WinInfo Short Takes: Week of March 26

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a delayed podcast, some sick Xbox 360s, Vista security compared to other OSes, an MSN Soapbox rollback, YouTube competitors and critics, a limited Apple TV, PS3 in Europe, and much more...

WinInfo Blog

I mentioned last week that Leo and I had recorded another episode of Windows Weekly, but as of today, it's still not available. Leo is away this week, so we're not recording an episode this week, but presumably the latest episode will be posted soon. I think Leo gets bogged down by a draining travel schedule, but I'll drop him a note and see what's up.

Last Friday, the Boston area was whacked by the worst snow storm we've had all year, which isn't saying much, given how little snow we've had. But this kind of later winter storm is typical for the area: The week before had been beautiful, a false spring with 50 degree days. Spring comes here under duress, and you always get that short preview of the new season before the last winter storm kicks in. Well, today, it's 50 degrees again and the last patches of snow are finally starting to melt. I think this is the real thing. (Crosses fingers.)

Microsoft replaced my two dead Xbox 360s this week, which I appreciate. But I'm still concerned about the reliability of Microsoft's console. My understanding is that the company will ship a new Xbox 360 version sometime in the next year that features a lower power consuming CPU, and maybe that will help. But despite repeated denials about reliability issues, I have to think that Microsoft is racing internally to fix these problems.

Short Takes

Microsoft: Vista Safer than OS X, Linux
Microsoft security strategy director Jeff Jones this week published a report comparing the security vulnerability profile for various high-profile operating systems in the 90 days of their existence. Surprisingly, Vista came out in front: Vista had 5 vulnerabilities in its first 90 days, one of them fixed, and one pending with a High severity rating. By comparison, XP had a total of 17 vulnerabilities in its first 90 days, 8 of which were rated High, when it shipped in 2001. The surprises, however, come when you compare the non-Microsoft competition. Mac OS X 10.4, a darling of the press, actually suffered from 20 vulnerabilities in its first 90 days, 8 of which were rated High. Worse, OS X 10.4 still suffered from 17 publicly disclosed but unpatched vulnerabilities at the end of those 90 days. "The data doesn't support \[Apple's\] marketing," Jones writes. Linux fared even worse: Ubuntu 6.06 suffered from a whopping 71 vulnerabilities in its first 90 days, 27 of those rated High. And there were at least 29 unpatched vulnerabilities in that OS after the 90 day period ended. And so on. You can read the entire report (PDF), and look forward, as I am, to Jones' 6-month and 1-year updates.

MSN Soapbox Shuts Out New Users for Two Months
Microsoft this week shut down new user access to its MSN Soapbox video sharing site for two months so that it can create better controls for preventing users from posting copyrighted content. It's the type of action one wishes Google would take with YouTube, but hey, we're all so touchy-feely about Google that no one would ever suggest such a thing. Microsoft says it has licensed digital fingerprinting technology from Audible Magic to help it filter out copyrighted content, and it will be implemented over the next two months. Unlike Google, Microsoft didn't need to be threatened to take steps to protect others' intellectual property. "We feel this is the right time to make these changes and stand up to do the right thing," MSN Director Adam Sohn said.

News Corp/Fox Team with Microsoft to Fight YouTube
Tired of the seemingly endless copyright infringement happening on video sharing sites such as YouTube, NBC Universal and News Corp. are teaming up to create their own video sharing service, which will provide content from TV shows and movies. But unlike existing services, the new, as-yet-unnamed service will also license their content to a number of other online services. In fact, just about everyone but YouTube owner Google: Time Warner's AOL, Microsoft's MSN, News Corp.'s MySpace and Yahoo have all signed on to access content from the service. In case you're not reading the tea leaves correctly, content owners are getting tired of Google YouTube (and other similar services) raking in millions in ad revenues by hosting others' content on their site and selling ads, and they've decided that it's time for them to get in on the game. And really, good for them. There's nothing more depressing than seeing your content appear on pirate sites.

