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The week in review: Respect for Linux

Supporters of Linux and open-source software celebrated new muscle in the form of software and tool updates, but Microsoft still wants to spoil the party.

Supporters of Linux and open-source software celebrated new muscle in the form of software and tool updates, but Microsoft still wants to spoil the party.

There's more to Microsoft's recent attacks than mere rhetoric: Linux's popularity could hinder the software giant in its quest to gain control of a server market that's crucial to its long-term goals. Behind the war of words may be evidence that Microsoft is increasingly concerned about Linux and its growing popularity. The Unix-like operating system "has clearly emerged as the spoiler that will prevent Microsoft from achieving a dominant position" in the worldwide server operating system market, one analyst concluded.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates doesn't hate open-source software; he's just concerned about the "Pac-Man-like nature" of the license that governs the distribution of such software. In an exclusive interview, Gates observed that Microsoft routinely shares the source code for its Windows operating system with its partners. In addition, the company uses some open-source software in its Hotmail e-mail service. However, Gates said, "there are problems for commercial users relative to the (GNU General Public License), and we are just making sure people understand the GPL."

Open-source programmers paid no attention to the rhetoric, releasing version 3.0 of GCC, a software project that is key to most all open-source exploits. Additionally, Compaq Computer will release software designed to make Linux computers better able to withstand crashes or other interruptions.

XP: A bundle of trouble?
A new feature introduced in the latest test version of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system requires people to establish an account with the software maker's Passport authentication service to use new instant messaging and telephony features.

Critics argue that by using Windows XP to encourage Passport account sign-ups, Microsoft is drawing on its dominance in operating systems to gain a foothold in the nascent market for online services and subscriptions.

This reminder of themes from the antitrust case has lead two of the state attorneys general to say Microsoft "may be repeating its efforts to maintain and extend its monopoly" by bundling features into its newest operating system. Attorneys General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Tom Miller of Iowa issued a terse statement saying they have "serious concerns" about Microsoft's "very troubling" strategy for its Windows XP operating system, which will debut in the fall.

However, Blumenthal and Miller dismissed reports that they are preparing to file a second antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft.

All this follows the collapse of discussions between AOL Time Warner and Microsoft over whether AOL's online service software would be bundled with Windows XP. Microsoft Windows group Vice President Jim Allchin and AOL Time Warner President Ray Oglethorpe agreed they could not resolve the key issue that had stalled discussions, said sources familiar with the matter. An agreement would have guaranteed the America Online software would ship with XP as it has with every other version of Windows released in the past five years.

Somebody's watching you
We all knew that privacy was never a guarantee when e-mailing people from work--but some instant messaging services also have ways to record seemingly casual conversations. Instant messaging is just the latest tool to throw a spotlight on the Net's potential for taking private conversations public, an unsettling reality for some that raises far-reaching security and privacy concerns. Making matters worse for millions of other IM users, there may be no way of knowing whether their exchanges are being recorded. That's because services such as Yahoo Messenger and AOL Time Warner's ICQ offer message archive features that essentially allow one person to record a conversation without the other's consent.

In a case that could help set the bar for the amount of privacy that drivers of rental cars can expect, a Connecticut man is suing a local rental company, Acme Rent-a-Car, after it used GPS (Global Positioning System) technology to track him and then fine him $450 for speeding three times. The case underscores the ways that new technologies can invade people's privacy, said Richard Smith, chief technologist at the nonprofit Privacy Foundation. "Soon our cell phones will be tracking us," he said. "GPS could be one more on the checklist here. Frankly, giving out speeding tickets is the job of the police, not of private industry."

Customers of domain name registrar Network Solutions complained this week that private e-mail sent to the company's support department was being forwarded to others who had sent in requests for help. One e-mail seen by this publication included an attachment that contained more than 200 private messages. A Network Solutions representative blamed the mix-up on "human error."

Microsoft warned that a "serious vulnerability" in its flagship Web server software used by computers running more than 6 million sites could allow hackers and online vandals to take control of the computers. "Pretty much any Web server (using Microsoft software) is basically left vulnerable to attack," said Marc Maiffret, chief hacking officer with eEye Digital Security, the company that found the flaw. "Any hacker can basically get system-level access, which is the highest level of access on the computer," by using a program that exploits the problem.

Comings and goings
Maxtor has spun out a 100GB hard drive aimed at a small but growing audience of audio and video fanatics. The $300 DiamondMax D536X is the latest high water mark for an industry in which technology is butting heads with the laws of physics. For several years, hard drive manufacturers have been dramatically increasing capacity in an attempt to outdo one other. The current industry sweet spot is 20GB to 40GB drives, but Parry said the sales prospects for 100GB drives look very good.

Travelocity.com unveiled a service that offers travelers discounted fares on last-minute orders, even as late as three hours before departure time. The Web travel agency said it has partnered with Site59.com to get the new service off the ground. Site59 specializes in discounted fares for trips booked within two weeks of departure.

Supplies of Apple Computer's Power Mac G4 Cube are dwindling, but the fate of the diminutive desktop is unclear. Several resellers say the Cube is unavailable from distributors, a sign that could mean an upgrade is coming or that Apple has decided to kill off its slow-selling machine.

Intel plans to stop selling its own brand of general-purpose routers and switches--a move that will lead to several hundred job cuts at a facility in Denmark. Intel spokesman Bill Calder said the decision was made as part of an effort by the company to focus more on selling communications chips and letting other companies make complete systems as well as an overall effort within Intel to refine its focus. The move is also part of the company's effort to cut 5,000 jobs.

Also of note
Shares of Transmeta saw a drop of more than 57 percent after the company issued a revenue warning and analysts downgraded the stock...Hard economic times have led some one-time successful Internet executives to try to sell their interests in venture funds, even at a steep discount...Online auction giant eBay launched a new e-mail notification service that some sellers say interferes with their own businesses...Streaming media giant RealNetworks unveiled new technology intended to promote the legal use of copyrighted material over the Web...As an October deadline approaches, talk of an Internet sales tax is once again simmering on Capitol Hill.

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