An often-irreverent look at some of the week's other stories...
Give Microsoft Credit for Leading the Way in Digital Entertainment
Apple Computer has the cool and hip thing going for it with the iPod and, to a lesser degree, with the Apple iTunes Music Store. But if you dig a little deeper than the exterior sheen, Microsoft is clearly dominant when it comes to thinking through the end-to-end experiences people want to enjoy with digital media. This week, the company added several important releases to its XP Reloaded campaign, including Windows XP Media Center (XP MCE) 2005, Media Center Extenders, Windows Media Player (WMP) 10 Mobile, and Windows Media Connect, which lets third-party Digital Audio Receivers (DARs) and Digital Media Receivers (DMRs) seamlessly and consistently interact with PC-based media libraries. Combined with previously released products such as Portable Media Centers, WMP 10, and the recently updated MSN Music and scores of other compatible online entertainment, music, and video services, Microsoft's approach to digital media--Digital Entertainment Anywhere--is clearly the right one. But the company isn't done yet. Between now and late November, Microsoft will issue other cool XP Reloaded releases, including Media Center for Microsoft Xbox. The company is spending more than $20 billion over the next 6 years to grab a share of the film and entertainment market, helping ensure that consumers use Microsoft's digital media formats to distribute media electronically in the future.
Halo 2 Leaks to the Internet
The most eagerly anticipated console game of the year has already leaked to the Internet, and Microsoft is hopping mad. A cracked version of Halo 2 for the Xbox that reportedly uses French audio and English subtitles is now available on Warez boards worldwide, almost a month before the game is scheduled to ship publicly. "Microsoft has learned that a version of Halo 2 has been posted to various newsgroups and Web sites," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "We consider downloading this code or making it available for others to download as theft. We are currently investigating the source of this leak with the appropriate authorities. Pending the result of our investigation, we do not have further comment. Microsoft takes the integrity of its intellectual property extremely seriously, and we are aggressively pursuing the source of this illegal act." Microsoft says that the leak won't affect the November 9 launch of Halo 2, largely because so few people can actually take advantage of the leaked code. To use it, you need a modified, or modded, Xbox console with a special hardware device. Also, the leaked version of Halo 2 is unplayable on Xbox Live, Microsoft's popular online gaming service.
Google Offers Desktop Search Beta
Drawing a line in the sand and offering an interesting contrast with the ever-delayed desktop search feature Microsoft has promised for Longhorn, Google unveiled a beta version of its upcoming Desktop Search tool this week. The tool runs locally but requires a Web browser and appears to look and act just like its Web-based cousin. However, Google Desktop Search searches through your local files and email and provides familiar Google-like search results. The way it works is kind of obvious when you think about it. Best of all, you can search locally and on the Web at the same time. You can try out the excellent Google Desktop Search tool by visiting the Google Web site.
Intel Cancels 4GHz Pentium 4; Will Improve Chips in Other Ways
Intel put the last nail in the coffin of the MHz myth this week when the company canceled plans to ship a long-delayed 4GHz Pentium microprocessor so it can instead concentrate on products with "more bang for the buck." The problem is that chips with faster clock speeds are so much hotter than their predecessors that they require special cooling hardware. But the chips don't offer a huge performance boost over earlier versions. So instead of ratcheting up the clock speed, as the company has always done with desktop speeds, Intel will now concentrate on more obscure but effective methods of boosting actual processor performance. These efforts will include better utilization of multicore processors, which effectively put two microprocessors on one chip, and improvements to microprocessor cache and the chipsets that work with the processor. Intel used this tactic with its mobile processor line, the Pentium M processor, which featured slower clock speeds than its predecessors but better performance, battery life, and cooling. Apparently, the Pentium M processor was so successful technically that Intel is now trying the approach with its desktop chips.
Microsoft Branches Out for More Office Servers
According to a report on CRN.com, Microsoft will offer a slew of new Microsoft Office server products to accompany the release of Office 12 in 2006. The new servers include a Microsoft Office InfoPath server, as well as several other servers, including--potentially--a Microsoft Office Excel server. If you doubt the need for such products, you're not alone, but consider the rationale: If Microsoft can create and sell these products, the company can derive more revenue from clients hitting servers, which kind of makes sense when you consider the company's wider specialization strategy.
Paris Considers Move to Linux
Although the city of Munich, Germany, received a lot of attention for its high-profile switch to Linux, an even bigger and potentially more newsworthy city is now considering taking the Linux plunge, setting the stage for a huge embarrassment for Microsoft. The government of Paris--that's the City of Lights, folks--is now considering switching to an open-source solution that would include Linux. The city cites costs, security, and, frankly, even a bit of the anti-American fervor that is sweeping the world in the wake of US actions in Iraq. According to news reports in France, Microsoft has reacted in a predictable fashion, offering to lower prices 57 percent to keep the Parisian contract. But, as many people have noted, should Paris jump on board with Linux, Munich ceases to be an aberration and becomes, instead, part of a wider trend. And then there's Vienna, Austria, which is also looking into Linux. And Bergen, Norway. And Berlin. Yikes.
Windows Marketplace Open for Business
This week, Microsoft officially launched its Windows Marketplace Web portal, a "virtual storefront" for consumers who are looking for Windows-compatible hardware and software. The site includes almost 100,000 products, which retail partners such as Best Buy, CDW.com, and hpshopping.com sell; direct software downloads, in some cases; the ability to compare several retailers' prices; and other unique features. Microsoft is quick to note that it doesn't generate any income directly from the site but will use the site as a way to promote Windows and related products. For more information--and some good, clean online shopping fun--visit the Windows Marketplace Web site.
Dell Tips Its Holiday Plans
PC giant Dell finally unveiled some of its holiday product plans this week by launching a slew of products, including new portable audio players and plasma TVs. The new 20GB Dell Digital Jukebox (DJ) 20 is smaller and lighter than its predecessor and, at $279, is still much less expensive than a comparable iPod. But the Dell Pocket DJ 5, an iPod Mini competitor, is even more impressive, with 5GB of storage space for just $199, $50 less than the iPod Mini. Dell also announced a gorgeous 42" plasma TV that costs $2300, or $3500 for a version with High Definition (HD) resolution. In addition, Dell introduced two new photo printers, both of which cost less than $200. Expect more announcements from Dell before the holidays are over.
Corel Purchases Jasc Software
CorelDRAW and WordPerfect maker Corel announced this week that it's purchasing Paint Shop Pro maker Jasc Software. "We intend to put the powerful R&D resources of the newly combined companies behind the popular Paint Shop family, ensuring that next-generation Paint Shop products will continue to flourish," Corel said in a statement. Corel noted that Paint Shop Pro compares favorably to Adobe Photoshop at just a fraction of the cost. Let's hope that Corel won't be the Kiss of Death (tm) that it's been for WordPerfect. Jasc makes some powerful photo-editing solutions, and it'd be a shame to see Corel mess up the company. Cross your fingers.