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Tech Industry

Week in review: Firefox on the hunt

Web metrics suggest that Internet Explorer is losing a significant number of defectors to open-source browsers Mozilla and Firefox.

Microsoft may be losing ground in the Internet browser battle.

Web metrics suggest that the software giant's Internet Explorer has been losing a significant number of users in the past nine months to open-source browser Mozilla and its offspring, Firefox. The gains for the two browsers, which are both produced by the Mozilla Foundation, are most noticeable at Web sites popular among geek-chic early adopters.

W3Schools.com, a Web development tutorial site, found that 18 percent of its visitors in September used Mozilla-based browsers, compared with 8 percent in January. Internet Explorer use dropped to 75 percent from 84 percent in the same period.

Among CNET News.com readers, site visitors using Mozilla and Firefox jumped to 18 percent for the first two weeks of September, from 8 percent in January.

In the hours since Tuesday's preview release of version 1.0 of Firefox, the Mozilla Foundation was already well on its way to reaching a stated goal of 1 million downloads in 10 days. In the first five hours that the new Firefox was available, it was downloaded more than 100,000 times.

Even before this week, Firefox was gaining speed. The last two months alone saw nearly 5 million downloads of the software.

The latest releases of Mozilla and Firefox, along with the related Thunderbird e-mail software, also fix 10 security issues. These issues include three critical vulnerabilities that could let an attacker run code on the victim's computer.

Software flaws and talking worms
Certainly Mozilla wasn't alone in doing a little housecleaning this week.

Microsoft published a patch for a major security flaw in its software's handling of the JPEG graphics format and urged customers to use a new tool to locate the many applications that are vulnerable. The flaw has to do with how Microsoft's operating systems and other software process the widely used image format. The vulnerability could let an attacker create an image file that would run a malicious program on a victim's computer as soon as the file was viewed.

Because the software giant's Internet Explorer browser is vulnerable, Windows users could fall prey to an attack just by visiting a Web site that has affected images. Some security experts worry that a virus that exploits the flaw may be on the way.

The Unix and Linux communities fared a little better, as the Samba Team released a patch to fix two relatively minor flaws that could result in network disruptions. The two flaws could crash or make unresponsive any system running version 3 of Samba, an open-source software package that allows Windows files and printers to be shared by Unix and Linux systems.

The flaws, known as denial-of-service vulnerabilities, basically could be used to disconnect Samba servers from the network by either overrunning the computer's memory to such an extent that it couldn't function or by sending a specially crafted network request that could crash the NetBIOS function.

Meanwhile, the hacker community was busy creating new and innovative worms, including one that talks. The Amus worm uses the Windows Speech Engine, embedded on Windows XP, to play the following message:

"How are you. I am back. My name is Mr. Hamsi. I am seeing you. Haaaaaaaa. You must come to Turkey. I am cleaning your computer. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. 0. Gule gule."

"Gule gule" means "bye-bye" in Turkish.

The worm, which runs after the Windows XP boot-up music has played, also deletes certain files, causing Windows to fail. It spreads automatically via an e-mail titled "Listen and Smile" and alters home-page settings in Internet Explorer.

Not to be outdone, a new version of MyDoom includes a detailed account of how the Internet worm works, a tactic that has left antivirus vendors baffled.

"It's like they wanted to help us, which is weird," said Mikko Hypponen, director of antivirus research at F-Secure.

MyDoom.Y also contains a photo of suspected Netsky worm writer Sven Jaschan. "The photo could be making the point that MyDoom has won the virus war," Hyponnen said. "But then again, Netsky was much more widespread than MyDoom."

Game time
Unlike genre games that have players lob grenades or cast spells, "The Sims" asked players to get excited about tasks such as personal hygiene and interior design. Yet such seemingly mundane activities created a sensation, with the original game and subsequent expansion packs selling a combined 40 million copies, making it the most popular computer game ever.

"The Sims 2," the game's sequel, made its debut this week, leaving many to wonder if it can approach the success of the original. Creator Will Wright sat down with CNET News.com to discuss features of the new game and what he is planning next.

What's next for Nintendo is its new handheld game player, which is expected to arrive in stores in plenty of time for Christmas, according to a Wal-Mart Web page that appears to spill the beans. Walmart.com recently posted a preorder page for the Nintendo DS, the advanced handheld game player that the Japanese game giant announced earlier this year.

Though Nintendo has yet to reveal pricing or a date for when the device will go on sale, Wal-Mart says it will cost $199.82 and be in the hot little hands of gamers around Nov. 30.

Help wanted
The growing technology services industry is hiring, but services employers these days want more than programming chops in a software developer; they're looking for business smarts as well. Services companies like Accenture and IBM used to be content to hire tech specialists separately from business consultants, but now they're looking for broader skills and more versatile workers.

The shifting landscape means that unemployed tech workers and rookies to the field may need to get business training or experience if they want to snag a job at a services company.

Meanwhile, the information technology industry lost 403,300 jobs from the start of the recession in March 2001 to April 2004, with nearly half of those jobs disappearing after the recession's official end, according to a new study. The report said 200,300 IT jobs were lost after November 2001, and it said there were steep job losses in the San Francisco, Boston and San Jose, Calif., regions.

The study was written by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago for union group WashTech. Officials from the center and WashTech asserted that the job losses resulted from several factors, including the shift of work to lower-cost nations and the use of H-1B visas, which can be used to import computer programmers and other skilled workers.

Also of note
Yahoo is acquiring digital music specialist Musicmatch for $160 million in cash...Amazon.com officially took the wraps off its Internet search engine, joining the contest to unseat No. 1 provider Google...America Online said it will not support a Microsoft-backed antispam technology called Sender ID.