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Week in review: Leaky Windows

Microsoft has had some trouble holding on to its software lately, with versions of its popular programs finding their way on to the Internet before their intended release.

Microsoft has had some trouble holding on to its software lately, with versions of popular programs finding their way on to the Internet before their intended release.

An early test version of the next major release of Windows leaked onto the Net, offering a glimpse of the company?s plans for the new software. The leaked version of the upcoming desktop operating system, code-named Longhorn, hints of major changes under the Windows hood, including a new file system with enhanced storage capabilities. Known as Windows Future Storage, the new means for storing, accessing or indexing files will replace NTFS and FAT32, the predecessors used by Windows XP.

Microsoft did not identify the source of the leak, which is still circulating on the Web and on Internet relay chat, but say the leaked version of Longhorn is authentic.

The leak came two weeks after the software giant inadvertently posted the Office 2003 Beta 2 on its Microsoft Developer Network Web site. Microsoft pulled the software about six hours later, after an inquiry by CNET News.com.

Microsoft plans to officially launch the software on Monday, a release that will include a public preview available to several hundred thousand beta testers and businesses. The software titan expects to ship Office 2003 during the summer but has not revealed an exact date or price. Microsoft also hasn't discussed how new Office products OneNote and InfoPath will be bundled with the productivity suite.

Security alert
A critical vulnerability in Sendmail, the Internet's most popular mail-server application, had security experts and software companies moving quickly to persuade customers to apply a patch. The flaw allows an attacker to send a specially formatted e-mail that could take control of a mail server running Sendmail and execute a malicious program.

The flaw--thought to be 15 years old and ironically in a Sendmail security function--occurs when the mail program parses an overlong header. The vulnerability was first found in December by security software firm Internet Security Systems.

A group of Polish hackers wasted little time in publishing code to an open security mailing list that can take advantage of the vulnerability. The code allows an attacker to remotely exploit a Red Hat or Slackware Linux computer running a vulnerable version of the mail server, said the group--known as the Last Stage of Delirium.

Although the limited number of computers affected by the program seems to be good news, the group warned that its quick analysis might have missed other ways of exploiting the problem.

Online attackers were busy at the University of Texas at Austin, stealing information on more than 55,000 students and faculty from insecure database servers. The attack used millions of randomly generated Social Security numbers to request records from the school's database, resulting in 55,200 matches. In addition to Social Security numbers, the data includes names, addresses and e-mail addresses.

Tech on trial
SCO Group, inheritor of the intellectual property for the Unix operating system, sued IBM for more than $1 billion, alleging that Big Blue misappropriated SCO's Unix technology and built it into Linux. The suit alleges misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition, breach of contract and tortious interference with SCO's business.

SCO also sent a letter warning IBM that if it doesn't meet various demands, SCO will revoke its license to ship its version of Unix, called AIX, in 100 days. Analysts saw the move as a desperate one for SCO, a company that hasn't been profitable in its current incarnation.

U.S. courts were busy scrutinizing the Internet this week, weighing in on suits that affect Megan's Law postings and domain names.

The court also weighed whether a federal law aimed at installing Internet filters on public library systems adequately balances free expression with restricting sexually explicit material. In what promises to be an important free-speech case, the justices appeared to reserve their most pointed questions for the American Library Association, asking why Congress should not be able to order libraries receiving federal funds to use filters.

An attorney who represented the librarians said that all filters violate the First Amendment and have no place in a library because they erroneously block tens of thousands of Web sites that are nonpornographic and include useful information. Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that this case was problematic because a ruling by the Supreme Court saying that filters are inappropriate for libraries might curb their use in schools as well.

Americans who own Internet domains that criticize corporations or use their trademarks received a surprise legal boost from the Supreme Court. In a 9-0 decision, the justices effectively narrowed the scope of a federal trademark law that is frequently invoked in spats over domain names. The effect is to make it more difficult for trademark owners to win lawsuits over alleged infringements of their intellectual property rights.

Even if consumers recognize a word or phrase as a trademark, the court ruled, "such mental association will not necessarily reduce the capacity of the famous mark to identify the goods of its owner." The decision arose out of a lawsuit brought by undergarment-vendor Victoria's Secret against a sex-toy shop called Victor's Secret in Elizabethtown, Ky.

A federal judge in Virginia dismissed Jerry Falwell's attempt to gain control of the Web address bearing his name, saying the court does not have jurisdiction over the matter. Falwell had claimed that Illinois resident, Gary Cohn, violated trademarks by using the Jerryfalwell.com and Jerryfallwell.com Web addresses to post parodies of the televangelist.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states may place names and photographs of convicted sex offenders on the Internet. In a 9-0 decision, the justices overturned an appeals court's earlier ruling that said Connecticut's version of "Megan's Law" violated the due process rights of people forced to register under it.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist stressed that a Connecticut Web site did not claim that the sex offenders featured on it posed a threat to the community. That site displayed only "the fact of previous conviction, not the fact of current dangerousness," Rehnquist wrote. "Indeed, the public registry explicitly states that officials have not determined that any registrant is currently dangerous."

Net music's new spin
Apple Computer is preparing an online music-buying service for Macintosh and iPod users, and is close to winning many of the licenses it needs from major record labels. The service would be the first legal online music service targeted specifically at Apple owners. Most of the other authorized subscription plans, including Pressplay, MusicNet, and Listen.com's Rhapsody, still lack support for Macintosh computers.

The service could also go a long way toward repairing Apple's strained relationships with content owners, stemming from the company's high-profile advertising campaign, which touted the arrival of Macs with CD burners with the slogan: "Rip. Mix. Burn."

America Online unveiled a cell phone version of its AOL Music retail service, hoping a mix of ring tone and entertainment downloads will ring up the profits. The AOL Music Mobile Club is the company's attempt to cash in on the popularity of its AOL Music service, which it claims is the hottest music-selling service on the Web.

Subscribers to the new service get three free ring tones a month, access to exclusively recorded music, and alerts about new music club offers. Only the 21.8 million AT&T Wireless subscribers who also use AT&T's wireless Web service, mMode, can become part of AOL Music Mobile Club.

Digital broadcaster Pseudo.com plans to release a weekly TV show hosted by rap star Ice-T on the Internet file-sharing network Kazaa, in attempts to start a new model of advertising-supported television. The show--a feature on hip-hop culture called "One Nation"--will be available exclusively to Kazaa's roughly 60 million registered users beginning in the next two weeks.

People using Kazaa to trade video, audio and text files will be able to download a new episode of the hour-long show weekly and watch it anytime. Free to Kazaa users, the show will be supported through advertising in the form of commercials and product placements.

Also of note
Hewlett-Packard is adopting a new design philosophy, aiming to make its products easier to operate than rival offers and so effective when used together that customers stay with the HP family when buying various devices?HP is taking a simulation technology out of its labs and using it to help companies cool off equipment-packed data centers, easing the growing adoption of centralized computing?Amazon.com has added domain names to the list of things that the online retailer offers to consumers?Dell Computer launched the Inspiron 8500 with a 15.4-inch wide-aspect screen featuring a resolution of up to 1,920 pixels by 1,200 pixels?Apple is apparently having production problems with the extrawide 17-inch PowerBook...Dell is taking another swipe at the retail PC market with a new, lower-priced $900 notebook PC for consumers?Although Mac users have often been treated as second-class citizens by Internet service providers, they are about to have a few more choices.