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Saturday, December 04, 2004

Some Windows Freebies For The Holidays

Microsoft has released the Winter Fun Pack for Windows XP. It includes:
  • Three new hholiday-themed visualizations for Media Player 10
  • Five new skins for MP10 (four for the holidays, plus the Halo 2 skin)
  • Windows Media Player 10 PowerToys - With the Holiday Music Auto Playlist Pack, the Song Signature Plug-in (let your friends know in your emails what song you're listening to, and adds a Blogging plug-in to Media Player), and the Media Info Exporter Plug-in (export your playlists to Excel, Access, HTML, or XML)
  • Some new wallpaper images from Corbis
  • The TweakMCE2005 PowerToy for Windows Media Center Edition 2005 - Access settings in Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 including remote control settings, Skip and Replay timings and more.
  • Kris the Holiday Dancing Elf - A 3D animated character that dances to the beats of the music that's playing on your desktop.
  • Photo Story 3 for Windows - Create photo slideshows with narration, effects and music that are easy to share with friends.
There is one catch: You need a Genuine Copy of Windows XP. Trust me, it checks. Cool stuff.
(via the MSDN Student Flash blog)

Friday, December 03, 2004

MSN Spaces Gets Blog It! Toolbar Button

Scott Isaacs, a Architect for MSN Web Experience, has created a toolbar button for instant blogging from IE, which he calls Blog It!. The button allows you to select text, click the button, and get an instantly populated entry, replete with title, text, link, and trackback. Click here to get it.
(via Omar Shahine's blog)

Ballmer: I Misspoke Re: Bill's Spam

Steve Ballmer, in a speech at Michigan State University's Eli Broad College of Business Wednesday, notes that reports that Bill Gates receives 4 million spam emails a day were inaccurate, because he misspoke. From the Detroit Free Press article:
At the top is everyone's list is spam. That's true even for Gates, who Ballmer says gets about 4 million pieces of e-mail -- most of it junk -- every year. (Ballmer said he misspoke a few days back when he was quoted as saying Gates gets 4 million e-mails a day.) Ballmer says only about 10 junk e-mails make it into his e-mail inbox each day because of anti-spam technology the company has developed.
(via Techdirt)

Marqui's Cute Flash Demo

This post sponsored by Marqui

Do you want to know what exactly Marqui does? Well, they've created a Flash movie that shows what they do. The short story: Companies that use Marqui can deliver a message instantly, coordinating a press release or similar message accross various mediums (press release sites, blogs, mailing lists, newsletters, corporate websites) in perfect sync. While this is something every company has to do, Marqui's system is designed to let a small company work as well as a large one with much less staff (or, theoretically, to let a large company fire a lot of workers and let the system handle all the time-consuming work). Anyway, I encourage you to watch the Flash demo, not just because you'll get a good idea of what they do, but because its kind of funky. Is it just me, or are they ripping off the Jetsons?)

Oh, and you may notice the obnoxious border. It's so, if you really don't trust me, you know when I'm talking about Marqui's product. It won't go around posts about the program, since they may count in the program, but nobody worries about what I say there, just posts about their business. But seriously, if you don't trust me so much that you need obnoxious red borders, maybe this isn't the blog for you.

Spaces Censors

Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin decided to test out lots of profane blog titles. Turns out MSN Spaces censors certain blog titles. The seven dirty words are out, as are most other similar words (anything you'd hear on NYPD Blue), except for one. On the other hand, "Pornography", "Whore" and "Lolita" are out. Weird. I guess you can't have a porno theme for your blog. You can say whatever you want, but MSN is trying to censor blog titles (your focus) and post titles (your discussion). Guess we'll see a lot of |337 speak blog titles.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Feedster Has An MSN Spaces Page

Gary Price at Search Engine Lowdown reports that Feedster has launched a special interface that searches only MSN Spaces (although, as Scott Johnson explains, its still loading feeds). Cool stuff. Not olny this, but you can localize your searches to specific blog services with the &host= search operator. That means that if you want to search Blogspot for Google blogs, just type in the search box "google &".

