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Windows 7 is quickly becoming the bane of my existence. I travel quite frequently for business. As such I figured I would install Skype in order to keep in touch with my family at home and to provide myself with the ability to do video calls with them (it’s nice to be able to see one’s family and not just hear them). It took me a while to get my Lifecam NX-6000 (which is, allegedly, compatible with Windows 7 according to Microsoft’s gospel) installed and working both with the Lifecam software and with Skype. However, for reasons I CANNOT fathom, whenever I plug the webcam into a different USB port (and my laptop has 4 of them) Windows 7 wants to reinstall the driver. Well…today, it tried to reinstall the driver (I couldn’t remember which port I last plugged the webcam into) and failed – repeatedly. This for a product that is considered COMPATIBLE with Windows 7 (the Lifecam NX-6000 is only 2 years old at most!).

So, now, I cannot use the webcam and Skype crashes when I try to do a video test. This is utter BS on the part of Microsoft. I have tried looking up the help for this problem only to get some ridiculous crap about a) making sure that automatic updating is turned on (HELLO! This is a corporate system – they are only pushing patches that they approve!) or b) manually updating the drivers (tried that…no luck) or c) installing the software for the device from the manufacturer (uh…Microsoft…YOU ARE THE MANUFACTURERS OF THE FRIGGIN DEVICE AND THE OPERATING SYSTEM!!!!!). I’ve even done the usual uninstalling and reinstalling of the driver (Several times in fact – all to no avail). I’ve even done the sane thing of rebooting Windows. What I can’t understand is that Windows won’t provide for me any detailed information as to WHY the driver is failing (the only thing I can surmise is that the driver being used for the 1TB USB drive I got yesterday is the culprit…however, I’m not sure which one it is). This is beyond stupid and represents a truly, phenomenally crappy operating system. I’m starting to think that I will be looking to get a second laptop to travel with just so that I can stay in touch with my family with hardware that actually WORKS!)…perhaps a MacBook Pro…if only I can swallow the fact that I will be selling my soul to “The Steve”!

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Last Thursday Microsoft announced that the next version of the Windows operating system, Windows 7, will ship in Europe without the Internet Explorer 8 browser installed. This new version of the operating system will, like the XP and Vista versions sold without the Windows Media Player, will only be available in the European Union. What prompted this decision? Well, it seems that Opera Software ASA filed a complaint with the European Commission claiming that Internet Explorer was monopolistic and did not give users a choice in which browser they wanted. Microsoft has been down this road before with the lawsuit over the Windows Media Player that is normally bundled with Windows and rather than deal with a protracted legal fight they decided to simply ship a version of Windows 7 that will not include IE8 (or any other version of IE) in it.

This will give the end user a true choice as to which browser they wish to install — IE8, Mozilla’s Firefox, Opera, Google’s Chrome, or Apple’s Safari. So how is the EC responding to this move by Microsoft? You would think that they would hail it as a victory, right? Actually…no. The EC moved quickly to criticize Microsoft’s decision

In a statement issued late Thursday night in Brussels, the EU regulator said it “notes with interest” Microsoft’s announcement and would “shortly decide” the outcome of its own case. But it didn’t seem confident that offering the operating system without Internet Explorer was the complete answer to its concerns that computer users lack “genuine” choice in browsers.

“Rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less,” the EU said in its statement.

(Hodgsen, Jessica and Charles Forelle, “Windows is to Drop Browser in Europe,” Wall Street Journal Online, June 12, 2009)

What I can’t understand is how the EC can claim that Microsoft’s move provides less choice. Users in Europe will be able to buy Windows without any pre-installed browser and be able to install whatever browser that they want. Another scenario is where the system vendors — HP, Dell, Acer, etc — will pre-install the browsers for the end user based on the choice they make when they buy the system or sell systems with multiple browsers installed. Any way you slice it Microsoft’s move allows for more consumer choice. But apparently that’s not good enough for the EC.

Perhaps what they want is for Microsoft to install competitor’s products into the Windows operating system and then sell it for them? That seems to be the case since the EC indicated that it would rather see Microsoft offer consumers a choice of browser rather than remove IE8 from the operating system (“E.U. Criticizes Microsoft Plan to Remove Browser“, The New York Times, June 12, 2009). It’s hard to tell what would satisfy the European Commission. What I don’t see is the EC going after Apple for bundling the Safari browser in MacOS X? Or bundling iTunes into MacOS X and leveraging that in iPod sales. Or the EC going after Google as being monopolistic in Internet search. The move last Thursday by Microsoft may not even eliminate the possibility that the EC will levy a fine against the company as the “investigation dates to 1996 — which means it [the EC] still could levy substantial fines for the 13 years during which the browser was integrated, even if it finds that the separation allays its concerns going forward” (Hodgsen, Jessica and Charles Forelle, “Windows is to Drop Browser in Europe,” Wall Street Journal Online, June 12, 2009).

Microsoft is doing the right thing in the EU market in order to meet the EC’s concerns. It would be nice if the EC would acknowledge that and move forward.

(a small caveat here: this is solely my personal opinion and does NOT, in any way, reflect the opinion of my employer)

Well this morning started on a sour note…I put the leash on the dog, picked up the pooper scooper and grabbed a travel mug of coffee. I was all ready to head out the door to take the dog for his morning walk. I picked up my 30GB Zune (Microsoft now calls it the Zune 30 but for me it’s always the original Zune). I pressed the on right button to turn it on, watched the Zune start booting and put it in my jacket pocket. About halfway up the street I decided to listen to NPR while walking the dog. I took the Zune out of my pocket and looked at it. It was still stuck on the boot screen with the progress bar almost all the way to the right. Another Zune bites the dust…or did it?

When I returned home I just left it alone and let it drain the battery. I figured that since we (yes, I work for Microsoft — although not in the Zune product group) didn’t include a hard reset button or a way to remove the battery that the only thing I can do to reboot it was to try and do the restore sequence or let the battery drain. I tried the restore sequence first…no joy there. So I left it alone and let the battery drain. Once the battery was drained I plugged it in and let it charge for a little bit and then tried to restart it. Guess what? It didn’t work.

So, I think, should I take it apart and unplug the battery? It’s out of warranty…what could I lose? I’ve already lost my 8GB Zune (little did I know that when it died it had 3 days left on it’s warranty and I could have had it fixed for nothing…grrrrr) so… Before going down that route I decided I’d e-mail the internal Zune discussion list within Microsoft. Lo’ and behold I got an almost immediate reply that this is a problem being faced by all Zune 30GB owners and is considered a major issue (good thing I didn’t get the tools out yet). So, I decide to just get to work and keep an eye on the Zune discussion list.

Now I see that not only has MSN picked up on this story, but also CNN as well. This is not looking good as far as publicity. The good news is that I do know that the Zune team is hard at work identifying the problem and providing a solution. What that is I don’t know and even if I did I couldn’t say at this time. I’m very hopeful as I love this thing (good thing I also have a Zune 80 as a backup…but you never really forget your first Zune 🙂 ).

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