WinInfo Short Takes: Week of February 20

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the imminent release of the Vista February CTP, Xbox 360 in Japan, UK's request for a Vista back door, WMP exploits in the wild, Amazon vs. Apple, Microsoft vs. Core Duo, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

Next week is February vacation here in New England, so we're taking the kids to Ireland, which is only about as far from Boston as is Seattle. (It looks like we'll be spending about half the time in Dublin and half in Galway.) I know this says something about me--good and bad--but I take a perverse pleasure in knowing that my kids will go to Europe before they go to Disneyworld. Don't get me wrong, we won't be able to avoid Disney forever, but I consider this to be a minor victory in a larger war against bland.

Of course, the problem with this trip is that it will occur the same week that Microsoft ships the February CTP (Community Technical Preview) of Vista. That build will be finalized Monday at the earliest, after Microsoft missed its original February 17 date--first posted here in WinInfo--because of a blocker bug in a Vista x64 driver. In any event, I won't be able to write about the CTP from Ireland. Sorry. I will still be doing WinInfo each day, but I just can't see taking that amount of time away from my family while I'm away. I'll have to install and review the new build when I get back. Long story short: I think a lot of people are going to be pleasantly surprised. Microsoft has been working around the clock to get this one right, and they understand how excited people are to see the first feature-complete public release.

Due to the President’s Day holiday on Monday, Feb. 20, 2006, WinInfo will be on holiday and will return on Tuesday.

Short Takes

After Slow Start in Japan, Microsoft Refuses to Change Strategy
This was going to be the Xbox's big break in Japan. But after the Xbox 360 failed to resonate with Japanese video gamers--it sold even fewer units at launch than its predecessor did--Microsoft has come up with a new strategy for succeeding in the most homogeneous video game market in the world. OK, maybe that's an exaggeration. Microsoft isn't exactly employing a new strategy. In fact, the company pretty much announced this week that it hasn't learned its lesson at all. "Considering the \[game\] titles due to be released and the features and functions of the Xbox 360, we believe we will see very strong growth from here on out," Takashi Sensui, the head of Microsoft Japan said this week. "I will take another look at our strategy ... but there will not be a big change in direction." Such language will surely please the heads of Sony and Nintendo, who must already be overjoyed at the news that Microsoft has sold a paltry 115,000 Xbox 360 consoles in Japan since December. The original Xbox sold 123,000 copies in its first 2 days on sale in Japan. I guess there's always Xbox 3.0.

UK Wants Back Door into Vista
UK officials have begun talking with Microsoft about the security features in Vista, which they say are too strong and could make it impossible for law enforcement officers to collect data from criminals' computers. The UK would like Microsoft to provide them with a software back door in Vista, so that "competently set up" Vista computers could be examined by the police if needed. Although it's unlikely that Microsoft would allow such a back door--despite unending rumors of a CIA/NIS back door into previous Windows versions--or even announce the existence of such a back door should one be granted, the company did say that it would work with the UK on the issue. "We are working with law enforcement to help them understand \[Vista's\] security features and will continue to partner with governments, law enforcement, and industry to help make the Internet a safer place to learn and communicate," a Microsoft spokesperson said this week. You know, maybe if the UK could put in a good word for Microsoft with the European Union (EU), they could make a deal.

Windows Media Player Exploits Already in the Wild
Earlier this week, I wrote that one of Microsoft's regularly scheduled security updates this month would lead to rampant exploits. Well, the first two exploits are already in the wild. Just two days after Microsoft patched a critical flaw in Windows Media Player 10, hackers released separate exploits. The first can cause a Denial of Service (DoS) attack, but the second is far more serious. According to security researchers, the second exploit is capable of becoming a major security emergency, causing massive numbers of PCs to become susceptible to remote control. The exploit is "minutes or days from being completed," a security researcher wrote on the Bugtraq mailing list. "The exploit hasn't been able to reliably write to the same part of memory every time, but once he gets that, it's game over." You're using Automatic Updates, right? Good.

