WinInfo Short Takes: Week of February 3

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

Longhorn in Late 2004? Whatever.
The pointless debate about the release date for Longhorn, the next desktop Windows version, became even more pointless this week when a Microsoft legal filing in the company's Java lawsuit noted a "late 2004" release date. Don't get excited about this news, however. I'm pretty sure Microsoft never shipped an OS on schedule, and if late 2004 is indeed the official timetable, most Microsoft watchers will agree that mid-2005 is a more realistic guess. As a Microsoft representative recently told me, "We promised we'd ship \[product name\] by the end of 2002, and sure enough it shipped right on schedule--on 'December 48,' 2002!" My point is that if Microsoft doesn't know when a product is going to ship, speculation is a waste of time. Longhorn will include a new display system, a Microsoft SQL Server Yukon-based file system called WinFS, and a host of other new features. You know ... when it's released.

Did SQL Slammer Expose the Soft, White Underbelly of Trustworthy Computing?
So-called security experts are now damning Microsoft's entire Trustworthy Computing initiative because of fallout from the SQL Slammer worm, which brought the Internet to its knees last weekend by compromising a vulnerability in SQL Server 2000. (The worm also affected SQL Server 7.0 and other Microsoft products.) Certainly, the worm was ill-timed for the company, coming just a year after Microsoft announced the Trustworthy Computing initiative, but does one worm really break a companywide movement? Sound-bite-friendly security expert Russ Cooper, founder of NTBugtraq, thinks so. "Trustworthy Computing is failing," he said this week. "I gave it a D- at the beginning of the year, and now I'd give it an F." Those are fighting words, Russ, and I suspect Microsoft takes issue with your grading system. Certainly, Trustworthy Computing is an ongoing effort, but locked-down products such as Windows Server 2003 (and its bundled Microsoft Internet Information Services--IIS--6.0) and Microsoft Exchange Server, which will ship this year, show that the company is concentrating on security. I don't think a single vulnerability--especially one that Microsoft patched several times, regardless of how difficult the patch was--proves otherwise. And anyone who says so now is just trying to grab an easy headline.

Palladium Just a Code Name
Apparently, in certain circles, the fact that Palladium is just a code name is news. But as Mario Juarez, a product manager in Microsoft's Windows Trusted Platform Technologies Group, said this week in response to stories about Microsoft dropping the name, "The official story--and it's true--is that \[we've\] intended to change the name for a long time." And stories about Microsoft trying to trademark Palladium got the details wrong. Another company--still unnamed--threatened a lawsuit because it claimed to own the trademark on Palladium. No big deal; no conspiracy. But the new name is awful. Next-generation secure computing base? Please.

Gates: Palladium Is About Security and Privacy, Not Big Brother
And speaking of Palladium, in an email message sent to customers this week titled "Trust in Technology," Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates tried to explain why the technology isn't reminiscent of Big Brother but is instead designed to protect users' security and privacy. I'm astonished at how many people still don't understand this philosophy. "We are working on a new hardware-software architecture for the Windows PC platform (initially code-named Palladium), which will significantly enhance the integrity, privacy, and data security of computer systems by eliminating many 'weak links,'" Gates wrote. "Part of the focus of this initiative is to provide 'curtained' memory--pages of memory that are walled off from other applications and even the \[OS\] to prevent surreptitious observation--as well as the ability to provide security along the path from keyboard to monitor. \[Under Palladium,\] valuable information can only be accessed by trusted software components." If you're still wondering about Palladium, remember this: Microsoft isn't doing this alone; the company is working with chipset makers such as AMD and Intel to make it happen. So whatever you think about Microsoft, it's hard to imagine an "axis of evil"-style conspiracy in which the three companies are working together to usurp your rights.

NT 4.0 Gets a New Lease on Life
Thanks to its continued wide use in corporations around the world, Windows NT 4.0 is proving to be the first truly long-term OS at Microsoft, the company that would prefer to see you upgrade every 2 or 4 years. But because NT 4.0 is installed in the types of mission-critical situations once solely the domain of UNIX and mainframe systems, Microsoft has had to adapt and has now extended the lifetime of NT 4.0 support another year to the end of 2004. The company will provide customers with hotfixes and paid incident support for the aging product and will give customers the time they need to get rid of all those nasty old Pentium Pro 200 boxes and get real servers.

