Europe vs. Microsoft: Round 2

No rest for the weary. After a brief respite, European investigators are once again on Microsoft's tail.

It was only last October when Microsoft agreed to comply with the European Commission's 2004 antitrust decision regarding bundling smaller applications within Windows. Now there are two new inquiries, both of which are curiously similar to the original market-dominance complaints. One of the two new issues focuses on whether bundling Internet Explorer with Windows unfairly excludes smaller competitors (mostly Opera, since that's a European company and the originator of the complaint). The other dwells on Microsoft withholding critical development information from other vendors interested in making products that would work with (and possibly compete with) the Office applications.

While Opera presented the browser complaint to the EC, the other complaint was presented by a group of companies. The European Committee for Interoperable Systems claims Microsoft hasn't disclosed enough information for competitive development. This complaint is backed by some heavy-hitters based in the U.S., but with strong international presence, like IBM and Sun Microsystems.

Microsoft has said it will cooperate fully and hopes to resolve the matter quickly. It probably hopes to avoid the record-setting fines the EC levied upon it during the first antitrust battle on the European front.

What's your take on this new round of antitrust action -- more fair investigation or a witch hunt? Who do you feel is right? Have your attorneys contact my attorneys with your thoughts at llow@redmondmag.com.

IBM Reports Strong Numbers
While the rest of the stock market seems to be tanking, IBM is enjoying a great second quarter, which saw its profits go up 24 percent.

It's almost as if IBM is immune to the foundering American economy. The folks in Armonk attribute their unusually strong numbers to international sales, which means that right now, the IBM execs who originally decided to expand the company's business beyond the U.S. borders and to cut back on selling PCs are probably getting bigger offices.

In a statement released with the earnings forecast, IBM's top exec Samuel Palmisano attributed the stronger numbers to "the broad scope of IBM's global business -- led by strong operational performance in Asia, Europe and emerging countries."

Following increasing trends of globalization, other large tech companies -- including Intel and HP -- have developed a massive international presence. According to IBM, nearly two-thirds of its total workforce live and work outside the U.S.

Seems it's still true that no one gets fired for buying IBM (remember that ad?), especially if they're not working in the U.S. How global is your company? How do you handle purchasing and provisioning across the globe? How do you handle IT operations on a global scale? Send me an e-mail, preferably from somewhere exotic, at llow@redmondmag.com.

U.K. Unveils Supercomputer
Scottish researchers have unveiled the fastest and most advanced computer the U.K. has ever known. Residing in Edinburgh, Hector (short for "High-End Computing Terascale Resource") is capable of a whopping 63 trillion calculations per second.

Hector lives at the University of Edinburgh's Advanced Computer Facility, and will be run by the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Center (EPCC). Hector's handlers expect the machine to cost slightly more than $221 million over the course of six years.

Hector will be tasked with forecasting climate change and its global impact, examining the spread of infectious diseases, and performing calculations to support pharmaceutical drug development. It currently runs at 63 teraflops. After an upcoming October 2009 upgrade, that capacity should increase to 250 teraflops.

A bonnie effort by our Scottish brethren, but this spiffy new machine from the U.K. isn't quite as fast as the Blue Gene/L supercomputer, which you read about here a few months ago. This monster, developed by IBM researchers at the Livermore National Laboratory, reaches screaming speeds of 596 teraflops.

Does your organization have the need to log any supercomputer time? Have you ever used one of these monsters? Let me know at llow@redmondmag.com.

Oracle and BEA Seal the Deal
Last, and most definitely not least, Oracle and BEA have worked out a deal after months of speculation, false starts and close calls. Oracle will buck up $8.5 billion for BEA. That price works out to a little more than $19 per share, slightly higher than the offer of $17 per share Oracle made last October.

This deal gives Oracle access to BEA's middleware systems, which it can then integrate into Oracle's database software. You're sure to read more about this -- in print, online and in these newsletters -- as the deal is finalized and the two companies work out an integration plan.

What's your initial take on the acquisition? Does your organization use Oracle or SQL Server? Any plans to change? Let me know at llow@redmondmag.com.

Mailbag: IE vs. Firefox
Peter reported yesterday on Internet Explorer's continued dominance in the browser world, and asked readers what their own preferences were. Some of you aren't convinced of IE's appeal:

Why is IE the most widely used browser? The answer is so simple that I'm sure most people overlook it. It is because it is packaged with Windows and, in the corporate world, IT departments have enough to do without having to worry about supporting Firefox or any other browser.

Personally, I prefer Firefox and use it at home 99 percent of the time. I only use IE when a Web page or links on a Web page aren't working correctly. At work, we use IE for the reason stated above.
-Neil

Only newbies use IE 7. Unfortunately, they outnumber the rest of us. IE 7's negatives: a crummy interface, a highly dysfunctional CSS implementation, missing built-in Firefox-like search box. IE 7's positives: great page zoom, RSS feeds work well, works easily with various video formats. I use IE 7 when I have to -- when I'm interacting with Microsoft Web services.

