TV-PGFebruary 13, 2002: We all knew that QuickTime 6 is delayed for licensing reasons; now we have a general sense of how long that delay might be. Meanwhile, additional rumors about those Pixar iMac "ads" come to light, and Steve Ballmer is complaining that the proposed remedies in the ongoing "Redmond Justice" case might prove to be slightly inconvenient...
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3 To 5 With Good Behavior (2/13/02)
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Okay, so we all know that QuickTime 6 is (allegedly) ready to go, but its release has been delayed due to a dust-up between Apple and MPEG LA over terms in the licensing of MPEG-4 technology; deciding that he will ship no wine before its time and no codec before it's royalty-free for content providers, Phreedom Phighter Phil Schiller has drawn a line in the sand and dared MPEG LA to step across it. It's a bold gambit; "change your licensing structure, or the single biggest boost your technology could get will remain unshipped." Why, our hearts go all a-flutter at the thought of the sheer chutzpah at work, here.

The question now, though, is, how long are we going to have to wait before we can get our mitts on QuickTime 6? Well, brace yourselves, folks, because a CNET article about the whole stinking mess states that MPEG LA "hopes to finalize its licensing model in the next 3 to 5 months." Applying standard technology release date logic to that estimate, we wouldn't be at all surprised if the license is hammered down in, oh, let's say nine months, with QuickTime 6 actually becoming available a few weeks later. That's a long time to wait for a product that we've just seen demonstrated in what truly appears to be a fully functional state. (Then again, we're Mac users; after enduring the years leading up to Mac OS X's release, surely we can handle anything-- as evidenced by the fact that few, if any, Mac users have actually keeled over and died waiting for a Carbonized Photoshop to ship.)

For what it's worth, MPEG LA doesn't seem particularly receptive to Apple's criticisms, as it remains "optimistic that the use fee can work"-- though the organization claims to be "very thankful for the feedback that [it's] getting from Apple and the marketplace." Given that "the marketplace's" reaction to the proposed usage fee-- remember, it's not just the fact that it's a two-cents-per-stream-per-hour royalty with no usage cap, it's also the fact that people are somehow going to have to keep track of all this stuff-- has been, if anything, harsher than Apple's, we get the distinct sense that MPEG LA fosters a masochistic streak a mile wide. After all, if it's seriously "thankful" for the feedback it's gotten so far, it'd probably be downright delirious with joy at, say, having its offices torched to the ground by a rampaging mob of disgruntled content providers. (Note that we are NOT suggesting a course of action, here.)

So buckle down, people, and make your peace with QuickTime 5, because it's probably going to be your media architecture of choice for a good while longer. In the meantime, all we can do is wait. Well, that and email MPEG LA with thoughtful and cogent arguments as to why a per-minute, per-stream usage fee will likely prove to be a logistical nightmare that will throttle the standard before it even gets off the ground...


 
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You Know What... Forget It (2/13/02)
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In the selfless interest of clearing up some of the mystery swirling around the new Pixarian iMac spots-- namely, the question of whether they're just "short films" or actually television commercials-- the AtAT staff is happy to report that we have since spent many grueling hours channel-surfing with a throughput and a finesse that would easily win Olympic gold (if those boneheads in charge would just make it a frickin' sanctioned event, already). As a result of our unparalleled demonstration of skill with the remote control, our answer to the question "what did you watch last night?" is simply this: everything. Accordingly, we're proud to be able to report conclusively that neither of those two iMac films aired at any time on any channel from 7 PM through midnight, EST. (Covering two hundred channels every fifteen seconds for five straight hours? Child's play. You should see us when we're all sugared up on mochas.)

Which means, no-- they're not TV ads. Or at least, they're not being used as such; whether or not they were intended to be is a whole different matter altogether. The fact that the spots aren't currently on the air is something we've been able to confirm with our own eyes (and blazingly fast thumbs), but for anything else we've got to fall back on rumor and hearsay. Lucky for us, then, that various shadowy and unsavory-looking figures emerged while we were icing our trapeziometacarpals and dished all sorts of dirt on the origins of "SuperDrive" and "Dance."

