WinInfo Short Takes: Week of September 8 - 05 Sep 2003

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

Gates: Microsoft Product Security Is Better Than Ever
   In a recent interview with "The New York Times," Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates expressed some interesting opinions about the recent spate of worms and viruses that affected Windows-based computers. Although Gates said that Microsoft "feels very bad about" the attacks, he also noted that the real problem is getting the fixes to customers, as Microsoft had already patched most of the vulnerabilities before the intruders launched their attacks. "We're doing our best to improve Windows and make it so our customers don't run into these problems," Gates said. "I think this is a critical issue for our customers, and solving this will be fulfilling the commitment we made on Trustworthy Computing. We're doing our very best, and that's all we can do."

Second Arrest in MSBlaster Case
   Law-enforcement officials made a second arrest in the high-profile MSBlaster (LovSan) case this week. Police in Romania say they have arrested a 24-year-old student who created a copycat version of the nefarious MSBlaster virus. Security experts consider this version relatively tame, however, similar to the amateur modifications that Jeffrey Parson, who was arrested last week because of his MSBlaster variant, made. Parson, by the way, could face 15 years in prison for his crime, which might set a new world record for amount of time served per amount of time spent breaking the law. According to security sources, Parson's MSBlaster modifications took all of 15 minutes to create.

Microsoft Issues Five New Security Fixes 
   And speaking of security patches (which is all we seem to speak of these days), Microsoft issued five--count 'em, five--security patches this week, including a critical security fix for some versions of Microsoft Office applications. And here's a surprise for those of you who track this kind of thing: The critical Office flaw involves a buffer-overflow error, which is now considered one of the most boneheaded programming mistakes ever made, and is especially egregious given last year's Trustworthy Computing code review, which was supposed to eliminate these kinds of errors. Anyway, head over to Microsoft's Security & Privacy Web site , and make sure you're up-to-date.

Dell, Sony to Release Media Center Products
   According to reports, Dell and Sony will enter the Media Center PC fray in late September when Microsoft unleashes its next version of Windows XP Media Center Edition OS, code-named Harmony. No details are available, but expect pricing to be more agreeable in this generation of the OS, along with a lot of new features. I'll post detailed reviews of the new Media Center software and hardware on the SuperSite for Windows the day they're released.

Microsoft Signs OS Deal with Motorola
   Microsoft has reportedly signed an important deal with Motorola to supply the cell-phone maker with a version of Windows Mobile OS for smart cell phones. Motorola, the world's second-largest cell-phone maker, only recently--and not coincidentally--sold its stake in Symbian, Microsoft's largest competitor in the smart cell-phone market. Motorola had previously said it would look to Linux for its future designs. Obviously, something has changed, and I suspect that something has a dollar sign in front of it. Stayed tuned.

AOL Users Temporarily Locked Out of Microsoft Sites
   Although I'm sure the situation was only a coincidence, AOL users were temporarily unable to hit any Microsoft Web sites this week. A mysterious network disconnection, which both companies vaguely attributed to each other, caused the outage, which lasted 2 days. While investigations continue, both companies have noted that they're working together to provide a better long-term solution and avoid future outages. Watching these two lovebirds getting along is so cute, isn't it? No bad blood at all.

Spot the Lesson: Sales of Video Game Machines to Slump
   I wonder whether eagle-eyed readers will draw any conclusions from comparing the most recent dilemma facing the video game market with Microsoft's new approach to the desktop OS market. Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony have been upfront about the fact that their next-generation game consoles won't appear until, oh, 2005 at the earliest, meaning we have plenty of time to sit around and enjoy the products we already have. One problem exists, however: By hinting at how great these next-generation systems will be, the game makers have effectively throttled sales in what was, until now, the good news in an otherwise moribund tech industry. In other words, video game sales will be flat or down for the next 2 years at least. For the short term, we can look forward only to less-expensive console prices, a few new games, and a lot of hype about the next generation.

Microsoft Goes Leather with New Mice, Keyboards
   This week, Microsoft significantly updated its wireless keyboards and mice, debuting new leather and colored designs that boldly encase an innovative new scroll wheel that lets you scroll horizontally as well as vertically through documents and Web pages. This tilt-wheel technology, as Microsoft calls it, is available in the new Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer as well as the new Wireless Optical Desktop Elite, which also includes a tilting scroll wheel on the keyboard. The new hardware looks cool, but--for some reason--a full complement of wired mice and keyboards featuring the new tilt wheel won't appear until early 2004.

Microsoft Ships Automated Deployment Tool for Windows Server 2003
   IT customers interested in automating Windows Server 2003 deployment will be interested in the new Automated Deployment Services (ADS), which Microsoft released to its Web site for free this week. ADS, Microsoft's first image-based software-distribution system, lets you automatically and simultaneously install Windows 2003, Windows 2000, and disk images to multiple blank servers. Sadly, ADS also requires the high-end Windows 2003, Enterprise Edition or Windows 2003, Datacenter Edition, although you might argue that companies that own these editions are the only customers who need to roll out large collections of server machines simultaneously.

Microsoft Extends Exchange 5.5 Support
   This week, Microsoft extended support for the aging Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 product by 1 year--through the end of 2004--giving customers more time to plan Exchange 2003 deployments and migrations, the company says. The problem, however, is that most shops that still use Exchange 5.5 simply don't need--or want--to upgrade to the more complex Exchange Server 2003, which uses Active Directory (AD) and other more advanced technologies. The dilemma is classic Microsoft--getting a massive installed base to upgrade to new versions when its existing software is perfectly serviceable. Unfortunately, the solution usually involves simply ending the product's life and stopping support. So Exchange 5.5 is still on death row; it only got a temporary stay of execution.

On Surging Sales, Intel Bumps Financial Outlook
   Intel did the unexpected this week and readjusted its sales predictions upward, thanks to better-than-expected sales in the current quarter. The company says its suddenly upbeat predictions are the result of sales of PC-based processors, providing further evidence that the PC industry is busting out of its multiyear lull. IDC says worldwide PC sales will rise 8.4 percent this year, an increase we haven't seen in more than 3 years.

Recording Industry Lowers CD Prices
   This news item isn't computer-related, per se, but is still relevant to many readers, I suspect. Recording industry giant Universal Music Group (UMG) announced this week that it's lowering the price of its audio CDs in a bid to curb piracy and reverse the slowing music-sales trend. This news means that the retail price of most UMG CDs will fall to less than $13, compared with today's more typical prices of $16 to $19. Whether the cuts are too little, too late remains to be seen, but the industry promised this price reduction more than a decade ago when it told us that CDs cost so little to manufacture that they would soon cost consumers less than cassette tapes. That prediction never came true, of course, although UMG's announcement seems like a good first step. Let's hope other record companies follow suit.

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