Look out for Windows XP

The great Beast of Redmond is at it again, throwing their monopoly weight around. (Raise your hand if you’re surprised.)

The latest, greatest, gotta-have-it version of Windows, XP, is on the way, due end of October. Beta releases of the new system have been around for a while now, and include a new Internet Explorer, version 6. This is in parallel with the new release of Office XP.

Some of the XP’s new abilities are starting to raise some eye-brows. Take, for example, “Smart Tags”. These are hyperlinks which show up automatically in documents being created in Office XP applications — placing the mouse over the word pops up a list of associated Tag. This list, of course, is controlled by Microsoft.

This wouldn’t be a problem, of course, except that this feature is also being evaluated for inclusion for IE6. For web authors, this is a scary proposition — every web-page suddenly becomes full of links off to Microsoft or its partner’s sites and products.

The ramifications of this are wide, and there’s been almost universal negative reaction to the feature. Web authors are horrified that their (copyrighted) content will be modified in this way. There will be a META tag which will disable the feature, but many authors are discussing bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement instead.

Cookies are also an area which has received attention in the new IE6. Implementing the new Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) protocol, only cookies which implement a machine readable “Compact Policy” (CP) and are acceptable to “Microsoft’s internally set standards” are allowed by default.

To no-one’s great surprise, this means competitors to Microsoft’s MSN and other online properties, like advertising services from DoubleClick, find their cookies rejected. DoubleClick claim that their cookies will be working by the time the final release of XP is out — it will be interesting to see just how many companies are able to “make friends” with IE6, and thus survive.

Another new “feature” in Windows XP is the tying of the Windows installation to a particular computer, with mandatory network registration to ensure it isn’t pirated. This has raised privacy concerns, as it means Microsoft know a lot more about you, and it also makes things like motherboard swap-outs much more difficult.

And, speaking of motherboards, it would probably be a good idea to perform an upgrade of any computer where Windows XP is destined. The minimum recommended system is a Pentium III with 64 megs of RAM, although realistically you’ll need 256 megs and a fast processor to be comfortable.

Oh, one last thing: say goodbye to MP3s — Windows XP won’t play or record them by default, and adding third-party to do so has been made quite difficult. The technology presented instead, of course, is Microsofts Media Player. To hell with what the users want; Microsoft is delivering what the media companies demand: copy-protected content.

Looking at this latest release of the Windows platform, you’d think the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft had never happened. And, in fact, it is generally assumed that the US Appellate Court will be reversing, or seriously limiting, Judge Jackson’s decision against Microsoft any day now.

Competitors continue to lobby both federal and state governments, both in the US and abroad, pointing out the never ending anti-competitive actions of Microsoft. Even if the Bush administration chooses not to appeal to the Supreme Court, the state Attorneys General currently involved with the MS trial have vowed to continue.

When will this all be settled? Obviously, not for years to come. As the slow wheels of justice turn, the range of consumers’ options for mainstream solutions continue to shrink. The good news is consumers are starting to realize that they don’t necessarily need another upgrade, so there’s some question as to how quickly XP will be adopted.

But for those who just gotta have it, the treadmill is eagerly awaiting.

Published in the Victoria Business Examiner.

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