New Drop Down Search Button Feature For MSN Search

SEO Roundtable reports that MSN Search has added a new drop-down search button for quick access to several search options (so far, it only works on PCs). They are:
  • Web
  • News
  • Images
  • Look up word
  • Encarta
  • Stock quotes
  • Find Movies
  • Shopping
rustybrick likes them, although he notes that "Most usability experts, I think, dislike drop down menus". I think its great, since it eliminates the "Tab problem" and drives users to use features like Encarta they might not otherwise. Still, I think any good search engine needs as many "invisible tabs" (those little boxes that give you results from other areas of the search engine, like two News results in a regular search) to be properly useful, so lets hope we see some of those as well.

You know what would be a great feature? Custom searches in the drop down box. I'd like if instead of using the search builder, I could program in options from it that I commonly use. Just a thought.

Will MSN Spaces Support An API?

Microsoft's Dare Obasanjo comments on the possibility of an MSN Spaces API. If you don't want to click the link, he basically says that the existing APIs (Blogger and MetaWeblog) are not so feasible becauseof security concerns, and because they don't support the various features of Spaces. MSN doesn't want people to just post, they want to see all the options in use. Plus, as a business sense, they need users taking advantage of all the features or else how will they show the differences between them and their competitors? As for creating their own API, which they think is a great idea, except for that they don't want a million APIs out there. They'd rather not have a different API for every service, splitting the market even further and making things difficult for everyone. Which brings up the most likely third option, supporting the Atom API, which aims to replace all the major blog APIs. MSN would rather throw its support behind market integration than try to drive a wedge in, which is great for everyone. Of course, if Atom can't support all the features of Spaces, then once, again, they're not interested.

Final answer? No plans to develop or support any APIs, but MSN is closely watching in the hopes that it can eventually.

MSN Spaces First Impressions

I've been playing around with Spaces for the last hour, and I am surprisingly impressed. Unlike most blog tools, Spaces runs like a program, with an actual interface, as opposed to a series of options and HTML editing. When I want to edit my Blogger interface, I have to learn how to code HTML (which for me, is similar to pulling teeth). In Spaces, I get to select the page Modules I want, and I can drag and drop them wherever I want. And remember when I said that I hoped they wouldn't have only five templates? That's not actually the case. See, in most systems, we need a large number of templates to work with the general look of the page. Spaces templates work differently than most blogs. They are page guides, or Layouts, seperating the page into three columns, two even columns, one column and a sidebar (on either side), or no columns at all. On top of those Layouts, you overlay one of many Themes, that simply give the page a look. So, you actually get control right at your fingertips to rearranging all the page elements.

There are several modules: Blog, Profile, Archives, Blog list (Blogroll), Book list, Updated Spaces and New Spaces, Music list, Photo album, Custom list, and, thankfully, Categories (when will we see that in Blogger?). You can arrange them in any way you want, putting any module in any column. If you want your blog in sidebar and the profile in the main area, you can (and look like a fool while doing it).

First impression: Out of the box, users can do more with Spaces than Blogger. Its easier to use, and gives simple access to features that take a lot of effort for Blogger users. Major bloggers will not like the loss of control, but new users will be thrilled. Microsoft wants to bring blogging to the masses, and they have created a tool that is perfect for that. Spaces is more than enough for 95% of bloggers, while the other 5% can use Blogger and Typepad, which require far more work to get working, but yield better results.

My point? Spaces has a good chance at actually winning, despite being late to the game. Blogger makes me happy, don't get me wrong, but if all I wanted to do was post and be social, and found HTML frustrating, I might have switched already. Hit the "Next Blog" button on the top of this page, and tell me how many blogs you see shouldn't switch to Spaces to improve their blog. In my estimation, only 5% of them have any reason to stick around. Maybe Google had better create a smarter and more versatile interface for Blogger before it realizes Microsoft has stolen all of its users.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Video Of Spaces In Action

Channel 9 has a video that shows you all the features of MSN Spaces, so you can call yourself an expert in just a short period of time (or if you can't wait for the site to start working):

Video length: 00:14:15.
Download the Video
Watch the Video

MSN Spaces Launches

Microsoft's blogging service, MSN Spaces, has launched. Highlights from the press release and the fact sheet include:

MSN Spaces Debuts Alongside Improvements to MSN Messenger and MSN Hotmail To Help Customers Connect in a Seamless and Meaningful Way

Spaces is released in beta, as well as a public beta of MSN Messenger 7, updates to Hotmail, and lots of integration.

