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Don’t skip Vista — please!

Thinking of going straight from your trusted old Windows XP to Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system, bypassing the poorly received Vista?

Not so fast, Microsoft warned its corporate customers in a blog today.

“We know some of our customers are considering waiting for Windows 7 instead of deploying Windows Vista today,” says Windows senior product director Gavriella Schuster in the blog. “We want these customers to understand the following considerations, so they are not surprised later on.”

Leapfrogging Vista could mean falling into a hole where applications are no longer supported on XP but not yet supported on Windows 7, she warns.  

And it could be a while before Windows 7 is ready for corporate customers. The beta version of the operating system was made available for public download only last month, and Microsoft won’t commit to any firm roll-out date beyond its broad target of early 2010.

That means corporations, which typically take at least 12-18 months to switch to a new operating system, could be looking at a five-year gap between Vista and Windows 7, and even longer for older operating systems.

See you later, Flight Simulator

After more than 25 years of flying high near the top of Microsoft’s PC game portfolio, the venerable Flight Simulator franchise has quietly expired.Perhaps making way for younger, flashier — and far better-selling — productions such as the gargantuan “Halo” series on the Xbox, Microsoft is shutting down ACES studio as part of its biggest-ever wave of layoffs, effectively killing off Flight Simulator for now and perhaps for good.The gaming world greeted the news with sadness tinged with nostalgia.Once lauded as the gaming industry’s benchmark for cutting-edge games performance, Flight Simulator was born in the early 1980s and gradually impressed PC afficionados with its heightened realism and groundbreaking graphics. That realism came with a price, as the game never caught on with a mass market that in the 1990s began to hoover up more visceral, faster-moving first-person experiences such as iD’s “Doom” first-person shooter.Case in point from a casual gamer: I still remember the thrill that coursed through me the day when, after reading a complex series of instructions and numerous tries over several weeks, I finally got my plane off the ground and began coasting around a flat, barren landscape of shifting pixels. About 15 minutes later, I exited the game. I never even tried to land.Nevertheless, the game — which games site Gamespot.com called “realistic enough to be used for real-life flight training” but “on most systems, at anything other than the lowest of the game’s graphics settings, the simulation has significant performance issues” — commands a devoted following among a niche of hard-core simulation fans.Partly in an effort to win over more casual gamers, ACES tacked on goal-oriented missions to its last Flight Simulator iteration, such as playing the role of a stunt pilot trying to land on a moving bus or racing a jet-powered truck.Now, ACES and their game have become a little-noticed casualty of Microsoft’s effort to cut 5,000 jobs to offset slowing growth in the midst of an industry downturn. Will the game ever be resurrected in another form? Is Microsoft shifting its resources toward the hot-selling Xbox, which racked up record sales in the last quarter? The firm is playing its cards close to the vest.Microsoft “is making adjustments within our business to align our people against our highest priorities, and the closure of Aces Studio is once of those changes. You should expect us to continue to invest in enabling great LIVE experiences on Windows, including flying games, but we have nothing additional to announce around Flight Simulator specifically at this time,” spokeswoman Kelda Rericha said. “Xbox 360 had its biggest year ever and these changes are not directly related to the performance of the business. The realignments of headcount are directly intended to strengthen the Xbox 360 platform, including Games for Windows.”(Photo: Gamespot)Writing and reporting by Edwin Chan

Oh Microsoft, how the times change!

Paul Allen (left) and Bill Gates Oct. 19, 1981

1975

Microsoft (then spelled “Micro Soft”) is founded by William “Bill” Gates, a 20-year-old Harvard dropout, and Paul Allen, his 22-year-old school chum. They begin selling its first product, a BASIC programming language interpreter.

1980The IBM Personal Computer (1981)

Microsoft signs an agreement to build the operating system that became known as MS-DOS for IBM’s new personal computer, which was launched in 1981. Microsoft was allowed to license the operating system to others, spawning an industry of “IBM-compatible” machines dependent on Microsoft software.

1983

February: Paul Allen, ill with Hodgkin’s disease, resigns from active management of the company but remains on the board of directors.

Microsoft to cut more jobs?

The world’s largest software firm is cutting 5,000 jobs as it faces the worst economic crisis in its 34-year history. 

No further cuts are planned, but with no end to the recession in sight, how long can it be before Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has to chop more of Microsoft’s remaining 93,000 or so workers? 

