An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Microsoft's "New" Security Initiative Not All That New
As expected, this week Microsoft executives revealed details of a new security mini-initiative called "Securing the Perimeter." Specifically, the company will unleash a major update to the free Microsoft Software Update Services (SUS) in early 2004 and will partner with major firewall vendors to ensure that their products are up to snuff. That sounds great, but it also sounded great back in June when I first heard about the plan. I don't understand how Microsoft can act like this plan is new. As far as I can tell, the company wants people to think it's "turning on a dime" (which it's never done) in response to customer complaints about the MSBlaster (LoveSan) and SoBig.F attacks when, in fact, Microsoft is just doing what it had already planned to do. Sorry; I'm not impressed.
EU: Microsoft Has Until October 17 to Reply
The European Union (EU) has given Microsoft until October 17 to reply to antitrust charges, resulting in atypically sharp criticism from the company, which has thus far worked closely with the EU to avoid the sort of PR disaster that dogged Microsoft during its US antitrust case. The company wanted more time to respond to the charges, so it asked the EU for an extension. But the EU says October 17 is the date. "Ten weeks to respond in comparison to the 20 months it took them to put this file together is disappointing because there's a lot of new information in there," a Microsoft spokesperson said this week. "We will continue to work hard to meet our deadline and come to a constructive conclusion." If found guilty, the company faces fines of as much as $3 billion, possible changes to its software, and disclosures to competitors about how its software works, according to EU laws.
Details Emerge About Woman Who Sued Microsoft Over Security
The woman who sued Microsoft last week for its nonstop security vulnerabilities is an Emmy Award-winning film producer whose life was "disrupted" when intruders stole her social security number, then stole money from her bank accounts and racked up massive phone bills. Marcy Levitas Hamilton, CEO of TriCoast Studios, sued Microsoft, alleging that the company is responsible for damages that vulnerabilities in its software cause. Days after filing the suit, Hamilton said that the episode caused her to champion computer users victimized by companies that make insecure software. "My hope is that we can wake up companies and compel them to take responsibility for safeguarding their customers," she said. Hamilton's suit is the first of its kind, and she wants to expand it to class-action status. As a champion of sorts for the end user, I have an obvious reaction: Go, Hamilton, go.
Microsoft Launches SBS 2003
This week, Microsoft launched Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003, the most recent version of its business-server suite for small businesses. SBS 2003 is the best release yet, and it ships in two versions: a standard edition that includes Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, Windows SharePoint Services, and Microsoft Shared Fax Service; and a premium edition that adds Microsoft SQL Server 2000, Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA) Server 2000, and Office FrontPage 2003. The suites are priced to sell and, in a Microsoft first, will be bundled with low-cost server hardware from a variety of PC makers. I'll issue an updated review of SBS 2003 next week on the SuperSite for Windows.
Microsoft Receives IM Patent
Microsoft recently received a patent for the technology that lets you know when other participants in Instant Messaging (IM) conversations are typing messages. Not coincidentally, after Microsoft launched this feature in MSN Messenger a few years ago, competitors such as AOL and Yahoo! added it to their products. But don't feel bad for the competition, which are no doubt scurrying as I write this to challenge Microsoft's patent. AOL somehow got the patent for IM itself, claiming that its ICQ subsidiary invented the product category. That claim is ludicrous: I was chatting online with programs such as UNIX's talk and PowWow years before ICQ was a gleam in some programmer's eye. Someone should challenge that patent.
Roxio Launches Napster 2.0
The controversial Napster digital-music download service is back in a legitimate form as Napster 2.0, offering subscribers paid music downloads and streaming audio. Napster 2.0, which Roxio now owns, will be available to paying customers in the United States on October 29. The service will feature a library of more than 500,000 songs and will charge prices comparable to those that BuyMusic.com and Musicmatch Downloads charge: 99 cents a song and $9.99 for most albums. If you're interested in unlimited downloads and streaming audio, you can also subscribe to a plan that costs $9.95 a month. Napster 2.0 is really just the old Pressplay service rebranded, although Pressplay offered only streaming services.
Apple Fast-Tracks Windows iTunes to Next Week
And speaking of digital-music downloads, Apple Computer is obviously feeling the heat from its competitors. The company will announce its Windows-based iTunes Music Store next week, months ahead of schedule. The quickie launch goes a long way toward explaining how Apple feels about competition from Napster 2.0, BuyMusic.com, Musicmatch Downloads, and others, all of which offer PC compatibility, the superior Windows Media Audio (WMA) 9 format, and nearly identical licensing terms. I have some advice for Apple: Don't pre-announce iTunes for Windows if it isn't ready, and don't deliver a broken beta version. That chicanery might work with your friendly Macintosh-based customers, but the PC world won't put up with it.
Sun Targets AMD Opteron for New Solaris OS
Sun Microsystems said this week that it will release a version of its Sun Solaris OS that targets AMD's 64-bit AMD Opteron microprocessor. Due in 2004, Solaris for AMD Opteron will take advantage of the AMD Opteron's 64-bit extensions, giving the OS access to massive amounts of memory and better performance. A beta version is due in early 2004, the company says. AMD's 64-bit chips, which also include the desktop-oriented AMD Athlon, are starting to see some interesting traction in markets--such as gaming and entertainment, database servers, scientific and engineering, and CAD/computer-aided manufacturing (CAM)--that need better performance and more RAM. I'll be interested to see whether Sun's entry offers any advantage over 64-bit Linux versions.
Apple to Ship Mac OS X Panther 10.3 on October 24
This week, Apple revealed that it will ship its next minor OS revision, Mac OS X Panther 10.3 on October 24. Panther follows a slew of minor updates to the original Mac OS X, including 10.1 and 10.2, each of which moved the OS closer to a finalized state (the original Mac OS X was clearly a work in progress, to be kind). Mac OS X 10.3 appears to be the most refined version of Mac OS X yet. The company is finally moving away from some of the unintentional UI gaffes it made in earlier versions, such as the designer-unfriendly, garish "pin-striped" window treatments. But Panther is also controversial: After promising in late 2003 to charge customers for OS updates only every 18 months, the company announced that Panther will cost yet another $129, bringing the total cost of Mac OS X to about $400 for those customers who upgraded each time--despite the fact that Mac OS X 10.3 follows 10.2 by only a year. As with the previous Mac OS X release, Panther steals as much from Windows as it innovates. Features such as Fast User Switching, a Windows Explorer-style Finder, integrated audio/video (AV) IM chatting, and integrated encryption and compression will look quite familiar to Windows users. Thanks to cool features such as Expose, Panther looks solid but probably isn't worth the upgrade price. Apple should give its rabid users this type of evolutionary upgrade for a much lower price.