Week in review: Vista, virtualization, vendettas

Microsoft promises Vista changes in response to Google complaints. Also: Virtualization gets real, and iPhone reaches a milestone.

Microsoft is making changes to Windows Vista in response to objections from Google, but Microsoft has some criticism of its own for the search company.

In an effort to satisfy antitrust concerns, the software giant plans to make changes to the desktop search feature in Vista. Microsoft agreed in June to make alterations to the way desktop search operates in response to concerns from Google.

The primary impact of the change is giving Vista users who choose a non-Microsoft option for desktop search more outlets to see those search results, as opposed to the results generated by Vista's built-in desktop search engine.

The changes are coming with the first service pack to Windows Vista. Microsoft is launching a beta version of the update in the next couple of weeks, with a final version expected early next year.

As CNET News.com readers debated the value and origins of desktop search, one reader raised the issue of what would motivate Google to challenge Microsoft on the issue.

"What makes me a little more nervous than Windows knowing the content of files on my system is the fact that an advertising company wants to know the content of our files," wrote one reader to the News.com TalkBack forum.

In other Vista news, sales of boxed copies of the operating system continue to significantly trail those of Windows XP during its early days, according to a soon-to-be-released report. Standalone unit sales of Vista at U.S. retail stores were down 59.7 percent, compared with Windows XP, during each product's first six months on store shelves, according to NPD Group.

Microsoft also agreed that an analysis of boxed-copy sales is not representative of Vista's momentum, noting that the trend of people getting a new operating system with a new PC has further accelerated with Vista.

Meanwhile, Microsoft launched an attack on Google in which it seeks to dissuade businesses from downloading Google Apps. The attack came in a statement the same day that Google signed a deal with Capgemini to promote its office productivity software among businesses.

Capgemini, a global consulting firm, is set to offer desktop support and installation services to large corporations running Google Apps Premier Edition, the premium version of Google's Web-based package. Google Apps includes a word processor, a calendar and mail functions, and it thus is a direct rival to Microsoft Office.

In its statement, Microsoft laid out 10 questions it suggested users should ask when considering Google Apps.

Microsoft also sought to downplay the recent, but largely unpublicized, automatic update of system files on Windows XP and Vista machines as "normal behavior." A "stealth" update occurred on machines in late August that are set to not install automatic updates.

A Microsoft representative said, "Windows Update automatically updates itself from time to time, to ensure that it is running the most current technology, so that it can check for updates and notify customers that new updates are available."

iPhone rings up milestone
What a difference a price cut will make. It seems like only yesterday that Apple had sold its first 270,000 iPhones--not a bad tally for just a little bit more than the first day on the market. A little more than two months after the much-lusted-after gadget went on sale, Apple said it has sold its millionth iPhone.

"One million iPhones in 74 days," Apple CEO Steve Jobs exulted in a press release, just days after he ran into a buzz saw of criticism by cutting the price of the iPhone by $200 so soon after long lines of early adopters plopped down a big chunk of change to be the first on the block with the gadget.

The timing of the announcement struck some as interesting, given that one of the primary theories for the iPhone price cut was that Apple thought it was going to have trouble meeting that 1 million figure, and needed to stimulate demand. An Apple representative said the company was aware last week that it was close to the mark--Jobs affirmed during the iPod event that Apple was on track--but it couldn't announce the sale of the millionth iPhone until it actually happened, over the weekend.

The representative declined to speculate about whether the price cut caused a frenzy of iPhone buying from Wednesday to Sunday. However, Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster was willing to estimate that Apple sold 27,000 iPhones a day following the price cut.

Apple will take its keynote show on the road to London next week, with speculation centered mostly on the carriers for a European iPhone. The company sent out invitations to a Tuesday press conference but didn't specify the topic. The company has previously said it wants to start selling iPhones in Europe by the end of the year.

Through all of this, AT&T is precariously straddling a line between partnering and competing with Apple in the mobile-music market.

AT&T's exclusive deal to sell Apple's iPhone for use on its network in the United States has been the envy of the wireless industry for more than nine months. But managing its own mobile-music strategy while working with a tight-lipped and controlling partner like Apple is proving to be a challenge for AT&T, particularly as the Mac maker launches new products and services that may compete with AT&T's own.

Like many partnerships in the tech industry, the Apple-AT&T combination is increasingly looking like "co-opetition," a term used to describe business partners that also compete.

Apple, of course, is no stranger to co-opetition. AT&T is learning that the blurring of self-interest and cooperation is the price of doing business with a fast-moving outfit like Apple.

Virtualization gets real
The VMware conference, VMWorld, focusing on all things virtualization, kicked off its San Francisco gathering with news that major virtualization companies are cooperating to bring some simplicity to the world of their mutual interest, the format used to save virtual-machine images to disk.

Cooperating in the effort are VMware, XenSource and Microsoft, which today have separate software for the task of running multiple virtual machines on one computer and separate formats for storing those virtual machines. That storage is an important part of tasks such as backing up data, installing fresh virtual machines from a template, or moving one quiescent virtual machine from one physical computer to another.

Major server companies Hewlett-Packard, Dell and IBM also are participating in the effort, which is taking place within a group called the Distributed Management Task Force that has standardized other server technologies as well.

Parallels, an SWsoft subsidiary whose claim to fame is virtualization software that enables Mac OS X users to run Windows programs, is making the jump to the server. The new Parallels Server software currently is in alpha testing but will be open to beta testers in four to six weeks, said Benjamin Rudolph, communications director for Parallels.

But does the world need another hypervisor, the virtualization foundation that gives a single computer the ability to run multiple operating systems in separate compartments, called virtual machines? Rudolph thinks so. The company will aim initially at small and midsize companies that don't fool with virtualization today, and he hopes to expand from there. For those customers, he said, "Xen is just too complicated. VMware is just too much."

Meanwhile, VMware has some new ideas for tackling an age-old problem for system administrators: how do you keep a computing service available when the server it's running on fails?

The company's chief scientist and co-founder, Mendel Rosenblum, demonstrated two servers running e-mail software in lockstep in a speech at VMware's VMworld conference here Thursday. Through a new twist on VMware's virtualization technology, he unplugged the primary machine, and the second took over exactly where the first left off, after a couple of heartbeats' delay.

Specialized hardware and software provide high availability today, but Rosenblum said virtualization promises to make the technology more ordinary. "The cool thing (is) that this works with any workload," he said.

Also of note
Advanced Micro Devices formally unveiled Barcelona, AMD's first quad-core server processor, during an event spread over two buildings in San Francisco's Presidio...Google is sponsoring the Google Lunar X Prize, a robotic race to the moon, with a purse of $30 million...A nuclear-power plant hasn't been built in the United States in decades, but that appears to be changing, says the CEO of the nuclear industry's advocacy group.

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