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This week at Microsoft

Redmond will launch a beta of the next version of Windows Server this summer. The company also issues three "critical" patches.

Microsoft says it will launch a beta of the next version of Windows Server sometime this summer. Meanwhile, a new study shows that more people are using Windows 2000 than XP.

The final version of the new Windows Server is not expected until 2007, but the software giant said Thursday that it's on track with the beta.

A company representative would not give a specific date for the release of the test version, but a moderator on a Microsoft Web chat on Wednesday said the company plans another chat in August to talk about Beta 1. Microsoft is also planning a summer beta of the desktop version of Longhorn, which is scheduled to arrive in final form in the second half of next year.

Use of Microsoft Windows XP has grown inside corporations, but a new study shows that nearly half of business PCs are still running the older Windows 2000.

The study, released Tuesday by AssetMetrix, underscores a recurring problem for Microsoft: While the company spends billions of dollars developing new versions of Windows and its Office desktop software, many customers are slow to give up older versions of software that's paid for and works just fine.

The story has generated more than 50 comments so far from readers, many of whom, like Bob Bob, said XP and 2000 are "basically the same."

"I can't believe Microsoft expects their customers to believe they are different OSes!," Bob wrote.

Improving IE
The next version of Microsoft's much criticized Internet Explorer browser is being built to resist hijacking attempts by spyware and other malicious software, according to a Microsoft developer.

Rob Franco, lead program manager for IE Security at Microsoft, wrote in a blog entry on Thursday that Internet Explorer 7 for Longhorn will contain a feature called "low rights IE." The feature essentially removes administrator rights, so that the system will not allow unknown applications, such as spyware and other potentially dangerous code, to be installed without express permission from the user.

And four major PC makers have no plans to sell the media-player-free version of Windows, which Microsoft was ordered to offer by Europe's competition commissioner. The story has so far generated more than 60 reader comments.

Reader Trev Tins got the conversation rolling by saying that the European Union is simply in it "for the cash." "There was no reason in the first place to remove (Windows Media Player)...All that fighting Microsoft over this deal is just plain greed. Nothing more."

Windows N

Reader Randall Lewis explained the news as "what happens when lawyers design products" and adds "it should be called 'Windows EU.'"

Microsoft made an updated version of Windows XP N available on Wednesday, but none of the computer manufacturers that ZDNet UK spoke to are considering preinstalling it on desktops or laptops.

Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Fujitsu Siemens all said they have no firm plans to install Windows XP N, citing a lack of customer demand. A Dell representative added Tuesday that customers expect to have a media player included.

On Tuesday, Microsoft issued three "critical" patches for flaws that could allow a malicious attacker to take remote control of a computer. One fix deals with vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer, while the others tackle problems with HTML Help and Server Message Block in the Windows operating system. The security bulletins were three of 10 released by the software giant as part of its monthly patch cycle.

News.com this week also took readers inside Microsoft's "Blue Hat" summit, in which outsiders were invited into the heart of the Windows empire for the express purpose of exploiting flaws in Microsoft computing systems. "Blue Hat" is a reference to the widely known "Black Hat" security conference, tweaked to reflect Microsoft's corporate color.

The unusual gathering, a summit of sorts between delegates of the hacking community and their primary corporate target, illustrates how important security has become to the world's most powerful software company.