (You didn't really wonder, did you?) It's because China offers lower manufacturing costs thanks to unsafe factory conditions and a complete disregard for human rights and the environment. It's what's called a win-win from the American companies' perspectives, not to mention for their clueless customers, who will smile at a "Designed by Apple in Cupertino" sticker but never pause to wonder what the other (smaller) sticker, which reads, "Manufactured in China," means. This is what it means: Slave labor. And this week, Microsoft is rushing to examine a computer mouse maker partner's factory in Dongguan, China, to discover if allegations of long working hours, low pay, insufficient food, and little in the way of worker freedom is, in fact, true. Which it is, of course. And if we ignore these people, and the dangerous chemicals these factories are spewing into the atmosphere, all for the benefit of lower-cost iPods and computer mice, we're not the solution, we're the problem. And I'm curious why this is of so little concern to people.
Microsoft Makes None-too-Subtle Change to its Support Policy
It's interesting to watch Microsoft modify its way of doing things in response to broader changes in its customer base. Ten years ago, companies would purchase Windows, use it for a few years on PCs, and then upgrade the PCs or the OS and get a new version of Windows, and Microsoft could retire aging Windows versions on a predictable (if short) schedule. Over time, however, businesses began using Windows versions for longer and longer time cycles, a reflection of their financial stinginess, sure, but also of the quality of more recent Windows versions, which continue to run and run, much like Japanese automobiles. (And yes, please do insert your favorite Toyota joke here, but that's not what I meant.) So Microsoft stretched out the support life cycle for Windows, many times, in starts and spurts. But the basic tenet never really changed: Any given version of Windows would be supported for XX years. It would get X years of mainstream support (varying between consumer and business versions), X years of extended support, and then it would just drift off to that great farm in the sky, where it could frolic with other retired Windows versions and chase rabbits in its sleep. Not anymore.
In a further blurring of the lines between new and old, Microsoft changed its support policy this week and will now provide limited, phone-based support to customers for outdated Windows versions and will help them troubleshoot problems. Charges and fees apply, of course. But one has to wonder. If some humongous corporate customer offered Microsoft millions of dollars to release, say, Windows XP Service Pack 4, you have to think they might actually go for it. It's gotten that silly.
Intel Is Backing Android? What About Wintel?
In the good old days, it was Microsoft and Intel against the world, and the two companies' products were so pervasive that a term for the duopoly, Wintel (i.e. "Windows + Intel), was born. But those days could be coming to a close, if the rumors are true. This week, Intel succeeded in porting Google's Android smartphone platform to the Atom chipset, which is used to build low-cost netbook computers that, currently at least, are based on Windows. (And, for those keeping score at home, netbook computers are still, by far, the highest growth part of the PC market.) Does this new relationship between Google and Intel mean there's a rift between Intel and Microsoft? Hardly. Both companies are, of course, free (and arguably legally required) to pursue other partnerships. Intel partnered with Apple on its Mac computers, for example. And Microsoft famously went the AMD route when time came for the move to 64-bit computing, throwing its weight behind an x64 architecture that even Intel was eventually forced to use. So let's not make too much of this. Intel has a right to see that it's platforms are as widely used as possible. This is not a big deal at all.
Twitter Moves into the Big Leagues
Twitter, the company behind the micro-blogging service of the same name, held its first-ever developer conference (the too-cutely-named Chirp) this week, signaling to the world that it is ready to start making money on what was presumably a college dorm room bet gone wrong previously. Twitter has angered developers recently by purchasing a company called Atebits, which no-one has ever heard of except for one thing; Atebits makes Tweetie, which is by far the best Twitter app on the iPhone, so now the company is competing directly with the over 100,000 (yes, 100,000) third party Twitter apps out there. But if Twitter's recently-released numbers are to be believed, there's plenty of tweeting to go around: The company says that It has 106 million registered users and is adding 300,000 new users a day. And those users are posting 55 million tweets each day, reaching an audience that is 180 million people strong each month. So is Twitter the biggest circle of self-referential back-slapping on earth or the next online economic shaker? We're going to find out soon, as the company intends to make money via ads that will work similarly to Google sponsored ads. But in tweet searches, instead of Google searches. Does this make any sense? Who the heck knows.
Opera Finally gets on the iPhone, Receives 1 Million Downloads in 24 Hours
And you were led to believe that people actually liked Safari. Opera, which makes an also-ran web browser on the PC (they do; you can look it up) is actually a serious contender in the mobile space, with tens of millions of users. But with Apple taking tight control of the iPhone, and not really open to allowing any apps on there that compete with their own apps, it seemed like Opera would never really find a way onto that device. So they called Apple's bluff and publicly blogged about their submission to the iTunes Apps Store and displayed a counter explaining how much time had elapsed since they begged Apple to let them in. So what was Apple to do? Actually, I'm surprised they folded, but they did. And within 24 hours of its release on the iPhone, Opera Mini had been downloaded over 1 million times. It's amazing what a little competition can do, and while you have to think this was partially a PR play given the bad press Apple has gotten this week for further locking down the iPhone in uncompetitive ways, it's still a good sign. And a sign to Apple, I think, that people aren't too amused by their micro-management of the iPhone ecosystem.
NPD Releases Video Game Data for March: Sony and Microsoft Tied for Second Place
And you believed the silliness from Microsoft last month, shame on you for that. According to market researchers at NPD, video game sales in the US increased by 6 percent in March to $1.52 billion, thanks to strong sales of "God of War III" for the Sony PlayStation 3 and a handful of other new titles. The Nintendo Wii continued to be the dominant (non-portable) console, with 557,000 units sold, but the Microsoft Xbox 360 and PS3 were in a virtual tie for second place with 338,000 and 314,000 units sold, respectively. My personal favorite game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, became the second-best-selling video game title of all time in March, behind Nintendo's "Wii Play". (Interesting note there: Wii Play, obviously, is only available on a single platform, while MW2 is available on multiple platforms.) The top five console/portable video game titles were God of War III (PS3), Pokemon Soulsilver (DS), Final Fantasy XIII (PS3), Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (Xbox 360), and Pokemon HeartGold (DS). Not a lot of Xbox 360 love there, and when you consider that the bestselling video game machine was actually the Nintendo DS, with 700,000 units sold, the 360 is a distant third from a hardware perspective, and running neck and neck with a platform (the PS3) that many had written off a year ago. What's up?