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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of December 13

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

Microsoft Begins Eolas Appeal
  We're about to find out whether the US justice system is all it's cracked up to be. I have my doubts. Yesterday, in a small courtroom in Washington, D.C., Microsoft lawyers told a panel of three US Court of Appeals judges that the $565 million that a jury awarded to Eolas Technologies in a patent-infringement case against the software giant earlier this year should be thrown out because Eolas didn't invent the technology for which it was awarded a patent. Eolas secured its patent (for embedding applications in Web browsers) in 1998, or about 5 years after (Perry) Pei-Yuan Wei first added that functionality to the Viola Web browser. Eolas filed its lawsuit against Microsoft in 1999, just a year after the patent award, likely because Microsoft was the most deep-pocketed of the browser makers. So will Microsoft win its appeal? That's a tough call. After developing the application-embedding functionality for Viola, Pei-Yuan essentially abandoned the work, which Eolas argues makes its patent claims valid. Microsoft, meanwhile, has a fallback plan: The $565 million award covered all domestic and international shipments of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), and Microsoft says that Eolas can be awarded money only for US-based shipments. If that statement is true and Microsoft loses the appeal, the Eolas award could be reduced to $200 million.

Windows Server 2003 R2 Beta Begins
   Microsoft has launched the beta program for Windows Server 2003 Release 2 (R2), its interim follow-up to Windows 2003 that's scheduled to ship in October 2005. R2, which was first publicly revealed on the SuperSite for Windows in January, will be built on Windows 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) and will add previously shipped add-ons such as Active Directory Application Mode (ADAM), Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), and Automated Deployment Services (ADS), as well as a host of new features, many of which are still in flux. If you're interested in testing Windows 2003 R2, the initial beta will be a limited, closed beta, but a future beta release that's due in the first half of 2005 will be publicly available.

Heads-Up: Microsoft to Release Patches for 5 Noncritical Flaws Next Week
   In keeping with its new policy of warning customers about upcoming security patches the week before releasing them to the public, Microsoft revealed last night that next week's regularly scheduled monthly security patch release will include patches for five flaws, all noncritical. The fixes will ship December 14, Microsoft says. However, Microsoft recently released an out-of-band security fix for IE that patches a critical flaw. That fix finally closes a hole that could let malicious Web site owners remotely control users' PCs and launch malware.

IBM Clears Up Confusion About Lenovo Purchase of PC Unit
   In the wake of IBM's blockbuster deal with Lenovo Group, IBM executives took pains this week to calm customers and further explain what's going to happen with IBM's PC business, which includes the cherished ThinkPad line of notebook computers. IBM will continue to sell both ThinkPad notebook and ThinkCentre desktop systems after the sale, but Lenovo will make the computers. And Lenovo will continue using the Think brands and the IBM brand--the latter for about 5 years. Over the course of the switchover, however, the Lenovo brand will appear on the machines and will eventually replace IBM branding. Lenovo will hire most of IBM's employees who were involved in the design and sales of PCs, including employees in the ThinkPad design center in Raleigh, North Carolina. In short, for corporate customers who tend to purchase ThinkPads and ThinkCentre PCs, the deal doesn't really change much. IBM will still sell the products, which, frankly, the company hadn't manufactured in-house for years, anyway. And Lenovo will inherit the talented designers who came up with new product models every year. A win-win situation? Time will tell, but if Lenovo, a budget Chinese PC maker, can lower ThinkPad prices while retaining the computers' high quality, I think I can rally behind this move.

Dell Unimpressed by IBM's Lenovo PC Sale
   And speaking of IBM, while investors sift through the Lenovo deal, IBM's PC-maker competitors are starting to speak out. This week, Dell CEO Michael Dell said he was unimpressed by the sale. "If you look at the last few years, there has been a continuing trend, not only a decline in markets, but a de-emphasis and divesting of assets in the small-computer business at IBM," he said. "It's clear that \[the PC market\] is not a long-term strategic priority for them." Dell said that IBM has been retreating from the PC market for years, noting that the company long ago sold off its PC manufacturing assets and has been outsourcing the manufacturing of its PCs. Dell also took the chance to make a dig at rival HP. When asked why his company didn't buy IBM's PC business, he replied, "When was the last time you saw a successful merger or acquisition in the computer industry?" HP, now the number-two PC maker behind Dell, merged with Compaq in 2003. Zing!

