WinInfo Short Takes: Week of November 3

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

Behind Windows XP SP2
Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) is still due in the first half of 2004, but Microsoft this week revealed exactly what's going into the oft-delayed collection of security patches. XP SP2 will ship with all XP security features enabled by default (what a concept), meaning that the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) will be on, and the Windows Messenger service will be off. XP SP2 will also include new features that will let developers write applications that more safely handle email attachments, and Microsoft will release new versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, and Windows Messenger that take advantage of this technology. IE will be locked down in a manner similar to, but not as restrictive as, the IE version in Windows Server 2003. The company is also reducing XP's susceptibility to buffer-overrun errors, which worms and viruses commonly exploit, by adding support for new code execution features available on newer Intel and AMD processors. Finally, Microsoft is enabling the automatic download and installation of critical security hotfixes on XP SP2, ensuring that users' systems are always protected. That's a bunch of updates, and it all explains what's taking so long with the release of XP SP2. My only question: Why didn't Microsoft give us this information when it released the SP2 road map?

The Microsoft Product Roadmap, October 2003 Edition
As has been the case at every Microsoft event this year, company executives updated Microsoft's product roadmap at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2003 in Los Angeles. Longhorn beta 1 will ship in late summer 2004, possibly at about the time of next year's PDC (not a given, but that's my guess). No company executives said anything about beta 2 or the final release date, so don't believe any of the 2006 rumors--at least not yet. Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) is due to appear in the first half of 2004. Windows Server 2003 SP1 will be delivered sometime after XP SP2, in the second half of 2004; AMD64 versions of Windows 2003 will ship at the same time as SP1. A new version of XP Tablet PC Edition (code-named Lonestar) will ship in the first half of 2004. The next version of Microsoft SQL Server (code-named Yukon) will ship in the second half of 2004, after a widespread beta 2 release in the first half of the year. Somewhat tied to Yukon is Visual Studio .NET (code-named Whidbey), which will follow a similar trajectory.

Microsoft Renews Compatibility Pledge
Say what you will about Microsoft, but the company clearly does everything it can to respect its installed base. Microsoft set to rest rumors that Longhorn would break with the past by announcing that the next Windows version would continue the tradition of backwards compatibility. During PDC 2003, Microsoft demonstrated an ancient version of VisiCalc for DOS running on the Longhorn alpha, stressing that the company would preserve its customers' software investments. So don't believe everything you read: Security issues aside, the backward-compatibility pledge continues in Longhorn.

Microsoft Temp Employee Fired for Blog Posting
Sorry, guys; it wasn't Robert Scoble. A Microsoft temporary employee found himself on the receiving end of a pink slip this week when he published a photo of the Microsoft campus's shipping and receiving loading dock on his blog, a personal Web journal. Microsoft fired him because it claimed the photo was a security risk, claiming that people viewing the photo would be able to figure out the loading dock's location. The former employee later admitted that what he did was wrong, though he offered up an interesting conspiracy theory for those who are into that kind of thing: The photo he took shows a pallet of brand-new Apple Computer Power Mac G5 computers being unloaded. Was that the real reason he was fired?

The W3C Rallies Around Microsoft
Ah, the irony. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the development of Web standards, this week agreed to back Microsoft in its fight against Eolas Technologies, which is suing the software giant for violating its Web browser patents. The W3C has asked federal officials to revoke Eolas's patent because doing otherwise will cause "substantial economic and technical damage" to the Internet. The patent, the W3C claims, affects not only Microsoft but any company or individual that's created Web pages and applications. Furthermore, and perhaps most damaging to Eolas, the W3C cites examples of prior art (evidence that other companies used the technology before Eolas's patent was granted), which are often used to revoke invalid patents.

Pocket PCs Go High Resolution
Pocket PC users might soon find themselves jealously looking askance at a new generation of devices that feature much higher-resolution displays. By using the latest Windows Mobile 2003 software, hardware makers can now support native resolutions up to 640 x 480 (VGA), a dramatic increase over today's 320 x 240 resolutions. But the improvements don't stop there: Windows Mobile 2003 also supports landscape mode, offering Pocket PC users a more PC-like viewing experience. Toshiba will ship the first device to support the new high-resolution mode later this year.

Microsoft Buys Virtual PC, Kills Linux Support?
The Slashdot world is aghast this week over rumors that Microsoft is discontinuing support for Linux and other non-Windows OSs in its upcoming release of Microsoft Virtual PC 2004, an update to the Connectix application the company purchased earlier this year. However, the rumor is based more on conjecture than reality. Linux and other OSs still work fine in Virtual PC 2004--they just don't have Microsoft support, which really isn't all that surprising. Most of the PCs on which Linux is installed don't support that OS, either.

Sony Falls on Hard Times
After struggling most of this year, electronics giant Sony this week announced a 3-week restructuring plan that involves laying off 20,000 workers, reducing the number of parts and suppliers it contracts, and working more closely with former rivals. Once held up as an example of the AOL and Time Warner merger done right, Sony has seen its shares fall 22 percent this year as sales plummeted. Even its market-leading PlayStation 2 has struggled this year, losing share to the Xbox.

Microsoft Restructures MSN Division
This week, Microsoft announced it will restructure its MSN online service so that the company can better take advantage of search and music services, which are expected to present important growth opportunities in the future. The restructuring, which will take place by the end of the year, will split the MSN division into two units. Corporate Vice President Yusuf Mehdi will take over the search, advertising, and entertainment (music services and broadband Internet) businesses, while Corporate Vice President Blake Irving will oversee the communications business, which includes Hotmail, dial-up Internet access, and MSN Messenger. In December, Microsoft will unveil MSN 9, which features new spam filtering and pop-up-ad blocking, firewall software, and new parental controls; Microsoft says it will time the split to occur when this software is released.

Questions Linger After Apple Fixes Security Flaw in Newest OS Only
Imagine Microsoft trying this stunt: Apple's most recent OS software upgrade, Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, includes a fix for security flaws that remain unpatched in earlier versions of the Mac OS, leading some security experts to wonder whether Apple is using security as a lever to get people to upgrade. Apple says it won't fix the flaws in earlier OS X versions, although the resulting bad press might change the company's mind. "Imagine if Microsoft tried to charge for security fixes--people would go crazy," Thor Larholm, senior researcher for software security firm PivX Solutions, said. Yep. They would. And yet, we complain because Microsoft releases too many security fixes. What a world.

Here Comes the Fastest Pentium 4 Ever
According to sources close to the company, Intel will unleash its fastest-ever Pentium 4 processor, the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, also known as Intel's response to the AMD64 platform, on Monday. The Pentium 4 Extreme Edition features a whopping 2MB of Level 3 cache and runs at 3.2GHz, offering desktop users the processing power of a modern workstation for the first time. Intel is targeting the chip at gamers, videographers, and other PC enthusiasts who need the best possible performance. I'm sure the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is only about half as fast as the Power Mac G5.

Longhorn 4051: What Do You Want to Know?
PDC 2003 has left me with a lot of information to digest, and I'm starting to prepare my long-form Longhorn, Whidbey, and Yukon showcases for publication on the SuperSite for Windows. I'll soon have showcases about Longhorn technologies such as Avalon, Windows Future Storage (WinFS), Indigo, and Aero, but I'm curious about what technologies you're interested in, so drop me a note and let me know. Thanks again to everyone who followed along with our epic PDC 2003 coverage; it was an exciting time.

 

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