I love Firefox 2.0 except for its lack of zoom. I love the Firefox extensions that simplify my life, like sharing bookmarks among computers, saving files and links to pre-assigned folders, flash blocking, and the Web developer toolbar. Long live Mozilla and Firefox.
-Gregory

The absolute only reason we ever use Internet Destroyer is to access Microsoft sites, which purposely only work on their inferior product.
-Anonymous

I use Firefox and won't change unless something drastic happens. All the IT people I know use it, but recently I met one that didn't. After I recommended it, he tried it, but he inadvertantly used version 1.1 and wasn't too happy with it (slow, large footprint, few options and massive memory leaks -- I was sure it was going to be declared a superfund site by the EPA if they hadn't come out with a new version). After he downloaded the latest and greatest and I showed him which add-ins were must-haves, he dumped IE.

My whole family uses Firefox and loves it. Now that they understand add-ins, they are always finding some strange add-in for the sites they visit, like Gaia, Facebook and e-Bay. I also use it as my FTP application and main RSS reader. I have View IE as an add-in, but never use it anymore. All my banking sites work fine with Firefox. At work, since several of our sites were developed to it, I have to confirm that everything I do works in IE, but that's the only time I use it -- when I absolutely have to. I have IE 7 and I see where Microsoft is now playing catch-up, offering much of what Firefox already offers, but I don't see the hundreds of add-ons that make the Firefox browser what it is.
-Gerry

I've used Firefox as my browser of choice for years now, and for a variety of reasons. Back when I first switched, IE was getting roundly thumped for being holier than Oral Roberts when it came to security. There was a regular drumbeat of news stories about malware and drive-by software installs that made IE out to be as safe as securing a car by leaving a note on the windshield saying, "Door locks broken, but please don't steal anything." While I am not interested in delving into the back-and-forth over whose software is buggier or more secure, the fact is that article after article recommended switching to an alternative browser to IE in the battle against malware, so I did. The main alternatives available at the time were Netscape (old, tired and wheezing even then), Opera (which wanted either money or to run ads on my machine) or Firefox (Firebird at the time).

When I got Firefox loaded, I was immediately taken with tabbed browsing. Wow! Something new in the world of the Web browser. At the time, I don't think there had been any innovation in IE for a long time (Microsoft's attitude seemed to be that now that Netscape was thoroughly trounced in the so-called browser wars, IE was effectively "completed," with no new development needed). Although there were third-party add-on toolbars that duplicated this for IE 6, the ones I remember were the type that report home about your browsing activity and include 10 features you have no use for rather than just the one thing you actually want.

Add to that the fact that Firefox's pop-up blocker actually WORKED. It used to be a matter of course that every time you browsed the Internet, you would be forced to close pop-up after pop-up the whole session long. Or you had to install some third-party software to take care of it. Installing Firefox stopped all that dead in its tracks. It just completely removed one of the Web's most annoying features from the get-go, and it worked better even then than IE's blocker does now. Occasionally a pop-up window still spawns in IE 7 with blocking on, but I never see one in Firefox.

I was even more pleasantly surprised to find that there was a whole world of convenient customizations available for Firefox called extensions. Anything from games to Web site integration to utilities, all available for free, and all in one place, dozens of them then and nearly 2,000 now. And the best part is that most of them are very minimalist. Most of them are designed to do a very specific task and do it well. True, there are some extensions that are almost as feature-laden as their commercial cousins (think Yahoo! Toolbar or Google Toolbar), but most have a more narrow focus and lighter system resource demands. Adblock alone is worth loading Firefox even if you never customize the browser any more than that. While nothing could possibly remove all the ads on the Internet -- and I know they are a necessary evil -- running Adblock is like walking down the street just after someone has picked up all the litter.

Admittedly, many of these features have been implemented now in IE 7. Tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking are now standard in the feature set, and MS is attempting to grow its own library of add-ons like Firefox's extensions. But Microsoft's library is comparatively paltry and far more commercially oriented. Some MS add-ons are not free, as well. For my part, I'll stick to what has proven itself to me over time. The Firefox team and community have a proven track record of providing far more enjoyable and, in my experience, safer browsing.
-Chuck

But not all of you dislike IE; at least one reader favors it over Firefox:

I used Firefox up to the point that Microsoft released IE 7. Since then, I do not see any reason to use Firefox. We use Microsoft Exchange 2007 here on campus so I only use IE at home now because OWA-lite is not great. Really, since IE now has tabbed browsing, I don't see a reason to use Firefox anymore.
-Nicholaus

Join the fray! Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to llow@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Lafe Low is the editorial liaison for ECG Events.

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