"Communicating with others is the No. 1 thing people do online. As widely used as our individual services are today, we know we can do more to help our customers communicate across the different modes they use, like blogs, instant messaging and e-mail," said Blake Irving, corporate vice president for the MSN Communication Services and Member Platform Group. "The investments MSN is making in MSN Spaces, MSN Messenger and MSN Hotmail are designed to break down some of the barriers between the services so people can focus less on the technology and more on the people they care about."
Spaces is available in 14 languages and 26 locals. Spaces is not just a blog, but a dynamic online scrapbook where consumers can share photo albums, personal music lists and more. You get 10 megabytes of space for photos. Readers can receive notifications of updated Spaces through Messenger. You can sign up for Spaces at or through Messenger.

Spaces can be made private, or limited to specific people. You can allow comments. Spaces gives detailed statistics (something every blog tool should have).

You can upload pictures and create slideshows on your Space, share playlists, or purchase music. There is also a feature called Contact Cards, which are a snapshot of what your space is currently about, so someone can get a quick peek at your blog. Spaces offers RSS feeds, and MSN will be launching My MSN soon, which can act as an RSS reader. You can post by email or mobile phone. There are five templates and 15 backgrounds (hopefully more are coming).

The new Messenger has some weird features where you try to jolt the attention of your contact by "nudging" the window, "winking", or throwing animations around the screen. The Messenger site does not seem to be working yet, and the Spaces site is very slow, so I'll have more of a write-up when they're stable. The sites will be up at midnight, Eastern Time.
(via Dare Abasanjo's blog)

UPDATE: The Las Vegas Sun has an article. They focus on the fact that all Spaces bloggers need Passports (as well as all commentors). Microsoft is hoping to leverage the interoparibility of its services to give users a good reason to check them out. Expect to see the final release in June. You may notice the new MSN Search in the Messenger beta. Also:
Although Microsoft trails Google and AOL, Gartenberg said it's not too late because blogging is only just catching on with mainstream users.

According to a February report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, only 2 percent of Americans have created blogs, while 11 percent have read those of others.

Microsoft Looking For A Few (4,300) Good Men in response to a recent Scoble post about the need for developers in the U.S., that there is a serious need for new people at MS.
although, we've said it before, I'll say it again. We currently have about 4,300 open positions at Microsoft across all groups and disciplines. Roughly 1,500 of those are what we would consider industry product development positions (SDE, SDET, STE, PM). Of these 1,500 openings, 95% of them are at corporate headquarters in Redmond, WA. We offer an awesome relocation package and I would be happy to share with you my own relocation story. I made the trip all the way from Cleveland - a long way away from home these days!
Bottom line: Companies aren't outsourcing to India; they just can't find anybody here! The U.S. doesn't have enough programmers, and the government doesn't put effort into training the populace to handle a tech economy. The government should be setting up tax breaks for people who study for high-tech fields in college, so we don't have as many people with political science degrees. Not to say those people are stupid (I have one), but we need incentives for people to enter the industry. Microsoft noting it needs 4,300 new people may excite those who are already in that field, but no recent high school graduate is looking at those numbers and seeing an opportunity. If India can do it, surely we can. Will we?

New Windows Update Today

Microsoft has released "Windows Security Update for December 2004" (info here).
The Microsoft Windows security update for December 2004 is a cumulative security update that resolves a newly discovered issue in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack 1 (SP1), a component of Windows. If you have any of the software listed on this page installed on your computer, you should visit the Windows Update Web site to install the related update.
(via Brian Johnson's blog)

Microsoft Antivirus Is Coming

The next and most important cog missing in the MS security package is an antivirus solution. Forbes says we can expect one in mid-2005. This is based on information from McAfee, which says it expects having to compete with Microsoft around that time. Currently, MSN 9 (which I use) bundles McAfee's Antivirus and Firewall for free, but Microsoft declined extending that contract to MSN 10. McAfee believes MS will use MSN 10 as a way to ease MS Antivirus into the consumer market. I gotta say, I use the McAfee firewall and not the Windows one, because its just better. If MS Antivirus is as simplistic as Windows Firewall is, MSN users are going to be pissed at losing a good product they already like. Microsoft can release an antivirus, and should, but shooting MSN customers in the foot while doing so would be a terrible idea.
(via Seattle PI > Watching Microsoft Like A Hawk)

