WinInfo Short Takes: Week of June 14

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


Microsoft Files New Lawsuits Against Spammers
   Yesterday, Microsoft filed eight lawsuits against spammers it accused of deceiving consumers and using false information to hide their identities. "These spammers sent millions of emails individually--some hundreds of millions--soliciting a variety of products including body enlargement pills, prescription drugs, dating services, university degree programs, and work-at-home and get-rich-quick scheme offers," a Microsoft release stated. This set of lawsuits is the most recent salvo in a legal effort that began last summer; since then, Microsoft has pursued more than 80 lawsuits against spammers around the globe, the company noted. I wish I could get excited about these suits but evidence mounts that spam is more of a problem now than ever before.

Microsoft Patent Gains Worry Rivals
   Two recent Microsoft patents have its rivals, primarily in the open-source movement, concerned that the software giant is going to use its market power to crush competition (like that's ever happened). The patents are widely misunderstood. The first patent concerns an application-launching process that uses handheld devices' hardware buttons. A first click launches one application, and a double-click then launches another application. Open-source-friendly Web sites quickly launched their "Microsoft patents the double-click" headlines, which aren't accurate. The method applies only to hardware buttons on portable devices, not to mouse devices. The second patent covers the equivalent of a software-based task list in software-development tools such as Visual Studio .NET, in which certain TODO comments in automatically generated source code are integrated with an accompanying checklist that programmers can use to assess their progress. I can only imagine the open-source community's outrage over this patent. Might I suggest the headline, "Microsoft patents the to-do list?"

Microsoft Changes Windows 2003 Licensing Terms
   Microsoft recently--and quietly--adjusted its Software Assurance (SA) volume-licensing program in a way that will benefit customers dramatically. Under the new terms, SA customers can set up failover servers for disaster-recovery situations without having to purchase new Windows Server 2003 licenses. Previously, they would have to purchase a license for each machine, regardless of how they used those machines. Microsoft categorizes such machines as "cold" machines because they're typically turned off. However, "warm" (always-on failover machines) and "hot" (live product servers) machines still require licenses, Microsoft noted. Meanwhile, servers that run on Apple Computer's new Power Mac G5 processors are dubbed "wicked" and "dangerously hot" because the high-end 2.5GHz models literally require liquid cooling to prevent the chips from spontaneously melting the beautiful aluminum cases they're contained in. But, hey, I hear that the Power Mac G5 runs certain Adobe PhotoShop operations pretty quickly.

South Korean Regulators Search Microsoft Office
   Regulators in South Korea searched Microsoft offices this week looking for evidence that the company violated trade regulations by illegally tying its Windows Messenger Instant Messaging (IM) application to Windows. South Korea's Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said that it will continue onsite investigations of Microsoft through next week. Unofficially, the agency has revealed that the investigation is related to a 2001 complaint from giant South Korean ISP Daum Communications, which complained that Microsoft was honing in on its IM market. Microsoft is cooperating with the probe.

New York Class-Action Suit Moves Forward
   And speaking of Microsoft investigations, this week the New York State Supreme Court ruled that a class-action lawsuit against the company can go forward, overruling a pro-Microsoft lower court decision. "Microsoft's end-user license agreements with its prime customers, the computer manufacturers and distributors, insulate it only from product defect claims, not consumer injury complaints predicated upon claims of monopolistic and deceptive conduct," the Supreme Court noted in its decision. The New York case is just one of many class actions that arose in the wake of Microsoft's federal antitrust case. I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the claims about the company's antitrust abuses, so I won't beat the subject to death again. But suffice it to say that Microsoft still has a lot of 'splaining to do.

Microsoft Research Opens the Doors to the Future
   This week, Microsoft Research traveled to Silicon Valley for a rare road show that opened up its research work to outsiders. Meeting with academics and business people, Microsoft researchers talked up some of the work they're doing, including the search technology that will ultimately make Google the footnote in history it's begging to be. For example, the group demonstrated antispam technologies, shortest-route algorithms for statewide trips that deliver a 20-times improvement over today's solutions, a semantic network for finding related topics in a database, and even work that might ultimately lead to an AIDS vaccine. The research is pretty heady stuff and the type of thing that would make my head explode if someone tried to explain it to me in detail.

Microsoft Plays Big Role in DOJ's Oracle Case
   Oracle is in court this week facing off against the US Department of Justice (DOJ), which is attempting to prevent the database giant's not-so-friendly takeover bid of PeopleSoft. But the strange part of this story is that even though Microsoft isn't a direct part of the case, the company still figures heavily in the proceedings. And, oddly enough, Oracle's talking up Microsoft and doing so--get this--in a positive manner. Here's why: Microsoft recently purchased Great Plains Software (for $2.5 billion) and Navision (for $1.3 billion), shoring up its position in the midlevel business-application market, and Microsoft might ultimately decide that it also wants to compete in the high-end business-application market. If the company does make such a decision, the DOJ's argument--that a PeopleSoft acquisition by Oracle destroys competition--is moot. But wait, there's more. Just before Oracle went to trial, Microsoft made the stunning admission that it had discussed purchasing software powerhouse SAP, which would have put Microsoft firmly in the high-end business-application market. Was the admission a coincidence? I'm not sure, but I find it interesting that Oracle executives, especially frequent Microsoft critic Larry Ellison, are suddenly talking about Microsoft in a positive light. As with Sun Microsystems, Microsoft seems to have done a lot to silence its most vocal critics by simply helping out others. Huh.

Monti: We Have Unanimous Support
   European Union (EU) Competition Commissioner Mario Monti says that the EU is "more united" against Microsoft "than the United States" is, a fairly obvious reference to the DOJ's confusingly total capitulation to Microsoft after the US government won a stunning antitrust victory against the company. Silencing US critics of the EU's case against Microsoft, Monti simply said that the EU's decision had the "unanimous support not only of the College of the Commission, but--and this doesn't happen for all competition cases--of all the National Competition Authorities \[of the EU's member states\]." In other words, the US can think what it wants but the EU believes that Microsoft is guilty and has done the research and work necessary to prove its case in court. Take that, you DOJ do-nothings.

Half-Life 2 Thieves Arrested
   Last fall, game-developer Valve shocked gaming enthusiasts when the company revealed that hackers had broken into its network and stolen all the source code for the eagerly awaited Half-Life 2, which was originally set to ship last September. Now delayed until this fall, Half-Life 2 is still the subject of much anticipation. This week, Valve announced that the thieves who stole the source code have been arrested. "Within a few days of the announcement of the break-in, the online gaming community had tracked down those involved," Valve CEO Gabe Newell said. "It was extraordinary to watch how quickly and how cleverly gamers were able to unravel what are traditionally unsolvable problems for law enforcement related to this kind of cybercrime." Although the identities and nationalities of the thieves are currently unknown, multiple individuals were arrested.

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