WinInfo Short Takes: Week of March 28

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


Symantec: Windows XP SP2 Successfully Reduces Bots
   The security experts at Symantec have verified what Windows watchers have known for some time: Microsoft's third-quarter 2004 release of Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) dramatically improved security for XP users and, as a result, the entire Internet. According to Symantec, the August 2004 release of XP SP2 was immediately followed by a dramatic drop-off in the number of PC-based bots, compromised PCs that hackers use to spread malware around the Internet. "The timing of this drop corresponds closely with the availability of Windows XP Service Pack 2," a Symantec report reads. "It's reasonable to assume that this service pack is responsible, along with other mitigation measures, for the decline in identified bot network computers." Amazingly, this drop-off in bots occurred during a time period in which the number of worms and Trojan attacks on Windows machines almost doubled. We all know that XP SP2, like any software product, isn't perfect. But this data suggests that XP SP2 was a highly successful release that was sorely needed.

Microsoft: Xbox in Short Supply
   I wrote about my anecdotal experience trying in vain to find an Xbox video game console late last year and now, 3 months later, Microsoft is acknowledging that the Xbox is indeed in short supply. The reason? Microsoft credits the shortage to the "surging popularity" of the Xbox, which has started outselling the Sony PlayStation 2 fairly regularly after years of being Sony's punching bag. Microsoft says that it's working to increase Xbox production to meet demand, but I have to think this sort of demand is unprecedented. Microsoft will likely ship the sequel to the Xbox, code-named Xenon, to customers in time for the 2005 holiday season, which is about 3 weeks away if I understand the retail calendar. Has there ever been a technical product this successful in the waning months of its life cycle?

Microsoft Talks Longhorn Networking
   Microsoft hosted a public chat session this week to discuss some of the networking features the company plans to add to Longhorn, the next-generation OS that will ship in mid-2006. According to Microsoft representatives who attended the chat, Longhorn will include support for 802.11i wireless security technology, a new networking stack that supports both the IPv6 and IPv4 networking standards, simpler peer-to-peer file-sharing features, better audio- and video-streaming support, and integrated real-time communication features. Frankly, the company didn't reveal many specifics nor did it really expand on the available information we have about Longhorn. But as we race toward the late April release of the first Longhorn beta-class build, it's nice to see Microsoft finally opening up about Longhorn and offering some information, however vague. Expect the next few months to include a flurry of Longhorn disclosures.

Microsoft Updates MSN Messenger Contact List
   Microsoft has quietly expanded the contact list limit for MSN Messenger users to 300, a number the company describes as "unequaled and unprecedented" in the instant messaging (IM) world. Here's what Microsoft has to say about this week's change: "Research shows that the average American knows 290 people. In the age of the Internet, it's much easier to reach out and contact anyone, whether it's by email, IM, or blogging. Now, at MSN Messenger, you can fit everyone you know on your contact list so they're always one click away." So there you go.

Microsoft Scales Iron Curtain, Shares the Source
   Microsoft announced this week that the company plans to expand its Shared Source Initiative to seven countries in Eastern Europe, including Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, and Slovenia. This addition means two things. First, I need a refresher course on the countries in Eastern Europe, and second, the Shared Source program has apparently been pretty successful. Much of the European Union (EU) has at least some access to Shared Source, and adding these countries pretty much closes the loop. Eastern Europe has been Microsoft's fastest-growing market in recent years, unless you count pirated Windows copies sold in China. Then it's no contest.

NBA Shares Licensing with Five Video Game Companies
   Unlike the National Football League (NFL), which recently signed an exclusive deal with Electronic Arts (EA), the National Basketball Association (NBA) has decided to spread the wealth. This week, the organization granted rights to five video game publishers--Atari, EA, Midway Games, Sony, and Take-Two--to use the NBA logo, team and player names, and statistics. All five publishers are existing NBA licensees, and each can continue to use NBA assets for 5 to 6 years, depending on the company's contract. "We felt this was the best way to expand the basketball category," Adam Silver, president and COO of NBA Entertainment, said. "We focused, in particular, on the innovation we felt we would be driving by having multiple competitors in the marketplace." Ah yes, the innovation of multiple competitors. I only wish the NFL had figured that out.

Why Is iTunes So Insecure?
   I subscribe to a line of thinking that goes like this: Windows is attacked so often because it controls such a large portion of the market. Period. So we might be able to apply this thinking to another popular software market--online music services, in which the Apple Computer iTunes Music Store dominates. Predictably, iTunes, like Windows, is attacked far more often than its Windows-based competitors. Or is it? The truth is that iTunes is compromised far more often than Windows-based services, but how often hackers attack Microsoft's Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme is unclear. Regardless, iTunes, like pre-XP SP2 versions of Windows, has fallen time and again under the withering attack of hackers who are intent on gaining access to the service. Doing so is amazingly easy. Last week, infamous encryption hacker DVD Jon broke through Apple's weak security and offered Windows and Linux users a way to purchase iTunes tracks without DRM. Apple fixed the hole, of course. But a day later--just 1 day--DVD Jon was back with a new version of his hack that foiled Apple's efforts. My question is simple. If Microsoft can secure a system as complex as Windows, why can't Apple secure one service?

Mozilla Foundation Ships Thunderbird 1.0.2
   Fans of The Mozilla Foundation will be pleased to learn that the organization has shipped the most recent version of its free email application, Thunderbird 1.0.2. Designed as a companion of sorts to the Firefox Web browser--which will itself soon be updated to version 1.0.2--Thunderbird competes with products such as Microsoft Office Outlook Express and QUALCOMM's Eudora. The Thunderbird 1.0.2 release is essentially a security upgrade and doesn't seem to offer many new features, but fans and the curious should definitely check it out.

Mozilla: We're More Secure Than IE
   Speaking of security, Mitchell Baker, president of The Mozilla Foundation, declared this week that Firefox is more secure than Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and will remain so even if its user base dramatically expands. That's because Firefox isn't integrated into Windows, he says, and doesn't support dangerous technologies such as ActiveX. "Nothing will be perfect," she said, and yes, Firefox will suffer from vulnerabilities from time to time. But its architecture is cleaner and safer than IE's. Could be. It certainly couldn't be any worse than IE. I guess this year's release of IE 7.0 will be an interesting milestone for the Mozilla folks. If they can overcome the excitement that the IE release will generate, they're all set. But I have a bad feeling that Firefox might be in for a bit of trouble when IE 7.0 ships. Either way, it should be interesting.

Yahoo! Expands Free Mail Service to 1GB, Improves Desktop Search
   Online giant Yahoo! significantly enhanced two of its service this week, giving its users dramatically more email storage and a much improved desktop search tool. First, Yahoo! is raising the storage capacity of its free email service to 1GB, matching Google's GMail, although that service is stuck in perpetual beta and not generally open to the public. The free version of Yahoo! Mail is also getting some email antivirus functionality that was previously available only to paying customers. On the desktop search front, Yahoo! is adding the ability to search the information that's stored in Yahoo! Messenger archives and contact lists, even when that data is stored on Internet servers. Yahoo! Desktop Search, however, is still in beta.

The Simpsons Are Going to Ireland
   By the time you read this, I should be in Ireland, if all goes well. My parents are at our house watching the kids, all the loose ends at work are (hopefully) tied up, and we're on our way. Security guru Mark Joseph Edwards will graciously cover WinInfo Daily UPDATE for me Monday and Tuesday, and I should be back on Wednesday. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you all again next week.

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