Sun Moves to Block Microsoft Appeal
Sun Microsystems has petitioned the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to turn down Microsoft's appeal in the Java lawsuit. A federal judge has ordered the case to trial, but in the meantime, he also slapped Microsoft with a preliminary injunction, effective in 4 months, that requires the software giant to bundle Sun's Java in Windows XP. As you might expect, Microsoft is appealing, and Sun is attempting to block the appeal. Sun argues that Microsoft has plenty of time to get Java into Windows and that the schedule won't adversely impact the release of its future products. The appellate court will probably issue a ruling on Microsoft's appeal request quickly, given the nature of the case.

Gates: No Pie for You!
An infamous European practical joker who once thrust a custard pie in Bill Gates's face was denied a second chance to embarrass the world's richest individual when Gates, in Brussels, Belgium, this week for meetings, eluded the prankster. Noel Godin, who has hit various celebrities with the pies, had three custard cream confections waiting for Gates, but police thwarted his efforts by refusing to let him set up his parcels near Gates's car. Godin, who uses the unfortunate term "slapstick terrorist" to describe his activities, insists he's still proud of having previously "pied the master of the world."

Microsoft Crashes Oracle Show
This week, Microsoft crashed an Oracle seminar for 300 customers and developers when members of the Exchange team dropped by the Seattle event with an espresso cart to hand out free drinks. Microsoft videotaped the shenanigans, and the company says it will use the humorous footage for internal promotions. If you're wondering why the Exchange team--not the SQL Server team as you might expect--stopped by, it's because Oracle is now taking on Exchange with a new product called Oracle Collaboration Suite, which, like Exchange, concentrates on email and personal information management. "Nobody is buying Oracle's product," said David Siroky, an Exchange product manager. But the companies have a history of tweaking each other, and it's only a matter of time before the Oracle folks devise a similar, fraternity-style prank to get back at their rivals. Isn't it cute when two behemoths can't get along?

Lindows Media PC No Competition
How long will it be before gives up? The Linux maker's latest attempt to steal mind and market share away from Windows is yet another painfully inexpensive PC that offers little performance or functionality but purports to be a viable competitor to a feature-rich Microsoft product. I'm talking about the new Lindows Media Center PC, a $350 box that supposedly can take the place of a $1500 to $2000 XP-based Media Center PC. There's just one problem: The Lindows box is a piece of junk; it includes only DVD- and CD-based media playback and none of the niceties of the XP offering, such as Digital Video Recording (DVR). I applaud for trying, but how about duplicating the functionality first? If I wanted a PC as powerful as the Lindows Media PC, I'd just resuscitate my old Pentium 166.

RTC Server Due This Year, Microsoft Says
Microsoft confirmed this week that it will ship its Real-Time Communications (RTC) server product later this year, and the product will be the first deliverable from its new Real-Time Collaboration Group, part of the Microsoft Information Worker Productivity Business Unit. The server, code-named Greenwich, has many unanswered questions, however, such as what form it will take and how much it will cost. Originally scheduled to be part of Windows 2003, Greenwich has grown beyond its humble roots to include a much wider array of functionality.

Dell: Microsoft Never Threatened Us Over Linux
Last week, Dell CEO Michael Dell discussed Linux on the desktop, causing some people to wonder whether the company is preparing to reverse a decision to drop Linux from most of its desktop-oriented products. But Dell says the decision, as always, is based on customer demand, and the company's Linux-based servers are selling well. "One of the challenges is that demand for \[desktop\] Linux is growing but it's not huge," he said. "Therefore, if you think about all the products we have, for us to validate Linux on every single one, the number we'd sell by unit doesn't make a lot of sense." Dell also squashed rumors that Microsoft pressured Dell to drop Linux. "We've always said we will offer what a customer wants," he added, "and most desktop and client customers want Microsoft."

Microsoft in Talks with Vivendi Universal Games
Microsoft is reportedly in talks with Vivendi Universal Games to see whether Microsoft should buy the group to bolster its money-losing Xbox. The unit, which could cost Microsoft billions of dollars, creates some of the best-selling games in the world, including Diablo and various titles based on "The Lord of the Rings." Vivendi Universal Games was the number-two PC game maker in 2001. Spokespeople from the company say the rumors are just speculation, however, and Microsoft isn't talking. Will the deal take place? I guess it all comes down to how serious Microsoft is about making the Xbox a success. How much money can the product hemorrhage before the company simply gives up and cuts its losses?


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