Kinect, Windows 8, Gates Dominated Microsoft's Week

Microsoft's week involved news of Kinect for Windows, new features for Windows 8, and Bill Gates testifying in a long-running court battle between Microsoft and Novell.

Microsoft's week involved gearing up for the future.

On Nov. 22, the company revealed it is prepping new Kinect hardware especially designed for Windows, the better to extend the popular hands-free controller beyond its traditional realm of the Xbox 360.

The hardware alterations necessary for a Windows-optimized Kinect include shortening the USB cable "to ensure reliability across a broad range of computers," Craig Eisler, general manager of Kinect for Windows, wrote in a Nov. 22 posting on the Kinect for Windows blog. In addition, the upgrade will feature "a small dongle to improve coexistence with other USB peripherals." New firmware will optimize the camera to accurately focus on objects at ranges up to 50 centimeters.

"'Near mode' will enable a whole new class of 'close up' applications, beyond the living room scenarios for Kinect for Xbox 360," he added. "This is one of the most requested features from the many developers and companies participating in our Kinect for Windows pilot program." Some 200 companies are already involved in that program to explore Kinect's commercial ramifications.

Microsoft evidently hopes the popularity of Kinect for Xbox 360-the device has sold millions of units in the year since its release-will extend to more productivity-centric areas like Windows.

Speaking of Windows, the company revealed still more details about its upcoming Windows 8, including the ability to update via download.

"Buying boxed software is quickly becoming the exception rather than the rule," Christa St. Pierre, a member of the Windows Setup and Deployment team, wrote in a Nov. 21 posting on Microsoft's official "Building Windows 8" blog, "with more and more software being purchased online as broadband penetration increases and large-size media downloads become more common."

Windows 8 users, she added, will have the option of starting their operating-system setup online: "We actually 'pre-key' the setup image that is downloaded to a unique user, which means that you don't have to type in the 25-digit product key when you install."

Unlike with Windows 7, where the upgrade process often involved multiple apps or features (including Upgrade Advisor, Setup and Windows Easy Transfer) and a trip to the local box store, Microsoft is concentrating on streamlining the Windows 8 upgrade into what St. Pierre described as "one fast and fluid experience."

According to a Nov. 23 report in The New York Times, itself quoting an anonymous source briefed on the matter, Microsoft also signed a nondisclosure agreement with Yahoo, opening the latter's books to perusal. If verified, that could indicate Microsoft is considering some sort of deal with its occasional partner (and occasional rival).

Three years ago, Microsoft tried to snatch up Yahoo for $44.6 billion and was rebuffed. In the interim, the two companies entered into a search-and-advertising agreement, with Microsoft's Bing taking over Yahoo's back-end search apparatus while Yahoo took on advertising responsibilities for the two companies. Were Microsoft to take another run at Yahoo-which has become increasingly beleaguered as it seeks to compete more effectively with Google-it could probably snatch the property up for far cheaper than in 2008.

In terms of blasts from the past, Microsoft had a major one this past week, when former CEO Bill Gates testified Nov. 21 in a federal antitrust lawsuit leveled against the software giant by open-source business software maker Novell.

Novell claims that Microsoft relied on illegal practices to crush WordPerfect, a rival to Microsoft Word. The long-running suit, originally filed in November 2004, centers on Novell's claims that Microsoft withheld critical Windows 95 technical information, which in turn made it difficult to deliver a version of WordPerfect compatible with that operating system.

According to a report in USA Today, Gates in court suggested that the software necessary to support WordPerfect would have crashed Windows: "We were making trade-offs."

Even as Microsoft and Novell have continued their courtroom battle, the two companies have collaborated in other areas. Late last year, Novell said it would sell some of its intellectual property assets to CPTN Holdings, a consortium of technology companies organized by Microsoft.

Of course, it wouldn't be the first time Gates testified in Microsoft's defense; he did so in 1998, during his company's antitrust investigation by the federal government.

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