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Week in review: Sun rises with Google

Sun and Google joined forces to boost tools, but alliance could also challenge Microsoft's hold on PC applications.

Sun Microsystems and Google joined forces this week to boost their tools, but their alliance could also herald a challenge to Microsoft's hold on personal-computing applications.

The companies entered a multiyear partnership to help spread and develop each other's software, a deal that includes OpenOffice.org, Java and OpenSolaris from Sun, and Google's Toolbar. The partnership begins with a modest step: Within 30 days, the Google Toolbar will become a standard part of the software people get when they download Java from Sun's Web site.

The software the companies are working on directly competes with Microsoft's. For example, Java provides an alternative programming foundation to Windows and Microsoft's .Net, and OpenOffice competes directly with Microsoft Office. The Google Toolbar, meanwhile, leads to Google's services and not those Microsoft is trying to promote through MSN.

Interestingly, the landmark partnership wasn't the brainchild of top executives. It bubbled up from the rank and file of Sun's software-engineering department. Thorsten Laux, who was part of the StarOffice team Sun acquired in 1999, was promoted to director of Java engineering on the desktop in February. Within a month in his new job, Laux had an idea: Why don't Sun and Google team up to spread each other's Web-based technologies to a larger community?

Laux immediately began talking about the plan to his bosses, who he said were not hard to convince. Laux reached out to his old boss, a former Sun employee who was hired by Google last year. In no time, Google was on board, and within six months, contracts were signed and the deal was done, he said.

However, not everyone is impressed with the partnership. After much brouhaha leading up to the announcement, many bloggers were left scratching their heads at a press event they considered anticlimactic.

Blog entries with titles such as "Big whoop," "That's it?" and "Google and Sun announce yawn" abound on blog search site Technorati. It's clear that many in the blogosphere were looking for a more groundbreaking project to come from the companies.

Wireless cities
Municipal Wi-Fi programs are slowly becoming a reality, but challenges remain--even for Google.

The city of Philadelphia awarded EarthLink a high-profile contract to build a Wi-Fi network stretching over 135 square miles, marking the formal start of the largest municipal effort in the United States to offer wireless Net access.

The Internet service provider won the contract to place Wi-Fi access points on telephone poles throughout the city, beating out a competing proposal from Hewlett-Packard. Most city residents will pay $20 a month for access.

While other municipalities have created local wireless networks, Philadelphia is the largest city to date to formalize such a project. The City of Brotherly Love's plans differ from those of many other municipalities in one crucial way: EarthLink will own the hardware and take the financial risk associated with providing the service. If it flops, city taxpayers won't lose the money.

On the other side of the country, the City by the Bay announced plans to unplug Internet access as well. Google is the celebrity runner in San Francisco's race to become the first U.S. city with affordable or free wireless access to the Internet--but any such deal faces likely lawsuits or legislation, Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

The dissenters, such as phone giants SBC Communications and Verizon Communications and cable company Comcast, have publicly and privately criticized the city's project, calling it "foolhardy," given that low-cost access to the Internet is already widely available to the public in San Francisco.

The city received 26 Wi-Fi proposals from a range of companies, including Internet service provider EarthLink, San Francisco wireless upstart Feeva and cell phone company Cingular. Other notable companies submitting proposals include Ericsson, Motorola, Nortel and SkyTel.

Like in Philadelphia, the project could be privatized, public-private or municipally owned, Newsom said. All proposals under consideration will cost San Francisco taxpayers "little or nothing," he said.

However, consumer privacy is a concern, Newsom said in response to a question at the conference about the possibility that companies providing Wi-Fi access are looking to gather data on the location of users to deliver ads.

That prospect has some people concerned. "They will know much more information about your activities" than they can glean from a stationary PC, said Ira Victor, managing partner at security information firm Data Clone Labs.

"There are still a lot of unanswered questions, the most important being related to privacy," blogger Charles Jade wrote on the Ars Technica Web site. "Will Google be watching users? It's unlikely a city like San Francisco, with a large contingent of professional protesters and unreconstructed communists, would support such a compromise, but we will know shortly."

CNET News.com readers were more than a little skeptical of Google's motives. "There is no way that Google will offer something for free indefinitely," Dave Cawdell wrote in News.com's TalkBack forum. "Ultimately, they will either charge for the service OR leverage the service to make money (perhaps through targeted online advertising)."

Gimme shelter
Instant-messaging and peer-to-peer fans are being hit with more worm and malicious-code attacks than ever before, according to research reports. The number of threats detected for IM and peer-to-peer networks rose a whopping 3,295 percent in the third quarter of 2005, compared with last year, IMlogic said. That brings the total year-over-year increase to 2,083 percent, the security software maker said.

And as the attacks increase in number, they also get smarter, IMlogic said. Worm writers are coming up with more effective ways to get people to click on links to their malicious code, and worms can increasingly hop from one IM network to another, it noted.

To fend off malicious-code attacks, Microsoft plans to release by year's end an initial test version of a new product to protect business desktops, laptops and file servers. The new Microsoft Client Protection product will guard against threats such as spyware, viruses and rootkits.

The software will offer IT administrators central management capabilities and work with Microsoft's Active Directory and Windows Server Updates Services patch management tool, the company said. Microsoft did not say how much the new product will cost or when it will be available in final form.

Meanwhile, America Online is strengthening its shields against phishing attacks for its 20 million Internet service subscribers. The Web giant has expanded its agreement with antiphishing specialist Cyota and signed new partnerships with security technology companies MarkMonitor and Cyveillance.

The protection measures aim to prevent AOL members from falling for phishing scams by blocking access. AOL and its partners will scan the Web for fraudulent sites, analyze suspicious URLs, check new domain registrations and attempt to remove phishing sites from the Web, the company said.

The new News.com
After two weeks of beta testing, CNET News.com launched a site redesign this week. In addition to a new look, the site is moving from "Tech News First" to "News of Change." This reflects the evolution of the news we report: Rather than cover technology simply as computing, for example, we now delve into the myriad changes that it has affected in business, law, politics and culture.

The primary theme behind News.com's redesign is making it about "editors, readers and me." Under the umbrella of "Top Headlines," "Readers' Choice" and "My News," readers will continue to find award-winning editorial content; what others read and discuss; and the news that each reader chooses, from us and elsewhere on the Web.

There's more of course, so stay tuned.

Also of note
Many customers of two major Internet companies recently lost access to parts of the Net when the companies began feuding and cut off communications with each other...Advanced Micro Devices said it has served more than 15 companies with subpoenas this week as of part of its antitrust lawsuit against rival Intel...Spread Firefox, the marketing Web site for the open-source Firefox Web browser, has been hacked again and is expected to be offline until later this month...A Florida man who collected nearly $40,000 over the Web for Hurricane Katrina relief was indicted on fraud charges.