An irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Another New Feature in XP SP1 ...
I forgot to mention one feature in my Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) review (see the URL below in the next news item): The Auto Update feature now supports fully automatic updates. You can configure Auto Update to automatically download and install critical updates (XP Gold just downloads them and then asks whether you want to install them). This feature will also be available in Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server).
Win2K SP3 Gets Consent-Decree Feature
The upcoming Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3) release--currently expected in July--will include the consent-decree compliance feature that Windows XP SP1 also contains. For more information about this feature, see my XP SP1 preview on the SuperSite for Windows.
Ballmer on Mission to Remake Microsoft's Image
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wants his company to be known for its honesty, integrity, and accountability or, as some see it, those traits that virtually no one outside the company attributes to Microsoft. Ballmer revealed the plan to Microsoft's 50,000 employees this week in a lengthy email message in which he beseeched employees to innovate with new products rather than pile features onto existing products, as Microsoft has done for decades.
Hotmail Gets More Restrictive: Notmail?
Microsoft tightened the vise a bit more on its free Hotmail email service this week when it shut down a service that lets users automatically forward their email to other non-Hotmail email accounts. If Hotmail customers still want to access that service, they must pay $20 a year for MSN Extra Storage, which also offers users 10MB of online email-storage space. In recent months, Microsoft has steadily restricted Hotmail use by lowering the amount of free storage users receive and setting hard limits on how often users must access their accounts to keep the accounts active.
Microsoft Bridges the Trust Divide
In a bid to assuage large companies' security fears, Microsoft is developing a new technology called TrustBridge that will help businesses authenticate users from other companies. TrustBridge will compete with technology from Sun Microsystems' Liberty Alliance, which has more than 40 corporate members. Microsoft expects the TrustBridge technology to overcome the limitations of Microsoft .NET Passport, which the company designed to handle centralized, single sign-ons (SSOs). Corporations balked at the .NET Passport plan, which would have given Microsoft control of the sign-ons.
Intel Drops Sales Bomb
If you're a fan of the chip maker, the news isn't good. Intel announced this week that it won't meet its sales or gross-profit-margin expectations for the current quarter; the news sent investors and analysts scurrying for cover. Intel blamed the results on weak demand from Europe, no doubt because the entire continent is currently absorbed in the World Cup. Sales in the United States are fine, probably because no one here knows what the World Cup is.
KaZaA File-Sharing Service Has Security Hole
An online file-sharing service has security holes? Seriously? In what can only be labeled a "not if, but when" story, Sharman Networks' online file-sharing service KaZaA lets users configure the service in a way that opens up the contents of their hard disks to external theft and attack. According to a recent Hewlett-Packard (HP) study, more than 2 million people use the annoyingly capitalized KaZaA at any given time, suggesting a large number of affected users. Sharman Networks says it's looking into the problem.
Apple Releases QuickTime 6.0 Preview
Back in February, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that QuickTime 6.0 was complete but that the company couldn't release the software because of a disagreement over MPEG-4 licensing terms. Now, 4 months later, the company has released a QuickTime "preview," suggesting that the licensing issue was a red herring designed to hide the fact that QuickTime 6.0 development wasn't quite as complete as Jobs had hoped. Nevertheless, the QuickTime 6.0 alpha is worth looking at because it's the first Apple release to support the MPEG-4 standard.
Apple Opens eMac to the Masses
This week, Apple relented on its education-only policy for the new eMac, an inexpensive iMac-like computer with a CRT (rather than LCD) screen. The eMac's best selling points are its price (an inexpensive $1100 for what you get) and the fact that its flat CRT screen supports a higher resolution than the iMac's screen. The eMac is missing two important features, however: It doesn't come with a recordable DVD-drive option, and it doesn't look nearly as cool as the lamplike iMac. Still, for the price, the eMac is a decent buy for people interested in a desktop Mac.
Fate of Microsoft's Java Tools in Programmers' Hands
At a Visual Basic .NET user group meeting in Redmond this week, Microsoft representatives said that the fate of the company's Java programming tools is in developers' hands. Currently, Visual J# is in limbo; a new Java Language Conversion Assistant (JLCA) tool will port J# (Java) code over to C#, the new Microsoft .NET-oriented language. But if the company finds that enough Java programmers want to natively work with that language rather than move to C#, it will rethink Visual J#. That's the story, anyway.
Readers Find Fault with Nader
Several readers were upset with Ralph Nader's suggestion that the US government use its buying power to influence the design of security features in Microsoft products. Certainly, Nader is a catalyst for ... disagreement. But the real point of contention shouldn't be government blackmailing of Microsoft, government sponsorship of Microsoft's foes, or any other part of Nader's plan. Instead, various government agencies should choose the solutions that make the most sense for them, regardless of whether the solutions come from Microsoft, Apple, or an open-source company. And if that strategy means Microsoft gets fewer sales, fine. I don't think it's unreasonable for any institution--be it corporate, governmental, or educational--to approach Microsoft and ask the company to prove that that its products are truly secure before purchasing a major upgrade. After all, the company has failed in this regard enough in the past to warrant such an investigation.