WinInfo Short Takes: Week of September 27

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

 
Where's the Outrage? Microsoft Drops the Ball Securing Users
   I'd like to make a couple of observations about this week's news that Microsoft is securing only Windows XP users with the most recent security patches. Contrary to a Mary Jo Foley report, Microsoft never said that it would supply XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) fixes to older Windows releases. But many people--myself included--thought that the company would do so, at least in something like Windows 2000 SP5, which is due late this year. However, Microsoft Senior Vice President Bob Muglia set that misguided notion straight way back in May when I interviewed him. He said, and I quote, "No, there's nothing like \[XP SP2\] at this point for Windows 2000. We won't do the very broad pass that we did for XP. You have to understand that with \[XP SP2\], we made hundreds and hundreds of changes to the operating system. That's not all going back to Windows 2000." Muglia reiterated that Windows Server 2003 SP1 will include all of XP SP2's "relevant" security fixes, although Windows 2003 is a "newer" OS. So where's the customer outrage? How dare Microsoft make simple security changes to Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and not supply them to pre-XP users? If Microsoft is going to require that people upgrade to XP to get the most recent security fixes, the company should simply give away XP. We're not talking about a media-player upgrade, folks; we're talking about security. And Microsoft's unsecured users pay too much for the company to ignore half its installed base.


Windows Attacks Rise Dramatically in Early 2004
   And speaking of security problems, while Microsoft was developing XP SP2 earlier this year, attacks on Windows machines rose dramatically. Security firm Symantec reports that more than 5000 new Windows viruses and worms were identified in the first half of 2004, compared with just 1000 for the same period a year earlier. A couple of obvious observations come to mind. First, these worms and viruses occurred before Microsoft released XP SP2, so whether the upgrade will do anything to stem the flow of malware attacks on XP users is unclear. Second, Symantec notes that malware makers are starting to ally themselves with spammers, giving virulent software a sad new avenue of attack. That's just great.


Gartner: Ignore Longhorn. Paul: Ignore Analyst Firms.
   In the most recent bit of analyst-firm hot air, Gartner announced this week that the next major version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn, appears to be "a move to drive revenue" and to give Microsoft's enterprise licensing customers a software release that falls within their subscription periods. Thanks for the insightful commentary, Gartner. I'm pretty sure that every company's major product releases are designed to drive revenue, and given how many customers have signed up for Microsoft's licensing programs, it makes sense to actually give them some benefits for their money. But regardless of the obvious nature of these statements, Gartner's overall recommendation about Longhorn is what really made me chuckle this morning. The firm actually advised people not to make any Longhorn plans yet. I guess that Gartner is unaware of the fact that Microsoft announced its Longhorn release schedule specifically to appease the demands of customers who want information about upcoming releases so they can, in fact, plan ahead. I've never been a big fan of analyst firms, and this kind of statement is exactly why I'm not. Who such statements serve is unclear, but they certainly don't serve the customers who are actually using Microsoft products. The last time I checked, customers were the part of the equation that mattered.


Human Error, Not Windows Flaw, Causes California Plane Pileup
   A startling report about a Windows flaw causing a massive 800-plane pileup in southern California has made the rounds on the Web, with Linux and Macintosh backers pointing their fingers and nodding knowingly. The story would be fascinating if it were true. But two separate human errors, not a Windows flaw, caused the 800-plane pileup. And a "software glitch" that required technicians to essentially reboot a non-Windows communications system was the only technical "flaw" that contributed to the pileup. Airport officials have known about that glitch for some time and have been working to fix it. So what about the Windows flaw that (ahem) caused all the problems? It turns out the flaw wasn't a flaw at all. Instead, the Win2K Advanced Server systems that the air traffic control system uses were improperly integrated into the preexisting system, and although technicians were supposed to manually reboot the machines every 30 days, a technician forgot to do so. The machines were configured to automatically reboot every 49.7 days; in this case, they did so at a pretty inopportune time. In short, the flaw was in the configuration, not in Windows itself. Not that Windows is perfect, mind you, but spare me. Enough problems with Windows already exist; we don't need to make up stuff like this.


