Microsoft Cooks Up Yet Another Desktop Productivity Suite

It sounds like Microsoft is getting more than a little concerned about the inroads being made by Google Apps and maybe one or two other free desktop productivity applications. Over the last few weeks, rumors that Redmond is cooking up some bundle of consumer-flavored desktop applications have been getting stronger. And in fact, the company sent out a vaguely worded invite recently asking selected beta testers about their interest in banging away on a product codenamed "Albany."

What exactly Albany is, besides the capital of New York state, is unclear as no one has actually gotten their hands on the code yet. Most of the various reports swirling around have it consisting of Office Home and Student Edition, Office Live Workspace and OneCare.

It's understandable -- and about time, many would say -- that Microsoft offered something that was much lower-end yet still took care of 90 percent of what desktop users do day-to-day. I mean, how many times have you complained about the bloat of the full version of Office and how you use only 10 percent of its features?

But here's what makes this decision somewhat curious: What now does Microsoft do with Microsoft Works, which is bundled on many PCs? Redmond has brought up the prospect of an "advertising-funded" collection of apps in the past that would look and smell a lot like Works, but not a lot has been said about that recently.

Reports so far about how Microsoft would sell such a product are conflicting -- either bundled or at retail (unless it's to be part of a SaaS strategy, which means online delivery) -- but it's a good question. If Microsoft sells it at retail, where Office Home and the Student version sell pretty well, Albany could cannibalize sales of those products. If it goes for a bundling deal with PC makers, Albany would run into Works.

Guess we won't know too much more until the first beta versions get released. Then we'll see exactly the level of features it presents relative to Works and the Home and Student versions.

Firefox 3 To Make Its Debut in June
Mozilla officials yesterday announced that they'll release the final version of Firefox 3 in June. The first release candidate of the product will be in the first half of May.

Currently, the product is in its fourth beta release and is spread among some 700,000 users. That's actually pretty tiny considering the product's total installed base runs up to around 160 million. Right now, the company plans to ship beta 5 in the next week or two.

The encouraging news about the latest beta versions -- at least for those who want to see more dynamic competition introduced to the marketplace -- is that Firefox 3 continues to test favorably against Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera. Over the past few months, according to Wired.com, the open source browser has consistently reduced the amount of memory it consumes. It also demands markedly less memory than IE 7 or Opera. This improved capability should go nicely with some other performance improvements the company has made, including the way it now handles multiple page requests.

To create a little bit more buzz around the upcoming product, Mozilla has also announced a contest challenging developers to build the best add-ons for it. There are two basic categories: one for add-ons that exploit the newest features in Firefox 3, and the other for existing add-ons that will be ported over to the latest version. One of the prizes being offered is an all-expenses-paid trip to a "Mozilla Developer Day" anywhere in the world the winner wants to go.

Not bad. I could see myself chatting it up with open source developers over margaritas at Sloppy Joe's in Key West.

Not a Great Week To Take a Safari
Speaking of browsers, some programmers have uncovered what they're classifying as a couple of "highly critical" vulnerabilities in Apple's recently released Safari 3.1.

The first, according to a post on Secunia's Web site, is caused by an "improper handling" of the buffer for long file names being downloaded. The other vulnerability leaves the door open for...let's call them "phishing expeditions."

As of Thursday morning, there appear to be no workarounds available. There's really only one preventative measure that can be taken right now: Make sure you don't venture near funky Web sites.

This hasn't been a good week for Safari. This news comes right on top of criticisms made about Apple's licensing terms for Safari as it's used on Windows-based machines. According to the licensing terms, users can only "install and use one copy of the Apple software on a single Apple-labeled computer at a time." It goes on to say that users "may not make the Apple software available over a network where it could be used by multiple computers at the same time."

This seems like something out of the 1980s. Well, I guess this would be a problem if people actually took the time to read licensing agreements on stuff they downloaded. I am curious, though: When was Apple going to tell the public about this policy? After a few million copies were downloaded onto Windows PCs? Maybe Apple was waiting for a goodly number before it drops a lawsuit on them?

Mailbag: Microsoft Virtually Behind
Lafe asked readers yesterday for their thoughts on virtualization. One reader thinks Microsoft has a ways to go in that arena:

Until Microsoft's Hyper-V can do VMotion, they don't stand a chance against VMware.
-Anonymous

Tell us what you think! Leave a comment below, or send an e-mail to escannell@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.

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