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WinInfo Short Takes, November 29, 2010

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

Wikileaks Reveals China Involvement in Google Attack

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're aware of this week's momentous leaks of US diplomatic cables, some dating back decades. But you might have missed the major tech news story buried in there: Remember that Google electronic attack that was blamed on the Chinese government? Well, the leaked documents corroborate Google's allegations, noting that the Chinese government was in fact behind the attack. According to the US embassy in that country, China's Politburo—a 25-person Communist governing group—ordered the cyber attack on Google and other US-based tech companies, as well as other similar electronic attacks dating back several years.

Windows Users Face "Nightmare" Kernel Flaw that Bypasses UAC

Microsoft is investigating a so-called "nightmare" flaw in the Windows kernel that would allow hackers to bypass the OS's User Account Control (UAC) technologies and potentially launch remote electronic attacks. But the software giant is trying to calm everyone down by noting that this problem isn't as serious as the Chicken Little security researchers claim because it requires the hacker to have local access to the PC. Cue the "wah-waah-waaaaaah" sound. "Microsoft is aware of the public posting of details of an elevation of privilege vulnerability that may reside in the Windows kernel," said Jerry Bryant, a group manager with the Microsoft Security Response Center. "We will continue to investigate the issue and, when done, we will take appropriate action." That action might include such things as "don't let bad people touch your computer" and "don't believe everything you read." It will also likely include a software patch.

Microsoft Reportedly Looking to Bolster Its TV Services Offerings

Microsoft has reportedly met with TV networks to license content for a streaming service it would offer through its Xbox 360 video game console. The secret talks, which were revealed by Reuters, are aimed at creating a new "virtual cable operator" that would deliver content over the Internet for a monthly subscription fee. Given the early nature of these talks, nothing is happening anytime soon, if at all, but you can look to Microsoft's deal with ESPN for an idea of how this service could be presented on the console. Plus, with the success of services like Netflix and Hulu—and competition from Apple, Google, and others—Microsoft needs to do something. What's aggravating is that the software giant already has the best interface for TV and movie content, called Windows Media Center, and that interface is included on every Xbox 360 console. It's just that no one actually uses it. Maybe the time has come to turn Windows Media Center into something special. I'd argue it's overdue.

IE 9 Beta Gets a Refresh

If you're using Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) 9 Beta, be sure to fire up Windows Update and examine the pending updates, as the software giant has released a refresh that fixes some bugs and smoothes out some issues. (It will install automatically over time, but it's worth looking for.) Microsoft says the update doesn't constitute a new beta, though it has separately released two so-called Platform Preview releases since September's public beta, bolstering the browser's developer features. If you're looking for a new beta, don't bother: The next release will be a feature-complete Release Candidate (RC), followed by the final version of the browser. And then we can turn our attention to Windows 8. Admit it, you were getting antsy.

Microsoft's Sync System Might Be Coming to Other Carmakers Soon

If you own or have rented a recent Ford vehicle, you might have had the opportunity, as I have had, to test the superior Ford Sync system, which provides smartphone integration with the vehicle and other media-related activities. This system is consistently rated as one of the top reasons people pick Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles, but there's a problem: Ford has had sole access to the technology for three years, and now other car makers are starting to work with Microsoft on their own versions. Fiat, which owns Chrysler, will soon introduce its own Microsoft-backed car technologies, and the system is already available in Europe. They'll be available in Fiat's own vehicles as well as those marketed under the various Chrysler brands.

Virtual Video Game Console to Debut in December

When Steve Perlman previewed his OnLive video game service last year, he garnered big headlines for claiming that he could deliver rich, Xbox 360-like gaming experiences over the Internet. But now it's time to put up or shut up: After months of testing the service with a limited group of users (myself included), OnLive is going live next month. You'll be able to access the service through your PC or Mac, or use a $99 compact box that will connect directly to a TV set; Perlman says the hardware is so small and inexpensive that TV makers will simply build it into their sets as well. Best of all, from a content-maker's perspective, OnLive games can't be pirated since they're delivered live over the Internet. The pricing is good, too: You can subscribe to games indefinitely or in short blocks, and all games have a trial mode, so you can check them out first. Perlman's goal is to be the Netflix of video games, and he might just have a shot. I'll have a review of OnLive available by the end of the year.

No Xbox 720 on the Horizon, Microsoft Says

Speaking of video games, Microsoft has repeatedly said that it has no immediate plans to replace its current console, the Xbox 360, and that the recently released Kinect add-on has effectively doubled the Xbox 360's life cycle—from 5 years to 10. This week, it got a bit more specific. "Kinect is hugely innovative and it reshapes people's expectations of the way in which they control a game," said Microsoft's Ben Board. "We don't see it simply as an add-on. It is our view that Kinect is our new console. What we have with Kinect is something that goes beyond what our competitors are doing. It's goes way beyond the Nintendo Wii." Board noted that it would be "years" before Microsoft released another console, and I think it's reasonable to expect nothing new there before 2013 or 2014, when the software giant will have to come up with something. Perhaps a virtual console that delivers games via the cloud?

This Week on the Windows Weekly Podcast

Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast last Tuesday because of the Thanksgiving holiday. It is available now on the Zune Marketplace, in iTunes, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.

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