WinInfo Short Takes: Week of December 20

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

 

Microsoft Quietly Posts Critical Fix for Windows XP SP2

No critical fixes for December you say? Well hold on there, pardner. Yesterday, just two days after Microsoft released its final set of security fixes for 2004, none critical, the company quietly squeezed out another fix for a flaw--this one quite critical--in Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). Oddly, I had to read about this fix on CNET.com, since Microsoft didn't bother to alert me about the patch, as it usually does. Which leads me to wonder: What the heck is wrong in Redmond? Are the endless security patches finally starting to erode confidence at the software giant? Well, on this side of the fence, I can tell you that Windows users now approach security problems with the same sullen inevitability as Londoners faced bombing runs during the Blitz in World War II. That is, we don't like it, but we're getting used to it. But wait, you say you're still not resigned to security stupidity, and that Microsoft is doing a fine job? Then consider this little detail. This week's patch fixes a flaw that first showed up in September, when Microsoft said it would soon issue a software update. And just three months later, here it is. The magic of software, or a Christmas Miracle, it's your choice.

 

Microsoft Acquisition of Giant Software Raises Questions

As I noted yesterday in WinInfo Daily UPDATE, I'm ecstatic that Microsoft purchased Giant Software Company, which makes what is, in my opinion, the best anti-spyware client on the planet. However, the acquisition does raise some questions. Chief among them, of course, is price: What, if anything, will Microsoft eventually charge customers for this antispyware technology? (My opinion: It should be free, and included as part of Windows XP.) And how will they distribute it? (My opinion: Through Windows Update. This is as important for baseline system security as anything else in XP SP2, which helps proactively prevent, but not fix after the fact, security problems like malware and spyware.) Microsoft says it hasn't figured out licensing and pricing issues yet, but that it will announce its plans as soon as it does. But let me whip out my years-old argument against charging customers for this product: Not only does it fix problems that are inherent to the design of Windows, antispyware should also, arguably, be a core function of any OS. You know, more so than a Web browser, an instant messaging client, or a media player. Please do the right thing, Microsoft, and don't look at this as yet another subscription-based profit center.

 

Linux: Fewer (Kernel) Flaws?

Yes, I'm in a bitter, bitter mood this morning, and since we're already talking about security--nay, drowning in security--let's take a quick look at report that came out this week alleging that the kernel, or core part, of Linux 2.6 has much fewer bugs than a typical commercial software product, based on a four-year code-analysis. On Tuesday, Coverity revealed that the Linux kernel has less than 1,000 bugs in over 5.7 million lines of code. Typically, software code has between 1 and 7 bugs per 1,000 lines of code, so the Linux kernel should be expected to have between 6,000 and 40,000 bugs. Since Coverity couldn't test Windows--Microsoft keeps the source code secret and prevents third parties from running such tests--it couldn't compare Linux to Windows. However, Coverity did note that Microsoft regularly runs similar code tests on its own code, every night, in fact. So while Linux users can point to this somewhat skewed report as proof of Linux's superiority, Windows users can simply point to real-world results ... never mind.

 

Supreme Court Hears File Sharing Case

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a critical file sharing case that could end up being the modern equivalent of the infamous Sony Betamax case that instituted two decades of uneasy "Fair Use" guidelines in this country. The Justices of the Highest Court In The Land (tm) will soon review the findings of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in August that file-sharing networks like Grokster aren't liable for the rampant copyright infringement that occurs within their networks and that some file-sharing uses are, in fact, not illegal. Needless to say, the recording industry giants that are suing these companies appealed, noting that the services were designed specifically to let people pirate music and other digital content. Fair enough. But you must also consider the Betamax case, in which the Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that Sony couldn't be held liable for copyright infringement because its recording device was used primarily for legal "Fair Use" recording. Do Grokster and other file-sharing networks fall under the same protection? Or are they vicious scum, knowingly profiting off the illegal nature of their service in a premeditated fashion? You make the call.