Amazon to Develop iTunes and iPod Competitors
It seems that no one is particularly excited about Apple Computer's success with the iPod and iTunes Music Store. Microsoft is mad because Apple is usurping its control of digital media standards. Competing online stores and device makers are mad because Apple is getting all the business. Even the recording industry is mad because Apple's success isn't leading to growth in their own business, just Apple's. Now, Amazon is joining the "anyone but Apple" crowd and will, according to reports, sell its own iPod-like MP3 player and create its own online music service. The Amazon offering will be subscription-based, and there's even talk of the company preloading songs on the device that it knows you purchased on CD from I suppose Amazon is one of the few companies with an online presence strong enough to compete with iTunes, but it's unclear why Amazon would bother with this plan, given how non-lucrative online music services have proven to be, even for Apple.

Microsoft Finally Gets Around to Fixing XP/Core Duo Battery Flaw
Although customers who purchase new notebooks based on Intel's new Core Duo microprocessor are probably pretty excited to be getting the latest and greatest, they're also probably pretty surprised by the lackluster battery life of these machines. Well, it's not the processor. Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) has a little power-management bug that drains the battery in certain Core Duo-based notebooks far faster than it normally should. This week, finally, Microsoft owned up to the bug and is preparing a fix. What's ridiculous is that Microsoft knew about this bug in mid-July but never fixed it in the months leading up to the Core Duo launch.

Yahoo! and Google Defend Capitulation on Human Rights in China
Testifying before a congressional panel this week, representatives from Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, and Cisco explained why they so deftly bowed to the will of the oppressive Chinese government. Congress is a little concerned that these companies acted as "surrogate government censors" by helping the Chinese government thwart Chinese citizens bold enough to publish their revolutionary thoughts online. Google Vice President Elliott Schrage admitted that his company wasn’t proud of its decision to accede to China's demands. But I think Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ) summed up my feelings about this issue nicely when he asked, "If the secret police a half century ago asked where Anne Frank was hiding, would the correct answer be to hand over the information in order to comply with local laws?" The answer, of course, is no. And when a company such as Google or Yahoo! helps China thwart so-called dissidents, they're complicit with or even participating in crimes against humanity. It's that simple.

Dell Rockets to 52 Percent Profit Growth
Dell this week announced that its fourth-quarter profits were up 52 percent year-over-year, thanks to a huge sales-growth spurt outside the United States. Dell made $667 million on revenues of $1.01 billion in the quarter, and noted that 43 percent of its sales were from outside the United States. Demand continues to be "pretty darn healthy," Dell CEO Kevin Rollins said, with the company shipping 10.2 million PCs in the quarter, up 15 percent from the same quarter a year ago. Not too shabby.

Mac OS X Gets Its "First" Malware
There are lots of reports about Mac OS X finally suffering its first malware attack. Most of those reports are wrong, so I want to be careful how I present this information. Here's what I know: A piece of malware--it's not clear whether it's truly a virus or a Trojan horse attack--called OS X\Leap.A is now making the rounds online using Apple Computer's iChat IM solution as its conduit to user desktops. The malware can infect PowerPC-based Macintosh computers (but not, oddly, Intel-based Macs) but doesn't cause any damage. In that sense, it's a proof of concept, as the non-damaging malware simply proves that it can get in to the system. But a few facts need to be brought front and center. First, this isn't the first malware to infect OS X, contrary to numerous inaccurate reports (and people who simply wish it to be true). There have been various types of malware released for that system in the past, including a nasty home folder-deleting Trojan horse. Second, this event proves my theory about the reason for OS X's lower-than-usual electronic attack rate. OS X is attacked less often simply because almost no one uses it, not because it's inherently more secure than Windows. If more individuals used OS X, or Linux for that matter, hackers would turn their attention to those systems. In the meantime, OS X\Leap.A is mostly a non-event: It doesn't do any damage, but it's certainly not the first OS X malware. Sorry, but no OS is impervious from attack.

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