Week in review: Big boys get busy

Microsoft showed us more of its vision of Vista, while Google, Dell, Yahoo and eBay continued jockeying for advantage.

Microsoft showed us more of its vision of Vista, while Google, Dell, Yahoo and eBay continued jockeying for advantage.

At its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle, Microsoft announced that it is ready with broader test versions of both Windows Vista and Office 2007. The company also has an updated test version of Longhorn Server, the next version of its server operating system.

Both Vista and Office had been expected to hit retail shelves in time for this year's holiday season. In March, however, Microsoft said that although it still planned to finish up development of both products by year's end, the broad launch of the products would not come until January.

Vista versions

Microsoft also tested the waters for a new image format to challenge the ubiquitous JPEG format. Windows Media Photo will be supported in Windows Vista and also be made available for Windows XP.

In a presentation, Microsoft showed an image with 24:1 compression that visibly contained more detail in the Windows Media Photo format than in the JPEG and JPEG 2000 formats compressed at the same level. Still, the image in the Microsoft format was somewhat distorted because of the high compression level.

Many CNET News.com readers came out roundly against the notion of Microsoft moving in on this standard, while a few supported the higher compression ratio. One reader, however, offered a bit of sage advice.

"The idea may be good, but let's see what strings are attached before we embrace anything," the reader wrote in the CNET News.com TalkBack forum. "If you embrace a seemingly good thing without looking into it, you may find yourself in a really bad place." Meanwhile, the major search players were making moves in their quest for search market domination. Google and Dell agreed to a first in a series of deals to preinstall Web and desktop search software on the PC maker's computers. Under the deal, millions of Dell PCs will be loaded with the Google toolbar for Web and PC search, along with a co-branded home page, before they're shipped to consumers. Financial details were not disclosed, but the companies will share revenue from search-advertising fees.

Google is certainly on the minds of executives at Yahoo and eBay. The two companies unveiled a partnership that could bring more advertising revenue to Yahoo, whose market-share losses to Google brought angry words from shareholders at the portal giant's annual stockholder meeting later in the day.

The multiyear partnership, centered on advertising, e-commerce and search, could benefit both companies. The companies plan to begin releasing the new products this year, starting with a several-month-long trial phase, and they hope to complete the launch next year.

Data theft
An unprecedented string of electronic intrusions has prompted Ohio University to place at least one technician on paid administrative leave and begin a sweeping reorganization of the university's computer services department. The university is reacting to recent discoveries that data thieves compromised at least three campus computer servers.

In a disclosure that hasn't been widely reported, one of the compromised servers, which held Social Security numbers belonging to 137,000 people, was penetrated by U.S. and overseas-based hackers for at least a year and possibly much longer.

Personal information belonging to 26.5 million U.S. veterans was also seized following the theft of the data from the home of a government employee, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. According to a message posted on the department's Web site Monday, one of the department's data analysts violated procedure by taking home the information on a laptop without authorization. The employee whose house was robbed was placed on administrative leave.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses the Motion Picture Association of America of hiring a hacker to steal information from a company that the MPAA has accused of helping copyright violators. The lawsuit doesn't identify the man the company says was approached by an MPAA executive.

The suit calls the man a former associate of one of the plaintiffs and alleges that he was asked to retrieve private information on Torrentspy.com, a search engine that directs people to download links. Torrentspy's complaint includes claims that the man the MPAA allegedly paid $15,000 to steal e-mail correspondence and trade secrets has admitted his role in the plot and is cooperating with the company.

Baby you can drive my car
How far can you go on a tank of ethanol? Some students in France this weekend showed that the answer could be in the thousands of miles. That is, of course, if you don't mind driving a car not much bigger than you are.

Eco-marathon

An ethanol-powered vehicle engineered by students from the Lycee La Joliverie took top honors at the Shell Eco-marathon, a contest to build a car that can drive as far as possible using the least amount of energy. The vehicle averaged an astounding 2,885 kilometers per liter, or approximately 6,786 miles per gallon, according to an announcement released Sunday by race officials.

Meanwhile, vehicles in London could soon be fitted with technology that would automatically slow them down if they break the speed limit. Transport For London, or TFL, said it is investigating the technology and plans to run a trial next year in an attempt to cut road traffic deaths.

The idea is that if the vehicle exceeds the speed limit, the engine revs are automatically limited so that it slows down again. Motorists often claim that they are speeding because they don't know the limit in a particular area. But this would no longer be an excuse if their GPS satellite navigation system could alert them to changes in speed limit as they drive.

As technically advanced as cars are becoming, it was only a matter of time before vehicle-related hacking came along. Prius owners tend to be passionate about the car, but they also are finding there are certain factory-set features they don't like, and they're increasingly finding ways to take matters into their own hands to change them.

Unlike early generations of car buffs, the Prius hackers are more interested in saving the planet than winning a drag race. Of course, it's not just about the mileage.

On late-model Priuses, for example, when the car is in reverse, there is a loud beeping sound. There's also a similar sound when the driver or the front passenger isn't wearing a seat belt. Some people want to turn off the beep. Another hack makes it possible to use the car's onboard navigation system while driving, something that is impossible on a Prius right off a showroom floor.

Also of note
Shares of the newly public Vonage slid almost 13 percent from its initial offering price after the company's stock completed its first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange...A new instant messaging worm installs a rogue Web browser called "Safety Browser" and hijacks the user's Internet Explorer home page...Jason Poland won Legoland California's national search for a new master model builder, beating out 22 other finalists from throughout the country after two days of sometimes tense, stressful competition.

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