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Week in review: Apple thinks differently about iPhone

Apple welcomes third-party iPhone developers, while Microsoft sets its sights on new territory. Also: The RIAA goes to school.

After months of barring third-party developers from working on the iPhone, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is rolling out the welcome mat.

In an open letter on the company's Web site, Jobs confirmed reports that a software development kit (SDK) for the iPhone will be released to developers next year. Come February, budding iPhone developers will be able to obtain a software development kit that will give them the tools and the know-how to create safe and reliable applications for the iPhone without having to depend on "jailbreak" programs.

That means iPhone users will be able to add applications they can trust without voiding their warranties.

"We are excited about creating a vibrant third-party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users," Jobs wrote. "It will take until February to release an SDK because we're trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once--provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc."

The only thing unexpected about this development is the timing. Some thought an SDK would arrive as early as this month, while others (including CNET News.com's Tom Krazit) didn't expect Apple to provide an opening into the iPhone until next year's Worldwide Developers Conference in June.

The reason it's taking so long, according to Apple, is that the company wanted to find a way to be as "open" as possible to third-party development while still keeping a lid on viruses and malicious software that could kill the iPhone before it gets off the ground.

Of course, third-party applications aren't really new to the iPhone. Almost immediately after its release, hackers got to work "jailbreaking" the iPhone--opening it up so third-party applications could be developed and installed on the device. Dozens of small, useful applications sprung up overnight as enterprising developers came up with new ways to use the iPhone.

But Apple never authorized this, and actually said loading third-party applications onto the iPhone would void the warranty. It reinforced that notion with the now-infamous 1.1.1 software update, which wiped the iPhone clean of any third-party applications.

While CNET News.com readers were discussing the nuts and bolts of the decision, one reader commended Apple for the company's strategy.

"If you think about it, Apple was smart to force the Web apps to be developed first, then the native apps," wrote one reader to News.com's TalkBack forum. "Hopefully the Web apps will continue."

In other Apple news, Apple confirmed that the next version of its Mac OS X operating system, "Leopard," will hit stores on October 26. The company has stated that Leopard, which was delayed this spring because of the iPhone, includes more than 300 new features in comparison with its predecessor, Tiger.

Among these are an improved "dock" interface for easy access to applications, more-robust parental controls, the Time Machine automatic-backup service, and a redesigned Finder interface.

The operating system is set to cost $129 for a single-user license and $199 for a five-user "Family Pack" license.

Movin' at Microsoft
After years of planning its move into corporate telecommunications, Microsoft is finally rolling out new products. At an event in San Francisco, Chairman Bill Gates and Business Division President Jeff Raikes formally launched several that are key to Microsoft's strategy of offering "unified communications" for businesses--that is, software for bringing together e-mail, instant messaging, voice mail and telephony.

The most significant of the new products, Office Communications Server 2007, is a considerable expansion of its predecessor, Live Communications Server, which was used mainly for corporate instant messaging. The new version can handle that task, but is also capable of managing phone calls for businesses using either traditional or Internet-based phone systems. In addition, it can plug into existing Microsoft software, such as Office and Exchange.

In addition to the core server software, Microsoft is introducing a companion desktop product, Office Communicator, and a new version of its Live Meeting videoconferencing software. It is also making available its RoundTable videoconferencing device with a 360-degree camera and recording abilities.

But Microsoft is also looking further afield. Speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said his company was on the prowl for acquisitions that made strategic sense.

"Microsoft will continue to invest in buying technology, products and market share," he said. "We'll buy 20 companies a year consistently for the next five years for anywhere between 50 million and 1 billion bucks."

While Ballmer was surprisingly frank about Microsoft's expansion plans, he carefully juked his way past a question put to him from conference co-host John Battelle about his company's relationship with Facebook. Last year, Microsoft landed a deal to provide Facebook with search and advertising listings. When Battelle asked "how the financing's going," Ballmer smiled but demurred.

