March 21, 2007

Biz Weak Bits (032107)

The March 21 issue of Biz Weak was one of its better efforts. Even some of the usual sacred cows weren’t spared. So here are the highlights.

Stephen Wildstrom ripped Microsoft’s Windows Vista (“Slow and Dangerous”; appears to be free for now):

….. flaws that I thought would grow less annoying with extended use have actually become more troublesome.

….. Microsoft claims it will run with 512 megabytes of memory. I had recommended a minimum of a gigabyte, but 2 GB is more like it if you want snappy performance. This is especially true if you’re also running resource-hungry Microsoft Office 2007.

The most exasperating thing about Vista, though, is the security feature called User Account Control. UAC, satirized in an Apple (AAPL ) ad as a security guy who constantly interrupts a conversation, appears as a pop-up asking permission before Windows will do a number of things: change system settings, install programs, or update antivirus software. UAC may well be necessary to block malicious programs from secretly installing themselves or hijacking your browser settings. But Microsoft has designed it to drive you nuts.

There’s a real danger here: UAC is such a nag that many folks will just turn it off, which Microsoft has made quite easy to do.

….. As for general usability, I still have trouble finding once-familiar features that have been hidden in odd places.

….. I’m sure I’ll get used to Vista’s quirks, Microsoft will smooth out the rough edges, and, in time, Vista’s many attractions will outweigh the drawbacks. For now, though, it’s a pain.

America Online co-founder Stephen Case is trying to start up a merchant service competitor (requires paid subscription; third item at link) to the big boys (Visa, MC, Amex, Discover) called Gratis — It plans to charge retailers 0.5% of the cost of a purchase — vs. 2.2% (for the current players). The biggies and PayPal should be just a little nervous about this.

Economist Michael Mandel believes the mortgage industry situation “is a correction, not a meltdown.”

Speaking of housing, Maria Bartiromo quotes Countrywide Financial’s CEO in her column trumpeting the opposite opinion of Mandel (“Inside the Mortgage Crisis”) saying that he’s never seen a soft landing (appears to be free for now) in housing. Zheesh — maybe not in the mortgage lending industry, but home prices nationwide haven’t had a full down year in decades. How much softer can you get?

Money quote from an article on carbon offsets (“Another Inconvenient Truth”; appears to be free for now) — “Middlemen pocket a big chunk of the money generated by offsets.” Another dirty secret is that the offsets buy energy use reductions that were going to happen anyway. Thomas Lifson at American Thinker had more on this particular article last Saturday. Ace calls them “hypocrisy offsets.”

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