Down yonder in the seamy underbelly of Mac society where such topics are discussed in hushed tones, the buzz is that Steve had this great idea to have Pixar animate a couple of introductory pieces to be shown during last month's iMac-celebratory Stevenote. Apparently Apple's ad agency Chiat-Day wasn't crazy about the idea, but hey, what were they gonna do-- tell Steve "no"? So far so good, but time was short, and Pixar, Chiat-Day, and the post-production company tasked with getting it all pulled together burned through a fairly hefty wad of cash and darn near worked themselves to death in order to get both pieces ready in time for the big day. (Semi-amusing anecdotes of the animation/video production equivalent of the Bataan Death March abound.)

We know what you're thinking: the pieces just weren't ready in time. Not so, say the shadowy ones; against all odds (and probably more than a few labor laws), those scrappy folks met the deadline. So why didn't we see those short films in glorious Expovision a month ago? Well, legend has it that Steve himself gave them the thumbs down at the lastest possible second, fearing that they were too cute, and that people would get entirely the wrong impression-- that the new iMac is just a toy. It was upon hearing this news that the heads of several trench-dwellers (who had foregone sleep for about two straight weeks to get the things out the door) presumably caught fire from the inside.

So no, Virginia, these aren't TV commercials, and Steve apparently even balked at showing them to as Mac-wacky a crowd as a keynote audience for fear of sending the wrong signals. A month later he evidently decided that it was at least safe to show them on the 'net, and there they are. Whew! Sordid stuff. But at least the public finally gets to see what might have been.


 
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"But What's In It For Us?" (2/13/02)
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We'll make this a quickie, since it's clearly not Mac-related in any direct manner, but you know we're suckers for "Redmond Justice," so we couldn't let this one slip by: as quoted in a Chicago Tribune article pointed out by faithful viewer Mike V., Steve Ballmer has now officially gone on the record as saying that he's "very sad" that the nine states who have refused to roll over are asking for such harsh restrictions on Microsoft's behavior. He calls their demands "absolutely unbelievable" because they would "debilitate" his company. Furthermore, Ballmer says that if the states' requests were entered as an order by the judge today, he "would not even know how to comply."

Among these proposed remedies are such "outrageous" demands as requiring Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without Microsoft apps for "playing music, sending instant messages, and browsing the Internet," forcing the company to support Java in Windows, making Microsoft develop and ship Office for Linux, and compelling it to license out the source code to Internet Explorer. According to Ballmer, such measures would "dramatically harm consumers." We can only assume this is because Microsoft has no faith whatsoever that, when faced with a choice, the public wouldn't choose to buy the fully-loaded version of Windows, and thus would be deprived of all that great stuff. Likewise, it's apparently Ballmer's contention that consumers would feel forced to buy Office for Linux even though Office for Windows is right there on the shelf next to it. And the very fact that Java is supported obviously means that the average user would be compelled to use that drastically inferior technology. Plus, just imagine the horror if Microsoft had to license its source code for IE; why, that might lead to all sorts of browsers competing in an open market. Saints preserve us!

Forgive us if we're missing something, here, but as far as we can tell, Microsoft was proven in court to have broken the law, it lost its appeal (assuming it had any in the first place-- ba dum ching!), and the Supreme Court refused even to entertain a further appeal. In other words, the company is guilty. And now Ballmer's throwing a hissy fit over proposed remedies so "outrageous" they might actually prevent the company from breaking the law again? Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new finalist for this week's Missing The Point Entirely award! "But your honor, how am I possibly going to keep mugging old ladies if I'm locked away in prison?!"

Sorry about that, Ballmer ol' buddy. Maybe you should have spread more of that political lobbying money around in the nine states still suing your company. You heard about this, right, folks? Faithful viewer Chris pointed out a ZDNet article which reveals that Microsoft's budget for lobbying politicians "exceeded that of Enron," skyrocketing from $16,000 in 1995 to a whopping $1.6 million in 2000. Unfortunately, it apparently blew the whole bankroll on buying off the Justice Department and kinda sorta forgot about paying off the states, too. Whoopsie! Well, don't worry; they won't make that mistake next time. And the way things are going, you can be sure that there will be a next time.


 
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