Apple Ships Apple TV ... It's an iPod for Your Living Room
So you can forget the glowing reviews from Apple sycophants like "The Wall Street Journal's" Walter Mossberg: The Apple TV isn't a revolution, it's just an evolution of a device that Apple's been making for quite some time, the iPod. A simple set-top box that's designed to access PC-based content purchased from iTunes, the Apple TV is simply a version of the iPod designed for your living room, with a nice menu system and networking capabilities. I'll be reviewing the Apple TV on the SuperSite for Windows soon, but you can expect something more realistic and honest that what you might have read about this device so far. In short, it's good but not excellent. It doesn't have DVR capabilities and you can't even change the volume with the limited Apple remote. Eh.

Sony Launches PlayStation 3 in Europe
Sony finally launched its PlayStation 3 video game console in Europe on Friday, giving gamers there a chance to get their hands on the most technically sophisticated console currently available. The PS3 is currently trailing Nintendo's Wii and Microsoft's Xbox 360 from a unit sales perspective, but recent product availability breakthroughs in North America and the European launch are expected to help put Sony over the top. Indeed, Sony says it expects to sell 1 million units in Europe on Friday alone. One issue that Sony still hasn't overcome, however, is the price: The high-end PS3 system costs a whopping 599 euros in Europe, or almost $800, about $200 more than the console costs in the US. My guess is that Sony will cut costs aggressively this year and pull ahead, by a unit sales perspective, by 2008.

Oracle Sues SAP, Claims Corporate Theft
It reads like the plot of a bad movie. Database giant Oracle is suing SAP, alleging that the computer software giant engaged in "corporate theft on a grand scale," by downloading Oracle software and technical support materials. Here, I'll let Oracle describe it: "SAP is engaged in systematic, illegal access to - and taking from - Oracle's computerized customer support systems," the lawsuit reads. "Through this scheme, SAP has stolen thousands of proprietary, copyrighted software products and other confidential materials that Oracle developed to service its own support customers. SAP gained repeated and unauthorized access, in many cases by use of pretextual customer log-in credentials, to Oracle's proprietary, password-protected customer support website." Oracle argues that SAP's "Safe Passage" program, which is designed to help its customers migrate from Oracle to SAP, was derived almost totally from this theft. SAP says it is studying the complaint and has no comment.

Yahoo Ships New Widget Tech for Windows, OS X
If you're into Vista's Sidebar utility or the Dashboard feature in Mac OS X 10.4, you might be surprised to discover that the software they both stole their ideas from, Yahoo Widgets (formerly Konfabulator) was updated this week with a version that is superior to both the Microsoft and Apple implementations. Yahoo Widgets 4 is faster and consumes less RAM than its predecessors, and it adds some interesting new features, like a Sidebar-like dock that can be attached to the side of the screen and a slew of new widgets. Yes, the Yahoo-made widgets connect to Yahoo services, but if you're into Google services or whatever, check out the online gallery, as there's plenty there. From my limited tests so far, Yahoo Widgets 4 is actually quite nice, if you're into this kind of thing.

Are Xbox Support Folks Giving Out Private Data?
So after Microsoft shot down rumors this week that hackers had broken into Xbox Live and stolen user account information, a less technical excuse for the thefts was offered by eWeek, which taped repeated telephone conversations with Microsoft's Xbox support staff. According to the publication, lazy support staffers are simply giving out private data, which would allow malicious callers to use the information to steal Xbox Live accounts. If true, this proves my theory about security vulnerabilities, which goes something like this: When it comes to security, humans are always the weakest link.

Mozilla Ships Firefox Security Update
And speaking of security, Mozilla Corporation this week shipped security updates for Firefox 1.5.x and 2.x, fixing a FTP port scanning vulnerability that was being exploited by malicious Web sites. Note, however, that Firefox 1.5.x will only be supported through April 24. By then, all Firefox users are encouraged to upgrade to Firefox 2, which includes some minor functional enhancements over its predecessor. If you are using Firefox, you'll be prompted to install the new update: Please do so.

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