Here are some of Ballmer’s comments from a conference call with analysts:

    “We think we have taken the right degree of action in terms of reducing the cost base.” “We are taking out somewhere between 5 percent and 15 percent of the cost line… which we think, in this environment relative to the reset in the economy, is probably the right level.” “Our model is not for a quick rebound (in PC sales).” “If the economy stays down and then builds slowly, we are probably at about the expense base… You can’t tell. The economy could also get a whole lot worse.”

(Photo: Reuters)

There’s Apple… and there’s Microsoft

It’s a tale of two companies in the technology world on Thursday. There’s Apple, whose quarterly profit beat expectations on strong iPod and Mac computer sales. And then there’s Microsoft, whose dismal earnings sent shockwaves through financial markets.

There should be plenty of interesting questions for CEO Steve Ballmer on the company’s conference call this morning — some of which he likely wouldn’t answer if asked.

Why didn’t Microsoft give investors a warning if the results were going to look so lousy? Why release the results Thursday morning rather than when it was supposed to, later this afternoon? What’s going on with Yahoo? Will 5,000 jobs cuts — the biggest ever by Microsoft — be sufficient? And, seriously, why is Apple doing such so much better?

CES: Ford turns hip with Eva

Ford CEO Alan Mulally unveiled new features of its voice-command activated in-car system Sync yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, highlighting its connectivity with a driver’s other devices, including cell phones and personal computers.

Mulally then showed off a futuristic dashboard featuring an electronic personal assistant, Eva (for Emotive Voice Activation). In a small video clip of how it could all work, the Eva avatar engaged the driver in conversation and performed tasks like scheduling appointments. It’s the next generation of Ford’s Human Machine Interface (HMI) strategy, Mulally said.

“Everyone is growing up with a connected device and they don’t want to be disconnected,” Mulally told Reuters in a brief interview after his CES keynote address. Ford’s hoping its Sync service, developed with Microsoft and launched 18 months ago, will appeal especially to younger car buyers. Earlier, he’d said his five kids are his “focus group,” often e-mailing him articles about new gadgets and trends from Wired.com and other sites.

Obama greenlights analog TV for another season

After all the excitement, endless public service announcement ads and electronics retailers salivating over anticipated high-definition TV sales, it turns out that the United States might not be switching to digital television just yet.

President-elect Barack Obama is backing a move to delay a mandatory switch to digital TV signals on Feb. 17 because viewers might not be prepared. Also, the government has run out of $40 coupons to help pay for converter boxes.

The idea that as many as 8 million homes (according to Nielsen data) might lose TV reception in a few weeks is not the kind of headache a new White House administration wants to deal with so it’s perhaps not surprising talk of a delay, possibly up to four months, is gathering support.

Microsoft, Yahoo, restless pigeons and balloons

Have you ever watched pigeons almost take flight as someone approaches, but after a brief flapping of wings decide to sit tight? That was the sense we got from reading the stories that knocked down the latest rumor about who will buy Internet search company Yahoo.

Here’s the story, posted by Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch blog:

Interest in troubled Internet giant Yahoo has not waned, it just took a break for the holidays.

A group of well known Silicon Valley executives and top investment bankers are putting together a Yahoo takeover deal that would be financed largely from debt supplied by Microsoft, we’ve learned from sources with knowledge of the proposed transaction.

CES: Microsoft’s Robbie Bach speaks

Robbie Bach, President of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, sat down to talk to Reuters at CES in Las Vegas, ahead of the big keynote address by CEO Steve Ballmer. Topics discussed ranged from the Windows 7 beta and eventual launch, Microsoft’s mobile search deal with Verizon, and how the tough economic environment is affecting the company.

What is the status of Windows 7? Is it still on track for its launch debut?
It’s absolutely on track for the debut that we won’t tell you the date of. Three years from the last one. (Vista shipped in the fall of 2006 to businesses, and early 2007 to consumers). The date has some range in it for that reason. It’s a very good product.

What have you learned from the ups and downs of the Vista launch?
We learned that people’s early experience with the product when it ships is important. Initially when it shipped, we didn’t have as much compatibility as we would like. And that frustrated some people early on. That’s all gone now. But certainly with Windows 7 we want to get that right from the start.

Google’s Chrome out of beta, but only Windows-friendly

Google has decided its Chrome Web browser is all grown up-or. Or at least it has outgrown its beta label.

Google launched its fifteenth release of Chrome on Thursday morning, marking the browser’s first step outside the test phase. After absorbing 101 days of user feedback, Google says the latest version is equipped with improved audio and video performance, bookmark features and privacy controls.

Google tests show Chrome runs 1.5 times faster than when the browser first launched in September, according to a Google spokesperson.