MSN Search Extensions Available

The MSN Search Weblog points out some extensions people have created for the new engine. They are:

Microsoft Releases Windows XP Embedded SP2

Microsoft has released an updated SP2 version of Windows XP for embedded devices. The version contains many of the additions seen in last summer's XP Service Pack 2, including Windows Firewall, Bluetooth support, generic device drivers, and support for Software Update Services and System Management Server distribution. Mary Jo Foley of Microsoft Watch points out that the update is a month later than expected.

Steve Ballmer Talks Innovation In Chicago has an excellent write-up on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's talk at the Executives' Club of Chicago. It's so interesting, you should really just read it yourself, but here are some excerpts:
“Software is one of the more unusual industries out there. It doesn’t get consumed,” Ballmer said. He added as the crowd chortled: “I would say it doesn’t break – and you would contradict that – so I’ll say it doesn’t wear out.” He concluded this point with gravity: “All we have to renew and reinvigorate ourselves and drive more revenue is innovation. Innovate or be irrelevant.”

Smart noggins innovate by using mistakes as fuel, Ballmer indicated. Sure, it’s not a feel-good thing that Apple is dominating with its iPod, he said, adding that Microsoft “missed that one” and all the company can do is push on even harder and use that product as a learning experience.

As for the tables that were selected to receive question cards, the first that was chosen centered on the thorny issue between complexity and simplicity when developing effective software. Ballmer said: “Don’t ask if you should do ‘A’ or ‘B’. Ask how you can do ‘A’ and ‘B’ simply.”

While not commenting on Google’s first-mover feat to offer an index-based desktop search tool before Microsoft, Ballmer did then comment on search engines: “They are gratifying because they allow you to speak in your natural language.”

Ballmer warned not to dumb down software too much for the purposes of simplicity but certainly allow a user to interact as naturally as possible in a robust software environment.

Microsoft Blogging Site Is Coming

Microsoft Watch's Mary Jo Foley says that Microsoft Spaces, its answer to Blogger, Typepad and the like, will be released this week. Speculation is the forthcoming MSN Messenger 7 will allow posting. MSN Spaces has been in beta in Japan since August. MSN Blogbot, a (much needed) blog search engine, is expected soon as well. Microsoft is known for being late to the game, but delivering more features than its competitors, so this should prove interesting. I don't plan on switching, but if Spaces has features Blogger needs, Messenger has features Hello needs, and Blogbot searches blogs as Google wishes it could, there may be a lot of complaints.
(via Search Engine Watch Blog)

The (Early) Year In Review

Ziff Davis has published its year in review for the search industry, and its very comprehensive, covering everything from Slurp to MSN Search Beta to Google's IPO, Gmail, and Desktop, plus My Jeeves and A9 and Blinkx. Still, no matter how comprehensive, there's still a month to go, and it promises to be exciting. MSN Desktop Search is coming this month, plus the holiday shopping season (in all honesty, the most important month for search). I would have done the year in review after the year was over, since much could change in a month.
(via The Unofficial Google Weblog)

Blogging For Dollars

Bloggers are not the same as mainstream journalists, but many of the same rules apply. Bloggers are supposed to put their biases upfront, whereas journalists have more hidden biases. Bloggers are supposed to disclose their relationships with advertisers in every possible way, whereas journalists can leave the readers to guess at them. Bloggers are supposed to bring a unique voice, whereas journalists are supposed to conform to a style book.

I have been a journalist all my life, but even before there were bloggers, I wanted to be one. More specifically, I wanted the freedom to report the news no matter what, to have an open dialogue with every reader, to remove the problems that prevent journalists from using all their abilities to a full extent. Blogging has truly changed my feelings about my chosen profession, making me see that more openness is possible, and that at least some segment of the public is prepared to accept that sort of openness. I have yet to see the Slashdot for magazines, but if I can, I will start it myself.

