An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news...
Microsoft to Pay a Quarterly Dividend ... A Sign of Health?
With the drubbing Microsoft has taken this year for losing the market-cap war to Apple, one might think that the software giant is slowly circling the drain as its non-core products fall, one by one, to faster and more nimble competitors. I don't know. On the one hand, we have a Microsoft announcement that the company is going to pay a quarterly dividend of $0.13 per share on September 9, providing shareholders with their share of recent profits. Good news, right? Maybe. But on the other hand, I've heard from multiple sources at the company that there will be some pretty bad news coming in the next month or so. I can't say much more yet, but let's just say that Microsoft's defeats in the consumer market will not go unpunished ... and that Robbie Bach and J Allard were just the start.
Gyroscope? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Gyroscope! (Yet.)
Microsoft has come under weird fire this week for not requiring a gyroscope in its first-generation Windows Phone devices, which will ship later this year. The reason the company has come under fire for this, as far as I can tell, is that Apple just announced that the iPhone 4 will, in fact, include this hardware. Thus, Windows Phone, out of the gate, will be "inferior." So I know you're wondering: What exactly does a gyroscope bring to the table, and how or why is it superior to the accelerometer that Apple had been talking up for the previous three years (hardware that Windows Phone devices will include)? The reason you're wondering is that, if you go back and watch Apple's WWDC keynote address, in which the company introduced the iPhone 4, you'll have no idea what it does. CEO Steve Jobs talked about gravity, and "rotation around gravity" (whatever that means), and spun around in real time, as if anyone playing a game on an iPhone would want to do that. I'm surprised Apple didn't provide a simpler explanation: A gyroscope basically addresses many of the issues with an accelerometer, such as when you place the device down on a table and it switches into a different screen orientation, forcing you to do the "accelerometer shuffle" (as I call it), shaking and tilting the device until it reorientates itself to the way you want it. A gyroscope allows the internal GPS to always be pointing a map application in the direction you're facing. And so on. Anyway, Windows Phone won't have this hardware, nor will it have gyroscope APIs for those device makers that want to add such a thing. But come on, critics. This is a 1.0 release, and I expect Microsoft to move quickly to fix such lapses. If it's not done in a year, complain. But right now, this is a non-issue.
Motion Control? Pfft! Sony and Nintendo Are Going 3D
Microsoft's Kinect motion control system for the Xbox 360 was a big deal for the software giant this week, but its competitors are moving into Avatar (the movie, not the onscreen personalities) territory with upcoming 3D offerings. Nintendo will deliver a new version of its popular DS handheld system, the 3DS (eh? eh?) sometime in the misty future, providing gamers with what will likely be the cheapest 3D system for the forseeable future. It doesn't require special glasses, but it does require the special power to not feel lame walking around in public with a Nintendo product. Meanwhile, Sony is requiring consumers to purchase some hefty hardware—a PlayStation 3, naturally, but also special glasses, a 3D add-on for the console, and an expensive Sony 3D flat panel TV—to sample its 3D wares. This set of products should be available right around the time the world's population increases so much that we're forced to adopt a Logan's Run-style system that will ensure that the only people still around are those young enough to even want to use such a thing. Call me old fashioned, but a standard game controller still does the trick for me.
Microsoft Kinect to Retail for $150 ... Or Less
Speaking of Kinect, one of the more conspicuously missing pieces of information about Microsoft's upcoming motion-control system is the price. Apparently, Microsoft was waiting to see where Sony's Wii knockoff, the Move, was priced. And this week, Sony announced that the Move would cost $99 when it ships in September. Which is too bad for Microsoft, since the software giant was planning on selling Kinect for $150. So, the company is reevaluating that price point and will announce something soon (or at least in time for the November 4 launch). You can count on this, however: Kinect will cost $150. Or less.
Microsoft Launches a Stolen Accounts Recovery Service
Microsoft this week launched a rather unique service: Its Internet Fraud Alert will help consumers mitigate losses associated with online fraud and account theft. Created with the help of numerous banks, online retailers, consumer protection associations, and the FTC, Microsoft Internet Fraud Alert provides centralized reporting and alert systems that will quickly inform companies about compromised financial accounts so that they can protect their customers. You can find out more about Internet Fraud Alert at ifraudalert.org.
Apple Is Evil, Part 27
Speaking of protecting consumers, Apple is going about it in a decidedly more secretive way—but what the heck, we're supposed to celebrate the company for that kind of behavior! It turns out that Mac OS X has a very basic virus scanner built into it, one that few people even know exists, and that Apple has been quietly (i.e., without users' knowledge) updating this product over time to address new threats. As some Captain Obvious bloggers have pointed out, this proves Apple really doesn't want its users to think about security. But I think it proves something else: Apple really feels that it owns the system you're using, and that it can update that system without your consent. I don't have to remind you how the world acts when Microsoft does something like this. >Cough< Double standard. >Cough<
Federal Investigation of iPad Identity Theft Continues
This past week, a so-called security group (read: hacker cabal) side-stepped AT&T's weak security controls and gained access to hundreds of high-profile iPad user accounts, which included a lot of personal data. And now the FBI is investigating, because while AT&T has in fact alerted customers that their data was accessed, the company said that only email address and internal ID numbers were stolen. According to people who have investigated this separately, the information stolen from AT&T can, in fact, be used to access far more personal information than the company has disclosed. And in a weird sidebar, a lead hacker in the group responsible for the attack—excuse me, a lead researcher in the group responsible for the disclosure and public service—was arrested on unrelated drug charges. As so often happens with reputable security firms.
Microsoft: For the Umpteenth Time, We're Killing Off Windows XP SP2. Deal With It.
Just another in a long list of reminders that the most popular version of Windows ever created—Windows XP with SP2—will be hitting the dreaded "End of Life" (EOL) phase in mid-July. So if you're using such a system and want to continue getting security updates and product support going forward, you're going to have to upgrade to SP3. The good news is that SP3 is supported through April 2014, so that's another four years you have to use your increasingly outdated OS. The better news is that Windows 7 is here, so why don't you upgrade to something that is markedly superior? Just a thought. Either way, July 13 is the day, so plan accordingly.
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
I had to juggle the schedule around a bit, but Leo and I did record a new episode of the Windows Weekly Leo this week. As always, it should be available by the weekend on iTunes and the Zune Marketplace, in both audio and video formats.