WinInfo Short Takes: Week of October 28

Next Up: XP Media Center Edition Launch
I didn't attend this week's MSN 8 launch because of the Security Road Show I was participating in, but next week brings us yet another Microsoft launch, this time for Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE). The XP MCE launch will be held at the New York City's Bryant Park on Tuesday, featuring actor-comedian Tom Arnold and some celebrity guests. Described by Microsoft as "a potato's dream" (yes, seriously), the Media Center PCs that run XP MCE will start shipping this week.

MSN Messenger 5.0 Now Available
A new version of MSN Messenger is available, and this one is a significant upgrade of Microsoft's instant messaging (IM) client. MSN Messenger 5.0 includes a host of new features, including an MSN Today daily report, a cool Browse the Web Together function, a consolidated address book, a new MSN 8-based user interface, and more. XP users can also run MSN Messenger and Windows Messenger concurrently if needed. For more info and the free download, head on over to the Microsoft Web site.

Judge Rattles Microsoft's Cage ... Again
A US District Court judge with a history of ruling against Microsoft said Thursday that Netscape's pending case against the software giant will probably be able to use the findings of facts from the wider Microsoft antitrust case. And if that happens, Netscape could find itself billions of dollars richer. "You are not going to have a hard case to prove," Judge J. Frederick Motz told a Netscape lawyer yesterday. Motz had previously rejected a Microsoft bid to settle a class action consumer suit, where the company would have provided US schools with $1 billion worth of software and computers. The judge hasn't yet said when he'll rule whether the findings of fact will be used in the Netscape case. A similar lawsuit by Sun, also seeking billions of dollars of damages from Microsoft, is pending in Motz's court as well.

DOJ Entertains New Microsoft Complaints
And if Microsoft's legal problems weren't already daunting enough, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) will be meeting with the software giant next week because of a steady stream of complaints from other high-tech companies such as Sun and Oracle that Microsoft isn't meeting the terms of its proposed settlement with the government. As part of that agreement, Microsoft said that it would license communications protocols to third parties so that competing software could integrate with Windows. That hasn't happened, says the competitors. "It is our strong conclusion that the information disclosure regime imposed by Microsoft has been a failure to date," a letter from the Project to Promote Competition and Innovation in the Digital Age (ProComp) to the DOJ reads. To be fair, Microsoft has made technology licenses available. However, the licenses require companies to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) before even seeing the protocols, and then applies heavy fees for their use. The DOJ says its aware of the problem and is investigating. I'm sure they'll do their usual bang-up job.

Microsoft Entertains Consent Decree Compliance
Microsoft, of course, says that it's complying with its proposed DOJ settlement, and issued a statement describing how it would "vigorously enforce the consent decree" in-house. Given the company's adherence to the letter and spirit of past legal agreements, I think it's safe to say that Microsoft will be back in court soon.

Disney Joins Microsoft at MSN Launch
So the MSN 8 launch was about as lame as one might expect, based on my review of the Web cast of the event. But one unexpected announcement concerned a new agreement between Disney and the Microsoft, with Disney set to create a Disney-branded version of MSN 8 that will include Disney Web links and exclusive content. The companies will share revenues from the dial-up version of the Disney MSN, which was made possible by MSN 8's excellent new parental controls. After that, we can expect the companies to divvy up the rest of the planet.

New York Tells Microsoft to Remove Illegal Corporate Grafiti
And speaking of the MSN 8 launch, the city of New York isn't too happy with Microsoft this morning. It seems that the software giant's rollerblade-wearing butterflies peppered the city with huge MSN 8 stickers this week, an act that the city has labeled as illegal. Waggener Edstrom, one of Microsoft's PR firms, however, claims that the company got permits for the stickers. But the company might want to look up Section 19-138 of the New York City administrative code, which reads "It shall be unlawful for any person to deface any street by painting, printing or writing thereon, or attaching thereto, in any manner, any advertisement or other printed matter." Microsoft's PR firm took her client's violation of the law in stride. "It's a tremendous opportunity for us to build brand awareness," said Waggener Edstrom's Colleen Lacter.

Major XP Security Vulnerability Patched
Microsoft has made a patch available for a major Windows XP security vulnerability, which isn't necessarily newsworthy, of course. But what's interesting about this patch is that the fix was already made available as part of XP Service Pack 1 (SP1). Previously, Microsoft recommended that users wanting the patch should just get the service pack. But after complaints came in about the prohibitive download size of SP1, the company finally relented and made the patch available separately. The patch fixes a vulnerability in XP's Help and Support Center. For more information and the free download, head on over to the Microsoft Web site.

Office 11 a Huge Leap for XML?
One of the co-inventors of XML (the eXtensible Markup Language) described Microsoft's forthcoming Office 11 productivity suite--which uses XML as a native data format--as "a huge step forward" for the fledgling language. Not normally associated with open standards or interoperability, Microsoft has been making a concerted effort to be more technologically agnostic, and its embrace of XML at the expense of its proprietary Office formats has surprised critics. What's next, Linus Torvalds appearing at the Longhorn launch event?

.NET CLR, C# Set To Be Standardized
And speaking of interoperability and open standards, Microsoft's C# programming language and .NET Common Language Runtime (CLR) have passed through a working group within the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and will likely be approved as open standards by January. C# and the CLR were already declared standards by the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) in late 2001, and with ISO certification in the works, we'll start seeing third party C# compilers and implementations of the .NET environment that run on Linux or other non-Microsoft platforms. It's a crazy, crazy world out there.

Washington Congressman Attacks Open Source... Hmm...
Don't take the previous two blurbs to mean that Microsoft and the open source community are going to be singing Kumbaya around a camp fire any time soon, however. This week a US Congressman from Washington state--Microsoft's home state, that is--issued a bizarre attack against open source software. Representative Adam Smith described open source software as "threatening to undermine innovation and security." I know this will be surprising, but Microsoft is Smith's top source of donations and, furthermore, a Smith aide confirmed this week that Smith had consulted with the software giant about open source. Others in the government don't share Smith's opinion, however, with the Pentagon, NSA and other agencies embracing Linux and other open source solutions.

Mitch Kapor Revives His Anti-Microsoft Dream
And speaking of people that can't stand Microsoft, Lotus founder Mitch Kapor announced this week that he funding an open source project to develop a free Microsoft Outlook replacement that will run on Windows, Linux and the Mac OS. The point, Kapor says, is not to make money but save other people money. Kapor describes Outlook as being "so complex that most of its functionality is moot," so his product will be simpler, and incorporate new features like Jabber instant messaging integration. A beta release is due by year's end. "It's not a business threat to Microsoft," Kapor said this week. "On the other hand it's an alternative to lots and lots of users. This project has a positive motivation--to provide people with more options and great free software." Sounds good to me.

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