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Old 1st July 2002, 02:15 PM
Gservo Gservo is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: geekfu-temple/7th chamber/PC repair
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==== Short Takes ====

(An irreverent look at some of last week's stories, contributed by Paul Thurrott,

After last weekend's revelation that Microsoft is working to overhaul PC security through a new platform called Palladium, the company is now facing its biggest problem: overcoming public perception. If my reader feedback is any indication (and let's put this in perspective--my readers are Windows users, not Linux advocates or Mac sycophants), Microsoft has a tough road ahead. Hardly anyone trusts the company to deliver on this plan--primarily because of Microsoft's abysmal security record to date--and the Big Brother overtones are almost deafening. And here's a sobering thought: The advertising that Microsoft will eventually use to spread the word might be the thing that really kills Palladium. To understand what I'm talking about, think back to the company's last two ad spots ("Business agility" and "1 degree of separation"). What, you don't remember those ad campaigns or what they were trying to sell? Then you DO see what I mean.

Microsoft introduced Office 11 at the TECHXNY trade show this week, but the details are still relatively vague. Here's what we know: Office 11 will ship before mid-2003, probably in May. It will feature deeper XML hooks than previous releases, although Microsoft sold XML as a feature of both Office XP and Office 2000. Microsoft has changed the Outlook client to a vertically formatted UI (in contrast to today's horizontal layout); the new UI lets you view the body of email messages in a portrait-like panel that resembles a sheet of paper. With this release, Microsoft will push online data storage, which will probably take the form of some type of SharePoint-based My Documents Online (or My Remote Documents) feature. And ... well, that's about it. Like last year's Office v. X rollout on Mac OS X, Microsoft plans to introduce new features in its next Windows Office suite over time. So expect more details--and beta 1--by the end of the summer.

Is it safe? With Microsoft, alas, the answer is often no. This week, the company revealed a "critical" security vulnerability in its Windows Media Player (WMP) product, affecting releases 6.4, 7.x, and 8.0 (aka Media Player for Windows XP--MPXP). It's nice to see the company support older products for a change, but this discovery begs the question: Why can a media-player bug let intruders take over your entire system? Maybe this Palladium rearchitecture isn't such a bad idea. You can download the patch for the media-player problem from the Microsoft Web site and, like Microsoft, I recommend you do so ASAP.

I think its common knowledge that China has, perhaps, the largest state-run piracy ring on the planet. But the country is also the largest potential market for growth, so if you're, say, a software giant that already controls the market in the rest of the world, you might be interested in China. With that in mind, Microsoft revealed this week that over the next 2 years it will invest $750 million in China--to better understand the Chinese market, bolster the company's exposure in schools and universities, and set up a software college in Shanghai. Given the massive success that open-source solutions such as Linux have experienced in China--which, again, isn't particularly interested in paying for software--Microsoft might have a tough sell on its hands.

It's the good old days all over again: I write a short blurb about Apple Computer that portrays the company in a realistic--if less-than-flattering--light, Apple fans post links to the story, and I get spammed by pro-Apple sycophants eager to shut down anyone who dares to criticize their favorite company. People, get a life. Nothing I wrote last week about the Apple Switchers ad campaign was incorrect. But most importantly, I think many people misunderstand my point in writing about Apple and its products. I like Apple. I like Macs. I own a Mac, and unlike certain so-called journalists who field-test a Mac for 30 days and then forget it ever happened, I've been using an iBook--daily--since last summer. So why do I bother writing about the Mac (or Linux, for that matter)? Most Windows users (and journalists) seem to ignore the rest of the computing market, even though a lot of important developments in that part of the market will someday affect Windows. Perhaps as importantly, the pro-Apple press (think publications such as the LA Times, Newsweek, Time, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post) seems oblivious to anything beyond the public-relations information that Apple feeds it. I like to present a more balanced view of what's happening because people will read Mac-biased articles and believe them. So here's the deal: Apple makes good products, and I like a lot of what the company does. I'm a customer. And I want Apple to succeed; I really do. I just want the company--and its fans--to be honest about what it's doing, what the real performance and usage issues are, and where Apple fits into the grand scheme of things. Yeah, that's the whole conspiracy. Nuts, isn't it?

