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Windows Phone 8.1 surprisingly great

Windows Phone 7 was Microsoft's belated entry in the smartphone wars, ushering in cool new design trends without making a huge impact on the business. Windows Phone 8 was a disappointment. But the first major point version is a big surprise, packing all the new features expected in its predecessor: "a magnificent smartphone platform," writes Peter Bright. Rob 16

Executive shakeup begins at the new Microsoft

Kara Swisher learned that some high-ups at Microsoft at leaving the company following the appointment of new CEO Satya Nadella. On one departing exec: "Good for him not to have hung around twiddling his thumbs ... as often happens far too often at Microsoft and elsewhere." Rob 2

Lincoln's Gettysburg PowerPoint, delivered 150 years ago today

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For those who missed Abraham Lincoln's PowerPoint presentation in Gettysburg 150 years ago today, he kindly posted his slides online, along with rough speaker notes. "The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation" (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)

(And here's Peter Norvig on why he created this Web classic way back in 2000: "The Making of the Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation")

Ballmer fell, cut head, during Nokia buyout negotiations

The Wet Lord bleeds.

Mr. Ballmer and Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, were walking across the law firm’s lobby, when Mr. Ballmer — absorbed in reading a document from Nokia related to the deal — tripped on a glass coffee table. Letting out a loud shriek, Mr. Ballmer fell to floor, hit his head and began bleeding above his eyebrow. Executives from Nokia sequestered in a conference room elsewhere in the offices were baffled by the sound, wondering whether Mr. Ballmer was reacting badly to a counter-proposal they had made. His security detail patched him up, and Mr. Ballmer resumed negotiations.

There's something strangely convincing about the idea Ballmer would literally shriek at the sight of an undesirable proposal.

Microsoft's Ballmer to retire

After 13 years at Microsoft's helm, CEO Steve Ballmer is to retire within 12 months. The search for a successor is on.

"There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time," Ballmer said in a press release. "... We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction."

A committee at Microsoft will begin the hunt for a new leader. Ballmer's tenure was marked by consistent profits but weak growth, the software giant failing to keep pace with industry developments—particularly in mobile computing.

Ballmer's statement follows.

Read the rest

Microsoft: NSA harming constitution

Declan McCullagh: "A strongly worded letter from Microsoft's general counsel to Attorney General Eric Holder says secrecy about National Security Agency surveillance is harming fundamental 'constitutional principles.'" [CNET] Rob 18

WA grants MSFT $1.5B tax amnesty, resorts to taxing dance-clubs to make up shortfall

Jeff Reifman sez,

After granting Microsoft amnesty on its $1.5 billion Nevada tax dodge, state tax collectors are aggressively targeting Seattle dance clubs and night clubs over an obscure 'opportunity to dance' tax. Auditors search the Internet to find out whether people dance at specific clubs. One clubowner reports an auditor told him: 'You have the opportunity to dance, and we verified it by 8 or 10 different references on Yelp.'

"My auditor came in with an obituary of a girl who committed suicide,"says another club owner. "When I argued that we aren't primarily a dance club -- we have 'No Dancing' signs up everywhere -- she flashed this obit that said the girl liked to dance at [our club].

The Legislature gave up $100 million annually to Microsoft so it can target the city's music scene to try to make up $880,000. The Century Ballroom, a popular dance club, is holding ongoing fundraisers to offset its $250,000 in back taxes. Dancers are effectively funding Microsoft's Nevada tax dodge.

Seattle Dance Clubs Fundraise to Pay Microsoft’s Tax Bill (Thanks, Jeff!)

Children of the 90s

Microsoft has an excellent "browser you loved to hate" ad campaign on, contrasting negative memories of its products to positive memories of the age in which they existed. It seems risky, but it's a clever act of emotive substitution. It demands parody, too, doesn't it?

Windows Surface reviews

Mat Honan at Wired: "This is a great device. It is a new thing, in a new space, and likely to confuse many of Microsoft’s longtime customers."

Joshua Topolsky at The Verge: "I wanted to love this device."

Sam Biddle at Gizmodo: "Should you buy it? No. ... It's a tablet-plus, priced right alongside the iPad and in most ways inferior."

Tim Stevens at Engadget: "The Surface is a slate upon which you can get some serious work done, and do so comfortably. You can't always say that of the competition."

Joanna Stern for ABC: "The Surface is full of potential, but until its software performance and apps are as strong as its hardware, I, unfortunately, will still drag both a laptop and an iPad through security."

Zach Epstein at BGR: "It really is the perfect combination of a tablet and a notebook thanks to the Touch Cover and the Type Cover, and I felt right at home with the Surface the moment I turned it on."

Harry McCracken for Time: "For an audacious version 1.0 product, it's impressive. Now "it's up to Microsoft to prove that it's serious enough about this PC business to forge ahead with Surface until it's impressive, period."

Avram Pilch for Laptop Magazine: "The Surface and its innovative Touch Cover proves that Microsoft can make hardware to rival the iPad, but the app ecosystem needs to catch up."

Windows RT

The part of Microsoft tasked with marketing good products badly has gotten its clutches on Windows 8, whose ARM tablet incarnation will henceforth be known as "Windows RT". Just sit there and think how much time, money and human effort—months of planning, hundreds of thousands of dollars, dozens of people—went into ensuring that their hottest product, widely associated with the buzzworthy "Metro" name, would instead sound like something for 1990s-era cash registers. [PC Mag] Rob

Microsoft text adventure game!

"Microsoft has jumped onto the free-to-play bandwagon with its latest game, a text-driven adventure called Visual Studio 2010. The innovative new game marries the traditional interactive fiction text adventure with its arcane commands and exploration with the free-form, open-ended gaming" [Ars Technica, following the introduction of gamification and "achievements" to the coding app] Rob

Microsoft buys Skype, attacks reverse engineer with bogus takedown notices and florid language

Microsoft-owned Skype has launched a campaign to shut down programmers who use reverse-engineering to understand its protocol and make interoperable products. Their PR agency calls this "nefarious attempts to subvert Skype's experience." Unfortunately for Skype and Microsoft, "experience" is not something the law protects -- after all, if a Skype user wants to talk to another person who uses a third-party Skype client, why would the law want to prevent that? Meanwhile, it appears that the sourcecode over which Microsoft is asserting copyright was created by the reverse-engineer they're harassing.

The day of publishing his initial details, Google's Blogger (where his blog is hosted) received a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) notice that two of his blog entries had to be removed: the post about his success in reverse-engineering the Skype protocol and then a second post about more technical details.

The complainant issuing the DMCA notice was in fact "Skype Inc" and the basis for the complaint is "Source code. The publication of this code, in addition to infringing Skype's intellectual property rights, may encourage improper spamming activities." (Google publishes DMCA complaints to ChillingEffects.org.)

Skype issued a second DMCA copyright notice after this researcher published more Skype related code. Those files have since moved to being hosted elsewhere. Skype is claiming copyright on the code even though the open-source code was written by the researcher. Another DMCA takedown attempt regarding the same work was issued again in early August when the researcher tried doing a DMCA counter-notice, and he ended up putting up links again to this "copyrighted" work.

Skype Goes After Reverse-Engineering (via /.)