What I have wanted to do is take the lessons I've learnt as a reporter and editor, and bring those to the blogosphere. Most of the best bloggers fall under two categories: The expert and the industry. Some bloggers, like Jeremy Zawodny and Robert Scoble, fall under the industry category, of those "in the know", who bring a lot of important info from their companies, but are so trustworthy (and this is why they are so successful) that they can deliver opinions on their own company and their competitors that are given the full weight they deserve. Some bloggers, most notably John Battelle, are simply experts, who bring excellent analysis, and can also be trusted, but even more so, since there is little chance of impropriety. There are also professional bloggers, but there are very few of those outside of political blogs, since non-political blogs have very little revenue.

I aim to be one of the first successful reporter blogs. My blogs deliver news to the public about companies and industries that I am interested in. I aim to deliver as much news as quickly as I hear about it. I give my opinion (because the medium allows it), but the focus has and always will be on the news. I have no industry affiliation, and no expert degree to fall back on. My qualifications as a reporter are what I rely on, and as I build industry contacts, my ability to deliver improves.

However, there is one less I have been cognizant of since the first editorial board meeting I attended. Content does not support a paper. Money does. I work in an advertiser supported industry, and without advertisers I could not have a job, or an industry for that matter. That said, if I could not draw a line between advertisers and content, I would not be much of a newspaperman. I've received free movie tickets, cds, passes, interviews with celebrities, even flights, because an advertiser wanted us to cover them. While I am grateful for the freebies, it is always understood that the gratitude ends at the door. Once I enter "reporter mode", anything goes, and criticism is important.

I remember when I attended a press junket and asked questions of Chris Rock. Beforehand, I went to a fancy hotel, had an incredible free breakfast, hobnobbed quite a bit, and even got to bring along my girlfriend (as my "photographer", a common excuse). I enjoyed myself quite a bit, but when the interviewing started, all bets were off. I remember asking Chris Rock such a racially loaded question, that he looked like he was going to tear my head off before he would answer it. I got my quote, and I think even he'd admit he came off well, but I wasn't asking that question because I didn't want to afford him the opportunity to say the wrong thing.

Earlier tonight, I went bowling. A local bowling alley is one of our most faithful advertisers, and as a result everyone on staff gets to bowl for free on Tuesdays. In return, they get a price break and extra bowling coverage. Does this mean we say nice things about them? Honestly, we've never said anything nice at all. We simply mention that there is bowling that goes on, and that our Editor in-Chief is our number one bowler (and drinker). Advertisers pay us for access to our readership, not for our support. Movie studios want reviews. Even if the reviews are bad, they want us to promote the movie by talking about it, even if we are talking trash.

I have no qualms about taking money for ads on this blog, because it is the way things are done in the media. One day, all popular blogs will have sponsors galore, and more and more people will be able to make a living by blogging. As of now, it is difficult to find funding for a blog. When I heard that Marqui was willing to offer considerable sums to bloggers to just talk about them, I was intrigued. I contacted Marc Canter, who is running the experiment, read the contracts and disclaimers, and realized this was a pretty straight up honest deal. Marqui could use the exposure. They rank 13 spots down in Google just for searches on their company name, and that says a lot about their internet presence. As Marc explained, the company is looking to make a splash, and this is an excellent way to do it. After all, you may have just discovered they existed by reading this paragraph.

This program isn't so much about promoting Marqui as it is about getting Marqui mentioned. Blogs are talking about the pay-for-blogging program, but people are noticing Marqui. Over the next three months, most of the blogosphere will find out exactly what Marqui does, even if they don't read Marqui sponsored blogs, because this is a unique ad campaign, and on the internet, uniqueness is everything.

As long as I can say whatever I want, then this is not a problem for me. And I certainly can. I can write "Marqui sucks" a hundred times over, and not only will I still get paid, Marqui will still be happy. In fact, criticism is actually stronger than praise, because it is more believable, and more controversial. If I don't like Marqui, I'm more likely to get linked to, and more likely to drum up serious discussion as to the merits of Marqui's product. It's win-win. I get money, they get noticed.