Microsoft finally upgraded its aging Pocket PC hardware platform from the 206MHz processors that the devices have featured for more than 2 years to a 400MHz XScale processor, leading many Pocket PC users to expect a huge performance increase if they moved to the [expensive] new systems. Makes sense, right? It didn't happen. In fact, users of the new hardware are reporting that the performance is the same as, or in some cases even worse than, what they experienced with the previous-generation hardware. However, Microsoft's response is what's really wrong with this picture: The company should have admitted the problem before it released the devices. Intel, which makes the hardware, says that XScale's advantage is that it has headroom to grow, so future releases will be even faster. Presumably, someone will create software by then to take advantage of the speed increase.

The Xbox mod world--which consists of hardware hacks you can solder onto your Xbox motherboard--is shrinking, despite recent successes in pirating Xbox games and creating smaller and simpler hardware hacks. Why? Apparently, Microsoft is going after anyone who posts information about hacking the Xbox, and the company recently caused a high-profile Web site about an Xbox mod called MAME to shut down. Another site, Enigmah-X, which touted an Xbox mod chip, left the Web this week with the following short note: "After speaking to lawyers we feel that we must not do this project anymore. There are many other chips and methods for guys to play with anyway so have fun and good luck to everyone out there." Will the last standing Xbox modder please raise his or her hand? Microsoft's lawyers are looking for something to do.

After a spat in which Sun Microsystems refused to sign up because it couldn't be listed as a founder, the company has finally backed the Web-services security initiative called WS-Security, joining IBM, Microsoft, VeriSign and others in submitting the specification to a standards body for ratification as an open standard. Sun had been working on its own Web security standard (which I'm sure it would have handled as adroitly as it did the Java standardization process) but agreed to back WS-Security when the company discovered that the budding spec was royalty-free. It's nice to see the big boys getting along. Maybe now they can work on Java-Microsoft .NET interoperability.

This situation reminds me of a Star Wars movie: No matter how mixed the reviews are, the customers are lined up, ready, and waiting. But like the oft-reviled Star Wars Episode I, I expect a few die-hard fans to be somewhat disappointed by the reality of the Tablet PC, which offers a brilliant screen and huge software advances but poor handwriting recognition and a completely brain-dead interoperability/file-sharing solution. But if the feedback to my Tablet PC review (see link below) is any indication, people want a tablet, and they want it now. Whether the buzz will withstand real-world use is unclear, but the responses I've received have been overwhelmingly in favor of the device, which could see large use in schools, the legal world, and other places where writing is preferable to typing.

And speaking of the Tablet PC, a lot of readers have asked me whether Microsoft has any plans to port its Tablet PC software to existing pen interfaces, such as Wacom tablets. The answer is no, and I think the company's reasoning behind this decision makes sense. The problem with Wacom tablets and similar devices is that you draw on one surface (the tablet) and watch the output on another surface (the screen). This separation--and the resulting hand-eye coordination it requires--makes the experience very different from writing with paper and pen. Microsoft designed the Tablet PC to emulate the paper-and-pen experience, so your writing appears exactly where you write it--at the tip of the pen. The Tablet PC strives to bring this paper-and-pen experience to PC users, and you won't get that experience with a Wacom tablet, sorry.

Microsoft recently updated its excellent Producer tool (think "what the next version of Movie Maker will look like") to release 1.1, giving users improved support for complicated Web presentations and new captioning capabilities. Microsoft Producer is a free add-on for PowerPoint 2002 and Office XP users; it provides advanced video-capture, editing, and Web-publishing capabilities. For more information and the free download, visit the Microsoft Web site.

This week's PC Expo trade show--excuse me, TECHXNY--was the worst one yet, with an ever-shrinking show floor and the most muggy and oppressive weather New York has to offer. Even though TECHXNY featured a few add-on shows that focused on recordable DVD and other unrelated topics, the Jacob Javitts Center was less than half full, and the situation will probably get worse in the future. In a final nail-in-the-coffin move, show organizers have booted PC Expo out of its plum June timeslot for 2003, replacing it with the first US version of the CeBIT trade show, whose long-running European version is the largest computer tradeshow in the world. So the 2003 edition of PC Expo--if it even happens--will be held in September 2003 instead. My bet is that we've seen the end of this once-cool event.
"Pre Assembled Boxes are an abomination! A Boxs Parts Must be Carefully selected, Lovingly assembled, and tuned with the Utmost skill to fit the needs of the indevidual!
A member of the anything goes, contravention of perceptual parameters ,
school of martial geek arts
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