Paul Thurrott’s Short Takes: March 20, 2015

Because you know to call the A-Team and not the B-Team, this week’s other news includes a shocking revelation that the FTC found sweeping Google antitrust violations and did nothing about them, Microsoft’s open sourcing of the MSBuild engine, an HTC upheaval, China’s latest “Baghdad Bob” moment, and no web browsers are safe.

Shocker: FTC found Google antitrust violations, swept them under the rug

When the FTC investigated Google for antitrust violations three years ago, I called on the federal agency to sue the search giant into submission. But instead, the FTC agreed to let Google voluntarily change a few business practices, changes that did absolutely nothing to stop its anti-competitive and anti-consumer ways. And this week, thanks to inadvertently leaked documents, we know that the FTC has failed us badly. “Google’s conduct has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets,” the FTC had found internally in 2012, even though it then declined to pursue the case. Indeed, the FTC discovered that—contrary to Google’s assertions—that the search giant routinely manually massaged its search results to harm competition and promote its own services instead. And its own internal documentation pegged its US usage share as over 80 percent during a time in which the public figures were about 65 percent. That is, Google was—still is—a monopoly. So maybe something good will come out of this. That is, maybe it’s time for the US Department of Justice to step in and do the right thing, just as it did 25 years ago when the FTC declined to sue Microsoft.

“This Could Be Apple’s Secret Apple Watch Strategy”

If all else fails, it can tell time.

Microsoft open sources MSBuild engine

Microsoft’s openness knows no bounds. Suddenly. This week, Microsoft made its Microsoft Build Engine (MSBuild) available as open source on GitHub, a string of words that could never have been written as recently as 6 months ago. (At least not without a little “April Fools!” at the end.) What does this little development mean? According to Microsoft, it means that “you can orchestrate and build products in environments where Visual Studio isn’t installed.” But I’d expand on that a bit and say that this is no less than part of a major revolution. Support for Linux and Mac is coming “soon,” Microsoft says, and I suspect where this is heading is the ability to create .NET apps on any platform without Visual Studio, or as I think of it, a kind of backdoor expansion of Microsoft’s apps platform to rival platforms. Crazy? Yes. The only question is whether this is “crazy like a fox” or just “plain crazy.”

“Reuters web sites become inaccessible in China”

I’m sure that has nothing to do with them mis-reporting that Microsoft was going to give China pirates amnesty and give them Windows 10 for free.

Upheaval at HTC … Surely, you remember HTC

HTC’s Peter Chou has been replaced as CEO by chairwoman Cher Wang, signaling that the ailing smart phone maker is acknowledging that it needs to change if it is to survive. “We are seeing rapid changes in the industry, with the smartphone as our personal hub connecting us to a growing world of smart devices,” Ms. Wang notes in a prepared statement. “We pioneered the smartphone industry … As an entrepreneur at heart, I am excited to see so many new opportunities, and I am honored to accept this opportunity to help shape the next stage of HTC’s development.” I’m excited to hear HTC take credit for the smart phone industry, which it did not in fact start, but it’s a bit disingenuous to look at today’s smart phone market and not immediately think of Apple. Which, by the way, is having no problem at all adapting to the “rapid changes in the industry.” Good luck, HTC. But we barely even remember you’re still a thing.

“Amazon Wins Approval to Test Delivery Drones Outdoors”

Fantastic. I would now like approval to hunt down those drones with my own drones.

FBI investigating Chinese military involvement in hacking case

The FBI is investigating what role the Chinese military played in the hacking of, one of the original Internet registrars. Which isn’t all that interesting, actually—of course the Chinese military was involved, why wouldn’t they be?—if it weren’t for one thing. The excellent, Baghdad Bob-like way in which the Chinese always respond to such things. “The relevant criticism that China’s military participated in Internet hacking is to play the same old tune, and is totally baseless,” the China Defense Ministry said in a statement. “The Chinese government has all along resolutely opposed and dealt with in accordance with the law Internet hacking and other relevant criminal activities, and the Chinese military has never been involved in or participated in any activities to steal commercial secrets online.” Hilarious. Thanks, guys.

“Elon Musk Says Self-Driving Tesla Cars Will Be in the U.S. by Summer”

So “Rise of the Machines” by summer 2016, then.

All your web browsers are belong to us

At this week’s Pwn2Own hacking contest, a single hacker was able to bring down the three of the four most-often used web browsers—Internet Explorer 11 and Google Chrome on Windows, plus Apple Safari on Mac OS X —in rapid succession, earning $225,000 in prize money plus a respectful but fearful nod from the rest of us. (Don’t worry, Firefox fans, your favorite browser was quickly hacked too, just by a different person, so no popular browsers are in fact safe.) Perhaps not surprisingly, Adobe’s Reader and Flash Player were also hacked, pretty easily as it turns out, and hackers walked away with over $550,000 in prize money overall. In just two days. So yeah, I’m sure banking online is perfectly safe. Go nuts.

“Did Apple produce notebook we want?”

No, you sheep. It produced the notebook you will buy, no questions asked. Now buy it.