WinInfo Short Takes: Week of June 28

An often-irreverent look at some of the week's other stories...

EU Temporarily Suspends Microsoft Sanctions
   Yesterday, the European Union (EU) announced that it will temporarily suspend its antitrust-related sanctions against Microsoft until an EU Court of First Instance in Luxembourg can rule on the company's appeal. The EU initially required that Microsoft offer a Windows version stripped of Windows Media Player (WMP), provide a wealth of server-interoperability information, and pay a $608 million fine by today. However, the temporary lifting of the sanctions will give Microsoft "some breathing room," according to EU officials, who contend that the ruling will withstand any appeals.
 
Microsoft Offers New Evidence in EU Case
   Interestingly, Microsoft provided some new evidence this week to support the company's claim that bundling WMP with Windows hasn't harmed competition. Citing strong sales of the Apple iTunes Music Store, which recorded 800,000 paid downloads in its first week of availability in just three European countries, Microsoft lawyers argued that "this market is vibrant." The company also pointed to Dell's music-software licensing with Musicmatch and similar deals as proof that WMP isn't harming competition.

Redmond, Start Your Photocopiers
   A reader named Claudio sent me some hilarious photos this morning from the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference 2004 (WWDC2004) in San Francisco, where the Macintosh maker is set to unveil Mac OS X Tiger, Apple Computer's next-generation OS. Apple, which often contends that Mac OS X already offers all the features Microsoft is planning for its ever-delayed Longhorn OS, has decorated San Francisco's Moscone Center with huge billboards that poke fun at Microsoft and Longhorn. The billboards, which all feature the new Tiger logo, read, "Redmond, start your photocopiers," "Introducing Longhorn," and "Redmond, we have a problem." Good stuff.
 
COMDEX Postponed, Not Canceled, Say Show Organizers
   In a shocker, MediaLive International representatives announced late last week that they're postponing this fall's COMDEX Las Vegas 2004 trade show "to reshape the event with the cooperation of information technology industry leaders." COMDEX isn't permanently canceled, they say, however; it's just postponed. COMDEX attracted more than 150,000 attendees in its late 1990s heyday but saw attendance drop to just 40,000 people last year. From my perspective, however, COMDEX 2003 was a great show. Getting around was easy, and I had a full meeting schedule with vendors. I'll be sad if COMDEX falls by the wayside, and I hope that the show can make a recovery.
 
Russian Web Site Responsible for Attacks Is Shut Down
   Over the weekend, Russian ISPs and law-enforcement agencies shut down a Web site that was responsible for distributing a malicious application called Download.Ject, which exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) 5.0. The shutdown put an end to what could have been a nightmare for Windows users. Attackers used the Download.Ject application--which Microsoft says isn't a worm or a virus--to target a specific unnamed server on the Internet and steal financial information and email passwords. The attack's sophistication has security researchers worried that Download.Ject might be a blueprint for future attacks. The attackers compromised an IIS Web server by exploiting a previously fixed vulnerability that hadn't been patched on that particular server. They then infected every page on the site with JavaScript code that redirected users to the Russian Web site, which was set up to imitate the original site. The infected site then silently installed keystroke recorders and several backdoor-entry applications on users' PCs. Keep this important fact in mind: Although Microsoft has already patched IIS, IE is still vulnerable--yet another reason not to use this dog of a program.
 
Gates Touts Automatic Updates in Wake of Most Recent IE Exploit
   And speaking of IE, this weekend Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said that his company is working to reduce the amount of time between the discovery of software vulnerabilities and the release of patches. But the key to this plan is in users' hands: They must turn on Windows' Automatic Updates feature to get the benefits of Microsoft's security-patch work. "We guarantee that the average time to fix will continue to come down," Gates said. "The thing we have to do is not only get these patches done very quickly, we also have to convince people to turn on \[Automatic Updates\]." Good idea. I recommend that Windows users immediately turn on the feature.
 
Microsoft Reforms IE Team, Plans Future Releases
   This week, Microsoft representatives revealed that the company has "reconstituted" its moribund IE team to work on the new IE release that Microsoft will include in Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) and that the team is now actively looking at the feature set for an upcoming rev of the Web browser that's hardly ever updated. Amen to that news. "At this stage there isn't much more to add other than to reiterate the point that the IE team does exist and does care," Dave Massy, who recently moved from the Longhorn team to head up development of future IE releases, said. "I've really enjoyed working on Longhorn as a technical evangelist and remain very, very excited by the capabilities that Avalon and Longhorn will bring but the time was right for me to return to work on a product team." Frankly, Microsoft has a lot of work to do; IE is buggy, insecure, and one of the most obvious attack vectors for people who want to compromise Windows. My advice? Use Mozilla, Mozilla Firefox, or Opera instead of IE.
 
Are the Leaked Xbox Hardware Specs Genuine?
   A document that details the hardware specifications for Microsoft's next Xbox video game console (publicly called Xbox Next but code-named Xenon) has leaked to the Web and appears to be genuine. According to the document, Xbox Next will feature a triple-core 3.5GHz or faster IBM PowerPC processor and a 500MHz or faster ATI graphics adapter with 256MB of video memory and will run a customized version of Windows NT 4.0 (as does the existing Xbox) and Direct3D 9.0, a multimedia software library originally built for PC systems. The Xbox Next will be so powerful that it can emulate today's systems, solving the backward-compatibility problem (today's Xbox is an Intel-based, PC-like system). Sounds good.
 
Report: Microsoft Has the Most Respect for Customers
   According to a recent report from the Customer Respect Group (suspiciously located in Bellevue, Washington, right down the road from Microsoft), Microsoft tops the list of the country's Fortune 100 companies that most respect their customers. The group rated each Fortune 100 company in six categories-- attitude, principles, privacy. responsiveness, simplicity, and transparency--and assigned a grade based on a 1-to-10 scale. Microsoft's winning score was 8.7, whereas number-two HP scored 8.6 and number-three IBM scored 8.5.
 
Sun Preps Open-Source Release of Project Looking Glass
   This week, Sun Microsystems will outline plans to make its next-generation 3-D UI for computers, code-named Project Looking Glass, an open-source project. The announcement, which Sun will make at the 2004 JavaOne Conference in San Francisco, will be a coming-out party of sorts for Project Looking Glass, which adds a unique and interesting 3-D interface to standard 2-D computer desktops that run Linux or Sun Solaris. Similar to many of the special effects Microsoft has demonstrated for the Longhorn UI, Project Looking Glass lets users manipulate windows in 3-D space and navigate between multiple 3-D desktops. If you're into computer UIs, this development is one you'll want to watch.
 
Microsoft Expands CE 5.0 Source Code Licensing
   Microsoft has changed its Windows CE 5.0 source code licensing terms, for the first time letting all CE licensees modify the CE source code and ship products based on those changes. Most interesting, perhaps, Microsoft has also canceled a requirement that any licensees who change the source code must share those changes with Microsoft and all other CE licensees. "This will create new opportunities for device makers enabling them to get products into the hands of enterprises and consumers faster, with a greater degree of customization," a Microsoft representative told me. "This expanded license and Windows CE 5.0 address the challenges developers face as a result of devices becoming exponentially more complex and powerful as product cycles become shorter." The change also makes CE a dramatically more compelling platform for device makers.

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