A curiously similar set of articles popped up online this week that describe Microsoft's latest Office suite, Microsoft Office 2003, as Redmond's most recent attempt to lock users into Microsoft technologies and products. The charges go something like this: Because Microsoft "forces" you to use its technology--Windows Server 2003, Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server (formerly code-named Tahoe), and Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server on the server, along with Windows XP and Office 2003 on the client--across the board to get the best experience, the company is obviously up to something evil. Folks, I'd be the first person to rip into Microsoft--if only this idea wasn't so ridiculous. Here's the real story: Office 2003 is the first Office version to fully support open standards such as XML. Office 2003 will work with non-Microsoft, server-based data sources, as long as they support XML. That's it. This capability lets Office 2003 users work in a perfectly heterogeneous environment, maybe with Oracle or SAP on the back end and Office 2003--especially the Microsoft InfoPath forms application--on the client. Yes, Microsoft applications, services, and servers work well together; that's a logical competitive strategy. But Office 2003 does let you work with non-Microsoft technology, and that's a first. If you're looking for a real conspiracy, consider this: Why doesn't Microsoft support non-Windows CE mobile devices despite the fact that Palm, Symbian, and other platforms have far more market penetration than its own devices do? If the company were really user-centric, wouldn't it support the platforms people really use?
Microsoft Forms New Division to Advance the PC
Microsoft has formed a new division dedicated to designing and building prototype PC designs. The decision is rather strange for a company that primarily makes software, but apparently Microsoft feels enough compelling PC designs don't exist on the market, so the company assigned the task to its crack designer. Sadly for Microsoft, this role is already filled--and quite nicely--by Apple Computer, which has spent the past 7 years creating innovative PC designs. I can't imagine that Microsoft's designs will go very far beyond what Apple has done so far, but you never know. I'd really like to see a more functional PC, with the appropriate ports on the front where they belong and some sort of module case extension so that you could easily add drive bays and, if necessary, even new power supplies to an existing box. Sure, these features are more utilitarian than pretty, but then so is Windows compared with the Macintosh OS.
Microsoft Is Spying On You! Microsoft is ... Yawn
The Microsoft conspiracy theories never end, and this week several minor and semimajor news organizations picked up on an old report from a German technology news portal that claims that Windows Update is somehow spying on users. For the memory-challenged (which includes me, incidentally), the claim goes like this: Windows Update transmits to Microsoft a list of the software installed on your system and the machine's hardware configuration. Read that again. Windows Update--which is designed to specifically tailor the updates you receive to your exact configuration--has the gall to transmit to Microsoft a list of your installed software and hardware. Wow, this is heady stuff. Oh wait, it isn't. As I mentioned last week, Microsoft needs this information to give users a customized list of updates. Furthermore, other claims--such as Microsoft having the ability to shut users out of Windows Update--are also easily (and correctly) explained; in this case, Microsoft has already discussed the fact that pirated copies of Windows XP won't be updateable. If the company can't determine that your copy was pirated, they can't shut you out of Windows Update. Put succinctly, this story is more Microsoft conspiracy hogwash.
Creative Jumps on Board with Media2Go
Creative Technology (which uses the name Creative Labs in the United States) is the most recent company to jump onboard the Microsoft Media2Go platform and will sell its own portable audio and video device this fall. Creative joins iRiver, SAMSUNG, SANYO, and ViewSonic, which announced support for the platform in January. "Creative is the largest manufacturer of hard disk drive-based audio players in the world," said Brian Riseland, a product manager for Microsoft's Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group. That statement is debatable, I suppose, but Creative is a big win for Microsoft and a sign that Media2Go will see massive industry support. Media2Go, you might recall, is the device everyone expected Apple to build--a portable player that supports digital music, video, recorded TV shows, and photo slide shows, all in a small, handheld package.
Microsoft Revises Licensing 6.0 Yet Again
Microsoft has revised its much-reviled enterprise-based Licensing 6.0 scheme yet again, leading me to wonder whether the company won't simply make small changes every few months until the licensing program is the way it should have been in the beginning. Under the new terms, server software (but not Windows Server) licensed for multiple CPUs will be significantly less expensive. Another licensing change regarding the number of Client Access Licenses (CALs) that businesses need is also forthcoming.
AOL Provides Pop-Up Ad Buster
AOL is finally providing its 26 million US subscribers with a way to block those annoying pop-up advertisements that clog the online experience for so many (but not for me because I use Mozilla); AOL's international customers will get the new capability in a few months. The new AOL Web Pop-Up Controls let subscribers dynamically control pop-up ads, including those particularly obnoxious "pop-under" windows so many sites use. The move follows an AOL decision last fall to stop accepting third-party and merchandise-delivery pop-up ads on its network of sites. For the millions who aren't part of AOL, various solutions exist to clean up the online experience, but I'm happy to see one of the major players finally take a procustomer stance. Maybe MSN could follow AOL's lead. You know, as usual.
Would You Like Wi-Fi with That?
One of the strangest news stories that came out of this week's launch of the Intel Centrino was the announcement that fast-food king McDonald's will soon begin offering wireless Internet access in 10 of its Manhattan-area restaurants, with plans to expand to hundreds of stores nationwide by the end of the year. Customers who purchase a value meal will get one hour of free access, the company says. But seriously, folks, although I understand that Wi-Fi, the 802.11b wireless standard, access is a value-add for many businesses, the idea of combining fast food with Web browsing is a little strange, like the not-so-synergistic relationship between Taco Bell and the Xbox during an ad campaign last year. Will the plan take off? It seems to be working for Starbucks.
Future Intel Chips on Tap
With the launch of the Centrino behind it, Intel is setting its sights on future CPUs and chipsets, some of which the company will tout at this week's CeBit tradeshow in Hanover, Germany. On tap are the Canterwood and Springdale chipsets, which support an 800MHz front-side bus (compared with 400MHz and 533MHz on today's PCs) and dual-channel DDR400 RAM (which is geekspeak for wicked fast). Springdale also features the Intel Extreme Graphics 2 integrated graphics system and new chips that will speed up its integrated Gigabit networking support. Both chipsets and the new Pentium 4 processors will ship sometime in the next 3 months, Intel says.
Toshiba Updates Pocket PC