 

Microsoft Tests Subscription Outlook Service

Microsoft is testing an interesting new subscription service that will let customers use its rich Microsoft Outlook email and personal information management (PIM) client to manage their Hotmail accounts and provide them with 2 GB of mail storage and the ability to send 20 MB attachments. The service, dubbed Microsoft Office Outlook Live, lets Outlook interoperate with Hotmail's email, calendar, contacts, and tasks features, and is therefore similar to the Microsoft Outlook Connector feature that MSN Premium customers--who pay $10 a month for that and other services--can access. However, MSN Premium customers who use the Outlook Connector must already have a copy of Outlook; with Microsoft Office Outlook Live, subscribers get a rented copy of Outlook as part of their subscription. The new service is expected to debut early next year, but I can't help but wonder if it will just confuse people. Typically, most of Microsoft's online services have come out of the MSN group, but this appears to be an Office-specific product, and one that comes awfully close to something MSN already offers. Weird.

 

Google Goes to the Library

Search engine superstar Google.com this week revealed that it has reached an agreement with several of the leading research libraries in the US, and with OxfordUniversity in the UK, to convert their paper-based research documents into digital files whose contents will be freely searchable from the Web. Yes, we're moving headlong into a vision of the future that was best envisioned by Isaac Asimov in his Foundation and Robot series, but let's not get too excited, as we're still lifetimes away from achieving a true Encyclopedia Galactica. Still, it's nice to see Google keeping itself busy while it waits for the inevitable flood from Microsoft to wash it away in a sea of integrated search products. Actually, wasn't that the plot of Halo 2?

 

EA Signs Anticompetitive Deal with NFL

Here's a little bit of suspicious antitrust activity that doesn't involve Microsoft for a change. (Or does it? See the next blurb for details.) Electronic Arts (EA), the dominant video game company that owns the lucrative Madden football franchise, saw sales of its sports titles plummet this year when scrappy competitor Sega decided to sell many of the titles in its ESPN line of licensed sports products for just $20, or about $35 less than the price normally commanded by Madden and other EA games. That would not stand, EA said, as it was forced to lower its own prices in order to make up for lost sales. So EA did the unthinkable this week, signing an exclusive five year contract with the National Football League (NFL) for the rights to the NFL name and all NFL teams and players names. That means that future football titles from Sega and other companies will not be able to use these crucial features, likely killing Sega's football title where it stands. You know what? Screw EA for that. I've been a fan since the "Larry Bird vs. Dr. J" days, when I played two of basketball's greatest players of the early 1980's on my Commodore 64, but this is just wrong. I will never buy another EA product again. However, I will of course, continue to attend New England Patriots games, in an admittedly hypocritical move. I mean, they've won two championships in three years. I have standards, but I'm not an idiot.

 

Microsoft Sells Off Sports Games Studio

And here's a little bit of non-coincidental news: Microsoft, which cancelled its 2005 lineup of XSN Sports titles for the Xbox in a successful bid to get competitor EA to add its titles to the Xbox Live online gaming service, this week sold off its sports games studio. The result: No more sports titles from Microsoft. So now, even the mighty colossus from Redmond is bowing down to the power that is EA. Angry yet? Well, there's no time for that: Instead, you can just get on your knees and bow down to the EA corporate superpower like everyone else. Remember when those guys were all about promoting the personalities of the programmers who created their games? No, I don't either.

 

Symantec Buys Veritas

Anti-virus vendor Symantec announced this week that it was buying backup giant Veritas for about $13.5 billion in stock. That price is about 7 times what IBM sold its PC division for, so if you were really wondering whether a niche software market was more lucrative than a 20-year-old hardware business that, in fact, started the entire PC industry, now you have your answer. What a world.

Is It Really This Late Already?
And here we are, suddenly in late December--not even "mid-December" anymore--and I'm struck by how quickly time is going by in the waning days of 2004. I remember being thrown into a pool on the night NT 4.0 was released publicly in July 1996 (no connection), and now NT 4.0 is finally being put out to pasture, like an aging race horse. I recall endlessly wondering why this country pays so much attention to caulous celebrities, with countless stupid TV shows and channels, and magazines, and yet ignores the innovative video game industry, which continues to make more money than Hollywood ever will. And now video game giant EA is stabbing my memories and good will in the heart, acting like a big bad US corporation, and making me wonder where it all went wrong. Well, at least we have Christmas to look forward to. Now, there's a holiday that hasn't yet been hobbled by greedy marketers and corporate interests. Oh wait.

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