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Week in review: Try to read Microsoft's hips

On the eve of announcing a change in Vista that people have clamored for, the company reverses course and then clams up.

Microsoft almost made a change to its Vista operating system that people have been clamoring for. It was virtually a done deal.

On the eve of making the announcement, however, the company changed its mind and now doesn't want to talk about it.

Microsoft planned this week to announce that it was broadening the virtualization rights for Windows Vista, but decided at the last minute to reverse course and stick with existing limits. The software maker had briefed reporters and analysts on plans to allow the Home versions of Vista to run in virtual machines, addressing criticisms from virtualization enthusiasts and Mac users who had chafed at having to buy one of the two priciest versions of Windows in order to run Vista in a virtual machine.

The technology, which allows multiple operating systems to run simultaneously on one computer, has become particularly important for Mac users who want to run Windows programs side by side with the Mac OS.

The company had said in interviews that it was still concerned about the security risks that the change might introduce but that it was going to make the change and leave the choice up to consumers.

Analysts had questioned the tie between security and the licensing restriction. The security risks apply to all versions of Vista. Similar risks might even be present if someone were running another operating system in a virtual machine, whether that is Linux or Windows XP, properly licensed in all its major versions to run inside a virtual machine.

Given all the feedback Microsoft had been getting, and apparently was keen to accommodate, it's not clear what prompted the last minute flip-flop. Even Microsoft's partners have gotten little explanation.

As part of its planned announcement, Microsoft had spoken with Parallels, securing a quote from one of its executives praising the deal. Like the rest of the industry, virtualization specialist Parallels was left scratching its head over the about-face.

"We haven't received any more information either," said Benjamin Rudolph, Parallels' director of corporate communications. "It's a little odd."

However, CNET readers had their own ideas what prompted the flip-flop.

"Microsoft's real reason for not wanting users to run Vista in a 'virtual machine' is they are worried that someone dishonest will buy one copy of Vista and install it on multiple Macs via 'virtual machine software,'" wrote one reader to the's TalkBack forum.

Meanwhile, in an effort to assuage Google and head off a further antitrust battle with U.S. regulators, Microsoft agreed to make changes to the desktop search feature in Vista. In a filing made jointly with the Justice Department, Microsoft said it would change the search feature as part of the first service pack to Vista.

Under the agreement, Microsoft will create a mechanism whereby computer makers and individuals will be able to choose a default desktop search program, much as they can choose a rival browser or media player, even though those technologies are built into Windows.

Yahoo CEO googled
After six years on the job, Yahoo Chief Executive Terry Semel stepped down and handed the reins of the struggling search company to co-founder Jerry Yang. The shakeup came nearly one week after a somewhat contentious shareholder meeting in which stockholders criticized Semel's pay in light of the company's lackluster stock price and failure to mount any serious challenge to Google on search advertising.

Yahoo lost its lead in the search market to the younger Google in recent years and watched as Google turned search advertising into a cash cow. Yahoo has only a 27 percent share of the search market share compared with Google's nearly 50 percent. Yahoo's stock has dropped about 10 percent from a year ago, while Google's has jumped about 30 percent.

Yang, who ran the company when it was small but lacks Semel's management expertise and business sense, is seen by many as the right person for the top job.

But the move likely will work only with Yahoo's newly named president, Sue Decker, at Yang's side. And some speculate that Yang's only filling the spot until Decker is ready to take the reins.

Still, Yang isn't seen by the staff as a savior. He's more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. For that reason, some current and former Yahoo employees also believe that Yang will act as CEO on an interim basis until the company gets back on track or until Decker is ready to take over.

In the aftermath of the executive shakeup, a big question remains: will the board of directors that recently gave Semel a $71 million yearly compensation package answer for its mistakes as well?

A number of influential organizations, such as the advisers at Institutional Shareholders Services (ISS), think a boardroom shakeup isn't such a bad idea. ISS had taken Yahoo's board to task for the last two years for Semel's compensation package, asking that it be tied more closely to the company's performance. But the board argued that the package (Semel has reportedly earned $450 million in six years at Yahoo) was justified in order to retain his talent.

You go, green
A raft of subsidies and other incentives is making Ontario a hot spot for solar-panel manufacturers and others in alternative energy. This week, the province's government announced a $610 million fund to develop a green technology industry and attract car manufacturers and solar-panel makers. Municipalities will also be able to dip into a separate $206 million fund for retrofitting buildings.

Additionally, the province has unfurled programs that eliminate sales tax on Energy Star-rated lightbulbs and appliances for a year, offer homeowners up to about $4,700 to install energy-efficient appliances, and set a goal of 100,000 homes going solar. A pilot program will also extend zero-interest loans to homeowners who install renewable energy systems. These build on other programs designed to increase demand for solar power.

But solar energy isn't the only renewable resource: there's also garbage. A company called AgriPower will begin production next year on a movable power generator fueled by a wide range of waste products, from walnut shells to discarded tires.

AgriPower's combined heat and power system was originally envisioned for developing countries that could burn agricultural waste to make electricity and heat. The multiple-piece unit includes a large feed hopper that holds five tons of material, and a high-temperature incinerator that vaporizes biomass as it comes in. The resulting heat can be used to turn a turbine to make 300 kilowatts of electricity.

In the market to buy a green house? Not necessarily green in color, but green in terms of energy-efficient features, recycled construction materials and healthy indoor air? Several companies are creating subdivisions out of modular homes built in factories. Mainstream developers have begun to integrate solar panels in the construction process; the solar panels, salesmen report, are something of a status symbol. You can even get a green luxury condo in Dubai.

The demand for green homes and green amenities is growing. Green buildings make up 2 percent of all U.S. construction, according to McGraw-Hill, which predicts that 5 to 10 percent of newly built housing by 2010 will offer several green features. That would bring today's $7.2 billion green residential market up to $38 billion in just a few years.

Also of note
The U.S. Supreme Court threw out antitrust complaints related to companies that went public during the boom in the late 1990s...In response to reports of persistent cybersecurity flaws at the Department of Homeland Security, a top congressional Democrat questioned whether the agency's chief information officer deserves to keep his job...Apple's Safari may not be rewriting the rules for Web browsing on Windows just yet, but it's leading the way with one significant change: photographs with richer color.