Xbox Live Traffic Quadruples in Wake of Halo 2
   Sandive, a broadband traffic outfit, reported this week that traffic on Microsoft's Xbox Live online game network quadrupled in the wake of the release of Halo 2, the company's blockbuster new Xbox game. Sandive says that Xbox Live network traffic has continued, unabated, since Microsoft first released Halo 2 on November 9. "The jump \[in traffic\] raises quality-of-service concerns for service providers who are eager to keep high-value customers like gamers from churning away to competitors with a better reputation for optimized broadband experience," a Sandive report noted. Meanwhile, I've come around to the joy of the networked Halo 2 multiplayer experience, after years of being a PC gamer snob. Carting around an Xbox and a flat-panel screen isn't exactly easy, but I've participated in a few Xbox LAN-based deathmatches with several friends recently, and it's good stuff.

Intel Pledges to Increase PC Performance 10 Times by 2008
   Intel might have been late to the 64-bit x86 (now called x64) party, but the company intends to keep the fire to the feet of market innovator AMD by releasing an amazing array of new 64-bit chips next year, then rapidly upping performance over the next several years. Intel says that by 2008 it will increase the performance of its microprocessors by 10 times, thanks to advances in multicore processors, which essentially fuse multiple processors' "brains" into a single chip. First, however, Intel will release a family of 64-bit consumer-oriented chips that will start shipping in 2005 and will target Longhorn, the next-generation version of Windows that's due in mid-2006. Intel is looking to the technical and marketing successes of its Centrino mobile brand for inspiration about the direction to take with desktop-oriented chipsets. The company's 2005-era 64-bit chips will likely borrow liberally from the Centrino design, which currently graces most of the notebook computers sold today.

Yahoo! To Offer Desktop Search Tool
   Enough already. After Microsoft announced this summer that its MSN unit will ship a desktop search tool by the end of the year, Web search king Google sputtered and preemptively issued its own desktop search tool, a buggy and half-baked product that has since become more famous for its security problems than for its search acumen. But the market for desktop search is already crowded with several excellent choices, including Copernic's recently revealed product. But if you actually believe that MSN isn't going to waltz away with this particular prize, you either aren't paying attention or you're suffering from a case of wishful thinking. So it's with a sense of disbelief that I must report that Yahoo! also announced this week that it will, someday, ship a Windows desktop search tool. If you'll excuse me for stealing an old Steven Wright joke, I say we install them all and let them fight it out.

Airlines Will Likely Allow Cell Phone Calls
   Please tell me this is a joke. Please. Next week, US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulators will meet to discuss an end to the ban on cell phone use on airplanes. Apparently, these people think that planes aren't loud enough already and that the few remaining decibels of sound my brain can handle need to be filled. If there's anything worse than being stuck in a confined space with a bunch of obnoxious people yakking away on cell phones, I can't imagine what it is. And yet it's probably going to happen. So although I know in my gut that cell phones aren't really dangerous to plane safety, as some people believe, I hope that someone overplays that little bit of insanity during whatever hearings happen and that the cell phone ban will continue. Otherwise, I'm going to turn into the computing equivalent of John Madden and start planning all my travel on America's highway and train systems.

New Laptop Risks for Men
   (Note to self: Resist the obvious joke about chestnuts roasting on an open fire.) Scientists at Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island, New York, are reporting this week that heat from laptops balanced on men's, um, laps, can impair male fertility. So although all those jokes about geeks being girly men might now seem to be founded in fact, let's be serious for a second and simultaneously see how many spam filters I can trigger this week. According to the report, heat from laptops raises the temperature of men's testes after only an hour of use, often by as much as 5 degrees, and that temperature change is enough to impair fertility. Frankly, that 5-degree figure seems pretty low, especially if you've ever used an Apple Computer laptop.

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