So, as of today, I get paid to mention them and their business. I'll explain the details, but suffice to say, this ain't gonna be InsideMarqui. I'll be comparing how Marqui relates to Blogger and search engines, how CMS factors into SEO, how Google and Microsoft and other of my favorite companies use CMS systems, and such topics. I want to use this as an opportunity to talk about CMS, an area I haven't given much coverage. And I certainly will write about Marqui's competitors and lay out their offerings as well. I won't lie. I'm doing it for the money, but I plan to make the most content wise out of my end of the bargain.

The difference to you? If you find CMS boring, skip those posts. They'll be very clearly marked. If you worry about my opinions, rest assured, I'll make it very clear that the only thing being paid for is the direction I'm looking in. What I see when I look in that direction will always be my honest reporting and opinion, and that's all anyone can ask for. This will be an interesting time, as a concept which is not here yet (blogging for cash) is being thrust out there, but it should prove fruitful.

Oh, and just to guilt trip any detractors, it isn't selfish greed that motivates this. I've got a girlfirend of many years, and all this money is going to our future. So when I post wedding pictures and explain how Marqui paid for the engagement ring, don't try and tell me it wasn't worth it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Scoble Likes Google The Best

Robert Scoble, a major blogger who is also a "technical evangelist" at Microsoft, says in his post "Just a little search comparison":
Personally, I still like Google the best. Why? MSN and Yahoo push their results down with too much advertising.
Danny Sullivan at the Search Engine Watch blog actually holds up a ruler to his screen to vet Scoble's assertion. His findings are that it's basically true. MSN's search results are actually at the same height as Google's, but Google fills the intervening space more with News and Desktop search results, while MSN has all ads (and Yahoo puts a billion ads, relatively speaking). Of course, Jeeves is the worst offender.

Really Limited Edition EA XBox

PlayTogether (a German video game site) has photos of the most limited edition XBox out there. It was given to the EA and MS employees who worked on getting EA games onto XBox Live, and features XBox Live logos on the casing and EA logos on the controllers. How long before we see one on eBay?
(via Seattle PI)

Microsoft / Comcast DVR First Looks

First impressions are coming in of the new Comcast/Microsoft cable box / digital video recorder, which MS employees are test driving (can I get one?).

The positives:
  • Two tuners, so you can record and watch at the same time.
  • It can record in high definition, and it looks like the picture quality doesn't degrade at all. Scoble says it's 30% sharper than Tivo.
  • It has several USB ports, an ethernet port, and a smartcard reader, although it isn't clear how to take advantage of those features.
  • Automatically changes recording times if a show changes time slots.
  • Caches what you're watching up to 90 minutes.
  • Has a cool mini guide so you can keep watching it in almost the whole screen while you search through it.
  • Has video-on-demand and games (so far simple stuff like Blackjack and Solitaire) and plans to introduce live gaming (like XBox live.
  • You can punch up a page with the top news headlines in various categories.
The negatives:
  • Some of the menus are confusing, and are missing proper navigation.
  • It can't understand the difference between new episodes and reruns.
  • The picture sometimes stutters.
  • You may need assistance to fix some messy settings.
  • High-def TV takes up most of the disk space real fast.
  • You may play back a show you recorded, only to discover there's no sound.
  • Universal remote controls only three devices.
  • No 30-second skip button (although Tivo is about to break its 30-sec button anyway).
      You can see a video of it in action here. From Lost Remote:
      The DVR service runs $9.95 extra a month. HDTV, $4.95. Hess says he's not worried about whether there will be enough demand in the marketplace. "My concern is having enough DVRs." Comcast says they'll roll out the same software and set-tops to other markets across the country -- if the Seattle test goes well -- starting in the second quarter of next year.
      (via Seattle PI, John Montgomery, Jeff Sandquist, Tivo Tracker, Findory)

    Microsoft Sues Makers Of Fake Windows Labels

    Microsoft has filed suit against eight companies, accusing them of making counterfeit certificate of authenticity labels, the holographic stickers attached to software packaging and computers to prove the contents are actual non-pirated versions of MS software. These are the first suits of this kind. From the Seattle PI article:
    The suits were filed in federal court in seven states. Named in the suits are Monarch Technology Inc. of San Clemente, Calif.; Kenneth Xu of Union City, Calif.; Era Limited of Lake Zurich, Ill.; Micro Info Tech (USA) Corp. of Edison, N.J.; Affordable Computer Warehouse of Clinton, N.Y.; Warp Systems/Computers LLC of Raleigh, N.C.; Master Computer Inc. of State College, Pa.; and Software Provisions of Vancouver, Wash.

