XBox Handheld Considered While Vista Slips and Apple Faces Interoperability Law

You know the manure has hit the fan (as opposed to a four-letter slang word for such that unfortunately is unsuitable for print) when an already-delayed product is delayed even further (actually, better make that two), a plan surfaces for a music device that also does games – and the leader in digital music is labeled a one-device monopoly in foriegn legislative policy.

But that’s exactly what has happened.

Technical difficulties have delayed consumer versions of Windows Vista until next year and Microsoft is rumored to be developing an iPod killer that’s also a game player – all while lawmakers in France try to force Apple Computer to open the iPod itself. All of which is guaranteed to send shockwaves throughout the technology world, whether intentional or not.

First, consider the fact that the Vole had originally planned to ship Windows Vista in November. That date, it turns out, will only see the launch of Vista’s volume-licensing component instead of the whole shebang all at once. That’s because quality issues have held up consumer availability (read: those without the Vole’s so-called Software Assurance subscriptions) until right after New Year’s. In other words, you can kiss the holiday shopping season goodbye if you’re waiting for Redmond’s latest operating system to hit shelves. Not only that, but computer manufacturers will have to change their Vista deployment strategies as well. That’s a double whammy right there. Especially after delays that saw modification of Vista’s general strategy and the dropping of everything from WinFS (Microsoft’s next-generation file system) and support for EFI (the extensible firmware interface that replaces the traditional BIOS chip) from the operating system. Worse yet, the delay also affects Office 2007 just as much as Windows Vista itself as both share a close proximity to each other in Microsoft’s shipment schedule (as the Vole has indeed confirmed) and has prompted a shakeup in the Windows team that puts Microsoft Office’s notorious schedule-keeping tech totalitarianist Steve Sinofsky as VP of Windows product development just as veteran Windows development head head Jim Allchin is retiring.

Meanwhile, competitor Apple Computer is having issues of its own as the Vole teeters on rumors of an iPod competitor that also does games, effectively creating a mobile version of its XBox game players and media device (namely the original XBox and the XBox 360). Although details are scarce as to how the device, if indeed planned, will be packaged, supplied, and so on, the news is potentially bad for Apple – in fact, the games part of the device is bad for game companies like Nintendo and Sony as well. Whether this plays out as told is anyone’s guess – however, the Vole may be thinking toward a two or three-tier approach to iPod competition, having already put out such platforms as the UltraMobile PC and the Portable Media Center. It’s not a guarantee of success, of course – but it’s a pretty good start.

And that’s not the half of Apple’s worries, as the iPod itself finds it is faced with the unthinkable (at least for Apple) – the need to support other digital music businesses (read: anyone that use the Windows Media DRM) in at least one part of the world. That’s because in France, a draft law has been proposed that would force Apple to open up the iPod to other devices. And while Apple execs (read: Steve Jobs, et al.) have, in a media release, compared this to introducing “state-supported piracy,” the law could force open digital music format rules and threaten Apple’s monopoly on paid digital music. This essentially gives Apple the need to a) go with the flow and provide full interoperability in France and throughout Europe; b) open its FairPlay technology to Windows Media (Janus subscription support included) or c) pull out of the European Union altogether (or just from France).

Whatever happens, you can bet that the tech landscape has shifted. Technical difficulties, competition and lawyers aside, 2006 has seen what could be its biggest tech shockers to date.

For what happens next, we can only wait.

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