Indeed, no one is resting at Microsoft, not even Gates, who's soon to become more of a part-timer at the software giant. For years, the Microsoft chairman has been a fiery advocate, inside the company and out, for the notion that computers should be controlled, not just by mouse and keyboard, but also by more natural means, such as voice, touch and digital ink.

But, as Gates prepares his shift to part-timer, his vision is still closer to reality inside the company's research labs than inside the typical home or office. Unbowed, Gates said he expects to keep plugging away as he takes on his more limited role at the company.

"Big screens, touch, ink, speech, that's something that I think, along with cloud computing, is the next big change in how we think about software," Gates told News.com.

Gates sat down with News.com to discuss a variety of subjects, including why the business phone remained the same for so long and how much it can change once it is made part of the same network as the PC. Gates also talked about the possibilities of touch-screen computing, noting how popular the idea of multitouch has been, both on Microsoft's tabletop computer, Surface, and on the iPhone.

RIAA steps up legal attacks
The Recording Industry Association of America has found a new target for one of its copyright lawsuits: the Usenet network communications system. In a complaint filed on October 12, the RIAA says that Usenet newsgroups contain "millions of copyrighted sound recordings" in violation of federal law.

Only Usenet.com is named as a defendant for now, but the same logic would let the RIAA sue hundreds of universities, Internet service providers, and other newsgroup archives. AT&T offers Usenet, as does Verizon, Stanford University and other companies including Giganews.

What makes this lawsuit important is that if the RIAA can win against Usenet.com, other Usenet providers are at legal risk, too.

Meanwhile, 19 students at George Washington University are about to become the next targets of the recording industry's wrath. A federal judge on October 11 approved subpoenas to uncover the identity of the 19 "John Does" listed as defendants by the RIAA.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted the RIAA's request to serve the university with an immediate subpoena. She required that George Washington University tell its students--or faculty or staff, if they're the ones behind the IP addresses in question--about the existence of the subpoenas in five business days.

She also gave the school and any of the John Does 25 days to respond with a legal motion opposing the subpoena. The RIAA had suggested only 15 days.

However, if GWU has deleted its logs of who was using what IP address back then, the RIAA is going to be out of luck. So this becomes an important question: how long do universities keep logs showing who's been assigned a particular IP address? And why won't they say what the duration is?

The RIAA seems to be stepping up its campus crusade of late, dispatching a new round of "prelitigation" letters--411 in all--to 19 U.S. universities this week from coast to coast, alleging that campus networks are being used to commit copyright infringement. The RIAA sent more than 400 letters to 22 universities last month.

As usual, each of the 411 letters reveals that a student or employee of the school is about to be sued for copyright infringement. The letters also offer the opportunity for those targeted to settle out of court at a "discounted rate," touting a special Web site that allows targets to settle their claims online.

Here's a sample letter sent to an alleged illegal file-sharer (PDF), courtesy of Educause, a nonprofit group that represents higher-education institutions and oversees the .edu domain.

The RIAA has come under a great deal of criticism following the verdict against Jammie Thomas, a single mother of two who was ordered to pay the RIAA $222,000 for making songs available for download. Cary Sherman, the president of the RIAA, responded by trying to explain the recording industry's side.

"This was never a step we wanted to take, and we recognized that it would generate criticism in some quarters," Sherman wrote in a perspective piece published by News.com. "It's tough love--for the first time, despite years of educational efforts and the availability of plentiful legal alternatives, we are holding people personally and financially accountable for the theft of creative works."

Also of note
Google unveiled a new system for identifying pirated video on YouTube as it gets uploaded, but the system puts the burden on movie studios and other content owners to provide YouTube copies of the content first...Best Buy stopped selling analog TVs at the beginning of the month...Most Americans should see tax-free Internet access bills for another four years if a proposal overwhelmingly approved by the U.S. House of Representatives becomes law.