    Chinese Government Gives Microsoft The Old Heave-Ho

    The Chinese government has cancelled a contract it was about to complete with Microsoft. The contract was signed two weeks ago, according to, but the Chinese government has come under fire since then for not going with a local vendor, as required by law. An official from the Chinese science and Technology Ministry actually called the deal a threat to national security. China decided to initiate the $3.6 million dollar contract after discovering it had pirated software on its own computers (China has a piracy rate of roughly 90%).

    Microsoft Decides Against Windows 2000 SP5

    Instead of releasing a fifth service pack for Windows 2000, Microsoft has decided to put out an "update rollup". This will be the final significant release for the OS, while Microsoft focuses on fixing Windows XP security issues. I can understand why MS would want to de-emphasize Win2K. In its opinon, customers "should" be running XP, so everyone can be working on the same page when it comes to security fixes. Of course, considering that so many people are still running Windows 98 (so many that MS had to extend support of it past the planned "end of cycle" date), you'd think there are enough people still running the less popular Windows 2000, enough to justify a somewhat significant level of support just four years after release.
    (via Ars Technica)

    Monday, November 29, 2004

    Microsoft Gets Top Marks For Online Customer Service

    The Customer Respect Group released today its Fourth Quarter 2004 Online Customer Respect Study, and discovered that Microsoft had the best marks among all companies in terms of how it treats its customers online. MS got an 8.6 out of 10, measured across several categories:
    These attributes include Web site simplicity (ease of navigation), responsiveness to inquiries, respect for customer privacy, attitude (the customer focus of a site), transparency (open and honest policies) and principles (value and respect for customer data). Combined, those issues are used to measure a company's overall Customer Respect Index rating.
    (article at ComputerWorld, via Seattle PI)

    TV Search Is Coming

    Cnet's Stefanie Olsen reports that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are working on digital video search tools. Google's is reportedly the most ambitious plan, with the search giant working together with broadcasters to create a TV search engine, something I correctly predicted they were working on over three weeks ago. Microsoft's efforts center on interactive cable TV, while Google's focus more on broadband internet users. Yahoo, meanwhile, simply wants to index already available multimedia content, much like AOL's Singingfish already does.
    Google's project for TV search is ultra-secretive; only a handful of broadcast executives have seen it demonstrated so far. To build the service, the company is recording live TV shows and indexing the related closed-caption text of the programming. It uses the text to identify themes, concepts and relevant keywords for video so they can be triggers for searching.
    (via The Unofficial Google Weblog)

    Sunday, November 28, 2004

    Blogger Uncovers Microsoft PR Gaffe? Not Really

    Steve Rubel on WebProNews reports that the blogger who runs the PR India blog discovered a Microsoft press release replete with a screenshot of MSN Search in Firefox. Certainly an embarresing mistake, right? Of course, unless it never happened.

    Today, I would like to hold a course in Blogging 101. The first rule of blogging is?
    Link to your sources.
    The second rule?
    Link to your sources.
    Sure, a bit Fight Club-ish, but it is the truth. By not linking to this supposed press release, PR India is practically putting up a big sign saying "This never happened". I know this. You know this. Steve know this. So why does this blog get any press over a screenshot of a website offered up with exactly zero proof? I have no idea.

    Some Microsoft Humor From The Spoof

    The Spoof is an online satire publication, much like The Onion. I've located some fun Microsoft stories from their archives to entertain everyone:
      Microsoft patents the 'patent':
      The owners of all patents ever issued have each been served with a court order today, informing them that they face legal action unless they agree to compensate Microsoft, who claim to have patented the 'patent' in 1620.
      Rumors of a time machine being built under Bill Gate's mansion in an attempt to change the past have been...
      Gates fires God. Jesus too.:
      Blaming rising costs and falling profits Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates reluctantly gave the Heavenly Father his "walking papers".