Airbus Drops Support of Microsoft in EU Case
   And speaking of planes and Windows, European aircraft maker Airbus has withdrawn its support of Microsoft in the software giant's European Union (EU) antitrust case. Airbus had agreed to back Microsoft, noting that the EU decision against the company might adversely affect Airbus's ability to innovate (yes, seriously). Now Airbus says that it never intended to overtly support Microsoft and instead wanted to remain neutral. But because Microsoft cited the company as a backer, Airbus was forced to publicly denounce the support. Maybe someone should tell Airbus officials that the 800-plane pileup in California wasn't really Microsoft's fault.


Future Portable Media Center Devices to Sport Larger Disks--Duh
   In an unintentionally silly disclosure to "eWeek," a hardware designer on Microsoft's Portable Media Center team (which is misidentified as the Portable Media Player team throughout the article) said that future portable devices will support at least 125GB of storage, will play back High Definition (HD) video, and will include wireless and video recording features. Hey, that's great, although I'm sure the news is of scant comfort to the six people who already purchased the suddenly underpowered first-generation Portable Media Center devices. But talking about the distant future is sort of futile, isn't it? We'll all have air cars and teleportation devices in the future, too, but I still have to drive my VW Beetle to work today. In any event, here's a heads-up for Microsoft: Planning for the future is important. But describing how great future versions of a product will be just weeks after version 1.0 shipped is stupid.


Microsoft Files More Lawsuits Against Spammers
   This week, Microsoft filed nine new lawsuits against spammers, stepping up its legal battle against unsolicited email. This particular round of lawsuits is notable for several reasons, primarily because some of them target large Web-based hosting companies that Microsoft says are advertising "bulletproof" services for email marketing (i.e., spam). "This is the first action against a Web host catering to spammers," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "They're providing a safe place for spammers to drive customers to." Microsoft is involved in more than 100 legal cases against spammers, more than 70 of which were filed in the United States.


AMD Wants Microsoft to Get Its 64-Bit Act Together
   If you bought a PC based on AMD's exciting new 64-bit microprocessors, you're probably wondering what's taking Microsoft so long to ship a 64-bit version of XP that works natively with the AMD system. You're not alone; AMD is wondering as well. "It's no secret that we're disappointed \[Windows XP Professional x64 Edition is\] delayed," Hector de J. Ruiz, chairman, CEO, and president of AMD, said. XP x64 was originally due in early 2004, but Microsoft recently delayed the product until the first half of 2005. Ruiz says the problem is that Microsoft is concerned about security. I'm not so sure that statement is true. My take is that Microsoft doesn't want to ship a potentially confusing new XP release that will likely be dogged by device-driver problems. The last thing Microsoft needs is to hear its customers complain about their hardware products not working because XP x64 doesn't work with the existing library of 32-bit drivers. In other words, the problem is support, not security.


Google Preps Yet Another Browser
   Rumors are circulating that Web search king Google is preparing to release its own Web browser--as if the world needed yet another browser. In the good news department, Google's browser--called GBrowser--will be based on the excellent Mozilla source code base and will likely offer improved integration with Google services such as GMail. That said, my advice is to forget the browser and concentrate on the services. Google has enough to worry about with Yahoo! and Microsoft chasing its searching and Web-based email taillights.


Iran Chooses Linux Over Windows
   Iran has rejected Windows and will instead implement Linux-based solutions. The country refuses to respect international copyright laws, so most of the Windows installations that already exist in Iran--even at the government level--are illegal. But Iran is trying to gain entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), which would require the country to (ahem) adjust its stance on copyrights and intellectual property law. And then there's the question of sovereignty. Because Microsoft--a company that's located in Iran's enemy, the United States--makes Windows, Iran is afraid that the US government could use the software to gain back-door access to Iran's secrets. "Microsoft software has a lot of ... security weaknesses that are always being patched, so it is not secure," an Iranian spokesperson said. "We are also under US sanctions. All this makes us think we need an alternative operating system."


Whew! Gates Is Still the Richest Person in the Land
   I know you were biting your nails over this question, but rest easy. According to "Forbes Magazine," Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, who has an estimated net worth of $48 billion, is still the richest person in the world. Gates, as you probably know, turned a hobby of creating technology into a lucrative little business called Microsoft. Investor Warren Buffet came in second with $41 billion. Rounding out the top five are Microsoft Cofounder Paul Allen ($20 billion), several Wal-Mart co-owners (who at $18 billion each tied for fourth place), and Dell Founder Michael Dell ($14.2 billion).

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