WinInfo Short Takes: Week of March 31, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including some more invented stories about XP SP3,Microsoft's security record compared to Apple's, a non-invented XP SP3 RC2 Refresh, Microsoft Search 4.0 beta, open source, and so much more...

WinInfo Blog

Last week in Short Takes, I blasted ChannelWeb for inventing a news story about Windows XP SP3. Since then, the same writer has published two more related stories, turning what was previously just ludicrous into something uniquely sublime. You can follow along on the SuperSite Blog if you're curious. It just gets weirder and weirder.

Part 2:

Part 3:

Oh, and for the record: That Monday release of XP SP3? It never happened. Instead, Microsoft issued a new refresh build of XP SP3 RC2. See below for details.

Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast Thursday, so that should be online sometime in the next 24 hours or so. We'll most likely miss the next two weeks, unfortunately, because Leo is visiting Australia. But that will at least give me time to catch up on my writing: I'm updating Windows Vista Secrets for Service Pack 1 (SP1), IE 8, and other new Vista features.

Short Takes

Microsoft Better at Fixing Vulnerabilities than Apple
Apple's libelous "Switcher" commercials may finally be coming back to haunt the company: Contrary to Apple's assertions in the ads, Microsoft actually fixes security vulnerabilities much more quickly than does Apple, meaning that users of Windows are, in fact, better protected by their vendor than are Mac OS X users. Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology independently examined six years of data and found that 658 high- and medium-risk vulnerabilities affected Microsoft products during the time period, compared to 738 for Apple products. Then they looked at how well the companies did fixing these bugs. The conclusion? "The number of unpatched vulnerabilities are higher at Apple," a researcher involved in the study says. "Apple were just surprised or not as ready or not as attentive. It looks like Microsoft had good relationships earlier with the security community. Based on our findings, this is hurting \[Apple\]."

Microsoft Ships Windows XP Service Pack 3 Refresh Build
Windows XP users might be interested in testing a near-final version of XP Service Pack 3 (SP3), the final XP service pack. Microsoft this week shipped a public version of what its awkwardly calling the Windows XP SP3 Release Candidate 2 (RC2) Refresh build. There are no new features per se, just a few small fixes and tweaks.

Microsoft Ships Public Beta of Microsoft Search 4.0
This one is sort of hard to categorize, but Microsoft this week also shipped a public beta of Microsoft Search 4.0, which is an updated beta version of the next version of Windows desktop search. It's basically an updated version of the Instant Search feature in Windows Vista, and indeed on that platform it doesn't look any different than what's in that OS by default, though there are some improvements under the hood. On other Windows versions (versions are available for Windows XP, Vista, 2003, 2008, and Home Server), the upgrade is more impressive, and more akin to what Microsoft used to ship as Windows Desktop Search (WDS), previously known as MSN Desktop Search. The big deal here is performance: Even on Vista, search performance is improved by 33 percent, Microsoft says. One final note: Contrary to other reports, Microsoft Search 4.0 was never codenamed "Casino." That's a separate if related research project; Microsoft Search 4.0 has much more modest goals. More info and the download are available on the Microsoft Web site.

Microsoft Faces Off Against Open Source
Microsoft general counsel (and, it should be noted, senior vice president) Brad Smith faced off against open source advocates this week at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco and came away without getting pelted by vegetables, which is actually something of an accomplishment when you think about. He was harangued over Microsoft's patent agreements with Novell and other Linux vendors, and was blasted with past Microsoft references to open source being a "cancer" and "communist." But Smith held his own, noting that Microsoft doesn't speak like that anymore and has been working with the open source community on a variety of interoperability initiatives of late. It's unclear if he changed any minds, but this kind of dialog is always healthy. At the very least, people can agree to disagree and get on with life.

Microsoft Goes After Xbox 360 Cheaters
Xbox 360 gamers who have been the most abusive of Microsoft's Xbox 360-based online achievements system woke up on Wednesday to a nasty little surprise: Microsoft had reset their gamescores to 0, eradicating months of cheating. Worse yet, these players' online personas were marked as cheaters on Xbox Live and achievements for previously-played games are now off-limits, meaning that they won't be able to go back and re-earn previous achievements, even if they did so honestly. For those of us who earn achievements the old fashioned way--i.e. by actually playing the games--this week's actions were long overdue. Now if only Microsoft could figure out a way to ban the morons who get on Xbox Live and do nothing but hum to themselves while in online deathmatches, the service would be almost perfect.

MacBook Air Hacked in 2 Minutes
So let me get this straight: The thinness of the MacBook Air now extends to its ability to keep out electronic attacks? This week, Apple's latest Macintosh notebook was the first to succumb to hackers in a widely publicized CanSecWest security conference's PWN 2 OWN hacking contest, getting hacked in a scant 2 minutes. The winning hacker, who utilized an unpublished "zero-day" vulnerability to break into the Mac, won the machine as a prize, plus $10,000. That's not too shabby. Maybe he should install Windows Vista on there now to make sure no one else breaks into it.

Are They Sirius? DOJ Approves Sirius, XM Merger
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) this week approved the $5 billion merger of the XM Radio and Sirius satellite radio networks, creating a de facto monopoly in a market that, quite frankly, hasn't really taken off anyway. To date, XM has attracted about 9 million subscribers, while Sirius has approximately 8 million. But both companies are mired in debt and have yet to turn a profit. The DOJ says it approved the merger because satellite radio does face competition from other sources, including so-called HD radio and even MP3 players like iPods. But it seems like the big issue is financial viability: The thinking is that satellite radio can only survive, financially, if the companies merge. I guess we'll soon find out.

Google's Ad Clicks are Falling ... But Why?
And finally, online juggernaught Google is experiencing an unexpected slowdown in search ad clicks, the source of 99 percent of its revenues. According to analysts at comScore, Google's paid ad clicks have fallen for two months straight. But no one seems to know why. This much is clear: Google's once-stellar stock has taken a huge hit, falling 40 percent since November from $747 to a still-insane $444 this week. Many have speculated that the economic downturn/recession is to blame. But long-time WinInfo readers will understand why I point the finger of blame firmly in the direction of, yes, you guessed it, Frank Stallone.

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