Technology: March 2007 Archives

Microsoft's news that it sold more copies of Vista in a month than XP did in two months makes it sound as though everything is going great guns at the world's largest software company. Mary Jo Foley wonders aloud whether Steve Ballmer telling the financial community not to get too excited about Vista sales was just a bit of expectation management for investors rather than a clue about how the company feels about its latest offering.

But step back a bit from the headline figure of 20 million copies of Vista sold in one month this quarter, versus 17 million of XP shipped in two months of the autumn of 2002. The vast majority of Microsoft's licence sales come not from people walking into a shop and picking up an overpriced shiny DVD. Some 80 per cent of the company's quarterly sales of Windows products - about $3bn a quarter in recent years - comes from Windows pre-installed on OEM PCs. Consider that, in Q1 last year, some 53 million PCs shipped worldwide according to IDC: 17 million per calendar month. A total of 230 million were sold last year in total. And PC shipments should have grown another 10 per cent or so since this time last year. Factor that into the Q1 sales from 2006, that growth would take you close to 19 million before we start to factor in other sales - assuming of course, that everything shipped in February was sold with some form of Vista.

The UK Ministry of Defence has published the rules that inventors need to obey if they want to get involved with its own version of the DARPA Grand Challenge. Although the rules were only made public last week at a launch conference for would-be teams, the MoD is sticking to its May 15 deadline for applications and a chance of getting your research paid for.

During his speech, defence minister Lord Drayson was keen to stress that anything goes in this competition, although as a former roboticist, he pointed out that he thinks "robotics has a big part to play in this challenge". However, if someone has come up with some sort of long-distance magic ray that you can point at a town to work out if there are roadside bombs or snipers hanging about, the MoD will not turn them away. The ministry is keen to stress that there are no restrictions on what the winning approach can use.

Well almost. There will be no sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads. Or, as Dr Paul Hollinshead, director of science and technology policy at the MoD, put it: "No animals. No dogs with cameras on their heads or cats with grenades strapped to their backs, that sort of thing."

Just in case you were wondering.

Early on in David Cronenberg's Scanners, before Michael Ironside blows a guy's head up by frowning dramatically, a scene shows the plight of the movie's hero. He is lost in a sea of voices that he can't block out. Uninvited bits of minutiae ripple through his poor brain because he is a telepath who can't control his gift.

It seems we don't need telepathy to be cast adrift in a sea of idle, pointless thoughts, just a computer. Thanks to Twitter, we can find out about how nice that last muffin was, who is waiting for a bus and the latest antics of the pet cat. Fantastic.

Even better, we have people telling us that Twitter is the culmination of interpersonal communication, largely because people were able to tell each other they were in the same room at SXSW without having to look around with their eyes, or wave to each other or something so 20th Century.

Steve Rubel wastes no time in breathlessly telling us, among other Twittish things, about how you can map Twitter users - just as long as they can read their co-ordinates off a GPS and enter it on a form. Now that's progress. Even better, Rubel tells us that he is becoming some kind of Lifehacker guru for the marketing set, using gadgets like this to become a "smarter marketer". If by "smarter marketer", he means someone who hitches a ride on every passing techno-bandwagon in order to score some trackbacks, I think I know what he means. Because promoting ways of having random brain lint texted to you doesn't strike me as smart in any context, let alone marketing. Unless you want to see how much flotsam your brain can absorb before it explodes.

As a gadget that lets your mates know where you are of an evening, I can see the point of Twitter. As some kind of ultra high-frequency blog for people who don't really know you, this is one fad that's surely destined for the bin. It doesn't even do a good job of conveying presence the way that IM interfaces do.

I'm drinking a nice cup of tea, by the way, and the cat's on my lap. That is all.