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Week in review: Microsoft's bounty

Microsoft is so fed up with the recent spate of viruses that it has declared open season on the authors who release them onto the Internet.

Microsoft is so fed up with the recent spate of viruses that it has declared open season on the authors who release them onto the Internet.

The software maker has created a $5 million reward fund to track down writers of worms, viruses and other malicious code. The initiative's first two bounties--to the tune of $250,000 each--will be for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the people responsible for releasing the MSBlast worm and Sobig virus.

Dubbed the Anti-Virus Reward Program, the initiative marks the latest move by Microsoft and law enforcement to put a stop to the repeated waves of attacks that have hit the Internet in the past decade. The two rewards could also jump-start federal law enforcement's seemingly stalled investigation into the attacks that infected hundreds of thousands of computers in August and September.

However, security researchers disagree on what effect the initiative will have on the underground world of virus writing. Some security experts believe that the bounty could disrupt the relationships between virus writers, effectively shutting down the loose online circles where authors meet and exchange code.

Others believe the reward won't have a practical effect, aside from marginally increasing the distrust in an already paranoid community. "Nothing will change," said Roberto Preatoni, founder of security site Zone-H.org. "I guess it's more like a publicity advertising stunt."

Microsoft isn't alone in defending against viruses; the open-source community is keeping an eye out for them as well. An unknown intruder attempted to insert a Trojan horse program into the code of the next version of the Linux kernel, stored at a publicly accessible database.

Security features of the database detected the illicit change within 24 hours, and the public database was shut down. The changes, which would have introduced a security flaw to the kernel, never became a part of the Linux code; thus, they were never a threat.

Shaking up Linux land
But the open-source community had more on its mind, as longtime Microsoft foe Novell announced that it will acquire SuSE Linux for $210 million in cash, while IBM, the most powerful backer of the Linux operating system, will make a $50 million investment in Novell.

The moves could boost the fortunes of SuSE, the No. 2 seller of Linux, increase the competitive pressure on No. 1 Red Hat and provide a new direction for Novell's rivalry with Microsoft. Although the acquisition will boost the software that competes directly with Microsoft, Novell and SuSE executives insisted that their target is Red Hat.

Computing industry stalwarts welcomed Novell's plans, saying the move will mean a financially stronger business partner for their own wares.

"Novell's acquisition of SuSE Linux will strengthen SuSE Linux," leading to wider use of the software, Oracle said in a statement. Computer Associates International called the acquisition plan "excellent for the industry" and anticipated the arrival of Novell's global support abilities.

Microsoft said the acquisition is evidence that business practices of the proprietary software world--fixed release dates, products that go different directions from a common base--are necessary to make open-source Linux a business success.

However, many Linux enthusiasts worry that the Linux community may have lost its two most popular distributions--Red Hat Linux and SuSE Linux--in a corporate equivalent of a one-two punch. The moves could return consumers to having a choice of Linux distributions from smaller companies--such as Mandrake, Xandros or Lindows--or from community projects such as Debian, Fedora, Gentoo and Slackware.

Whistling a new tune
Napster headed back to school with the announcement that Penn State students would get access to the newly relaunched music service through a deal with the school. The trial project is the first of what will likely be a number of similar efforts over the next year, as colleges work with online music services and record labels to offer students authorized alternatives to networks such as Kazaa.

Campuses have been seen as key contributors to digital music-swapping networks since the appearance of Napster in 1999, and university administrators have been seeking ways to decrease legal risk and the stress on their own networks. By offering free access--or access funded by school fees--labels and music services hope that students will develop habits that continue after they leave college.

Showing signs of a music business struggling to adapt to new digital realities, Sony Music Entertainment and Bertelsmann's BMG Entertainment agreed to create a new joint venture that would merge the second- and fifth-largest record labels into a single entity.

The deal comes amid reports that EMI Group has secured funds to bid for Warner Music Group. If both deals were to go through, just three entities would control close to 80 percent of the music sold in the United States, and they would dominate most other major music markets.

A tough call
The Federal Communications Commission plans to formally decide whether to regulate Internet telephone companies. The FCC will begin a yearlong inquiry into the "appropriate regulatory environment for these services" on Dec. 1, the commission announced.

"The FCC has been studying VoIP issues for several years, but things have greatly accelerated over the past year and, thus, so have the FCC's actions to address the complex issues that arise," FCC Chairman Michael Powell wrote in a letter. Voice over Internet Protocol is a technology for making phones calls using the Internet Protocol, the world's most popular method for sending data from one computer to another.

Internet telephony companies already offer major cost savings over traditional telephone services, but now they're challenging one another for the title of cheapest of the cheap, in an increasingly brutal battle for customers. The technology is moving into the mainstream, but as the market has matured, it's drawn a crowd of competitors, tempting some into a dangerous game of chicken.

Also of note
Intel is looking at revamping two fundamental elements of its transistors--the transistor gate and the gate dielectric--with metal, so that its chips will continue to increase in speed and performance...An estimated 30 million U.S. wireless customers are expected to join an unprecedented migration to new service providers starting Nov. 24, when an FCC mandate called "local number portability" takes effect...Amazon.com stopped allowing users of its "Search Inside the Book" feature to print pages of online books they find via its weeks-old service, after an authors' group complained that it threatened sales of their work.