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Microsoft to create pop-up safety lessons

The company plans to use more dialog boxes and other messages in future software releases to educate people on 'safe' computing.

Microsoft plans to use more dialog boxes and other messages in future software releases to educate people on 'safe' computing.

At the InfoSecurity trade show in London, Microsoft said Tuesday that new versions of its Windows and Office products will educate customers about security via dialog boxes, warning messages and offers to automatically configure security settings.

In January 2002, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates launched the Trustworthy Computing initiative. This effort fundamentally changed the way that Microsoft develops software by making security its top priority. In June, Microsoft will launch Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. The service pack is designed to increase the operating system's security and make it easier for people to control and manage their security settings.

Jonathan Perera, senior director of Microsoft's security business technology unit, said the new dialog boxes will appear when a person tries to do something that is not considered a "safe practice," such as opening an executable attachment.

"By using dialog boxes to educate the user, we can tell them: 'You can go ahead and open this attachment, but it might not be safe,'" he said.


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Microsoft has attempted to help people with software in the past with utilities such as the animated paperclip in the Office suite that popped up with suggestions on how to improve productivity and take advantage of new features. Despite Microsoft's intentions, the Office assistant has been criticized as unhelpful and annoying.

Perera said the new dialog boxes will be different. "We will find a way to do it in the most appropriate, least interruptive fashion. To put it another way, you won't see the Outlook-type approach, probably. We are trying to make it very friendly and intuitive," he said.

Microsoft has also been working with its PC manufacturing partners to provide people with some basic security help when they first turn on their new computer. According to Perera, new PCs will come with a preloaded utility that enables the system to automatically configure its security settings.

"Our partners will provide critical security information that consumers need to know about, such as antivirus, firewall and automatic protection, on the opening screen. That will allow Microsoft.com to take those steps on the users' behalf," he said.

Dialog boxes may be Microsoft's solution to handling a potential problem pointed out earlier this month by security experts. They assert that Service Pack 2 may cause a flood of technical support calls because the new default settings will mean a significant proportion of people could experience problems accessing wireless networks, games servers and even their home networks unless they can reconfigure their settings. At the time, a Microsoft executive said the company was expecting fewer support calls after Service Pack 2 because fewer people would be exposed to potential threats.